Monday, August 10, 2009


In our brief few months' experience with a car navigation system, we've been amused by the reactions of the female voice to our automotive wanderings. Sometimes it asks us to go in what we consider strange directions to reach familiar destinations. Sometimes it isn't aware of the current state of construction and thinks we're offroad when we're actually on a perfectly good highway. Whatever the reason, when we deviate from its prescribed course, it gives us the same reaction: "Recalculating ..."

Today we found out that as an academic unit, our current direction is blocked and we're going to need to turn off on an alternate route. We have the same mission, the same goals, and we're going to have to do all the same things. But we'll be doing them at a different scale, with different resources, and with a different impact on our environment. We're going to have to recalculate in order to reach our destination.

It's hard to let go of the very detailed journey we spent the summer mapping out, the one that's been years in the making. But really, not much of it will change. The scenery will be a little different, the crowds will be smaller, the planning will be easier in many ways. We can't help but feel a sense of loss for the people that won't be able to come along, for the critical student mass that has so naturally bent our processes around its gravitational field. Everything will feel different at the mandated reduced size.

The danger is that it will feel less important. It shouldn't. Whether we are educating a thousand students or a hundred students, our mission is the same, and it requires the same efforts and functions and structure to achieve. All summer we've been thinking systematically about what those efforts, functions, and structures are, and how we can measure and demonstrate what they achieve. None of that lengthy, creative strategic planning process has gone to waste; arguably it's more critical than ever to actually do what we say we do, to make our promises into reality for the increasingly elite group that accepts our invitation to join.

I'm ready to see this in the best light. But there's always something a bit disappointed, a bit resigned and frustrated, about that voice: "Recalculating ..."

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