on campus culture part II: being relevant

It just so happens that my post last week about understanding campus culture actually has some relevance to recent happenings at Michigan State University. As you all should know, our country has hit some troubled times in the past year, and our beloved Michigan…well, we’ve been recessing and depressing for about a decade now. This past month, however, some very large budget cuts came down the pipe for MSU, and, since you can only raise tuition so much, campus wide program cuts are going to be made. A series of letters have been posted on the new website shapingthefuture.msu.edu, alerting all departments, both academic and student affairs, that cuts were coming.

The letter to Student Services was the most interesting, and, I think, the most relevant to my earlier discussion about campus culture. This letter laid it on the line, stating that many programs would be cut and that a dramatic reorganization of how student services were carried out would be needed. In the letter, Provost Wilcox states that programming must be “closer to home”. This is a reference to the attempts made by MSU to replicate a “neighborhood” style of residence. Wilcox is stating that certain parts of campus have adapted to the movement towards residential college styles, and the rest of Student Services will need to follow suit in order to maintain relevance.

This letter, in essence, is stating, “we are looking for programs that will fit within the culture of MSU.” The culture is one which replicates a residential, small college feel through neighborhoods (a model adapted from the original campus plan in 1855) with the resources of a Global, Research I institution. This is where MSU is trying to go. It is, as shouldn’t be a surprise, a Bold plan. And these letters are calling for bold action: learn from the past, streamline, create new programming that fits this message, and cut out what doesn’t fit. Wilcox is challenging the relevance of these services as they currently stand to the future of the University.

It is at this point that understanding you campus culture is so important. Not only are you dealing with whether or not your program is reaching students or simply connecting with the functions of the rest of your university, but now the issue is whether or not your program will even exist. If your research, or your services, or your teaching doesn’t reflect the culture and mission of the university, then why should the university continue to spend money on you? It is an issue that faces every member of academia at this moment.

Is your work relevant?

ps – I should note that I am not suggesting that certain programs are not relevant at all. I am simply arguing that relevance itself is relative to your school’s culture. For example, Campus Archaeology is relevant to the world of archaeology and cultural resource management: we make sure that the resources are mitigated properly. However, that does not give us relevancy to MSU; that emerges from our emphasis on education, public outreach, research, and interdepartmental interaction.