Now that Stony Brook is more than 50 years old, the University has begun planning for the next 50 years ahead. To go forth with the plan, Stony Brook has hired globally recognized management consultant firm, Bain & Company, to assist with the University’s upcoming plan called Project 50 Forward.
The first mission of Project 50 Forward is called Operational Excellence, with the first focus being placed on a diagnosis of the University’s performance. The names themselves exude ambiguity, but are in reality the cost-cutting pillars of Project 50 Forward. It is meant “to create a more effective and efficient organization to better serve Stony Brook University faculty and students” says the online mission statement.
The first three to four months, the estimated length of the Diagnostic phase, have been underway since the beginning of the fall semester. However, the mission is estimated to take 18 months in its entirety, with another three to four months spent on the second phase and an undetermined amount of time to implement and de- liver the changes depending on their complexity.
It is both clear and understandable that the Administration and the 17-person Steering Committee that it staffs are controlling the direction of the project. However, the implementation of student focus groups and how they are chosen and used is a source of uncertainty if one tries to sift through the data available on the project’s website.
As of now, the Diagnostic phase of Operational Excellence has been devoid of student representation, while student focus groups are currently being organized only for the second phase, called Design, in which detailed solutions will be developed to address the University’s problem areas. For all other areas of the project, including the other two components and each of their underlying phases, student representation appears to be overwhelmingly absent.
When asked about the amount of student representation throughout all phases during a recent WUSB radio interview, Stony Brook President Samuel Stanley insisted that students were being included or were in the process of being included in talks and meetings.
“I think we’ve had students in Phase I and we will continue [to have students] and that’s through focus groups essentially that we’ve set up for areas that have to do with student life,” said Stanley. “They [students] have been engaged and will be if they haven’t in those areas,” he said.
“The objective in identifying representatives was to have a good cross-section of the Undergraduate Student Body,” said Lauren Sheprow, interim Director of Campus Media Relations, in an email message. “Presidents of the three major organizations—USG [Undergraduate Student Government], Commuter Student Association and Residence Hall Association—were invited to participate or delegate a representative to participate in the focus group,” she added. Student leaders from a number of other academic programs and organizations, like Americorp, Student Ambassadors and students in Health/Mental Heath and Peer Education, are also to be included in the focus groups.
However, it’s still uncertain as to how many focus groups have been set up and how often they have met and if the groups would just be geared on areas like student life.
“There is also a component of talking to people who receive services and that’s where the student focus groups come in to understand what their needs are,” said Stanley. “And that’s just not about the living [on campus] issue, but it’s about things like registrar, registering for courses, all the kinds of things we provide as administrative support.”
This feedback, however, would be offered during the Design phase, the one area that has been publicly advertised as to when students could provide feedback.
Comparing other campuses like the University of Southern California and the University of North Carolina that also employed Bain & Company, student participation was implemented through out all three phases, rather than just the second as at Stony Brook.
As for academics, the use of Operational Excellence to begin systematic cost cutting of academic programs is absolutely off-limits, according to University Senate President Fred Walter, who is also a member of President Stanley’s 17-person Steering Committee. “My role as president is to raise a flag if they move too far away from administration and into academics,” said Walters. “This [Operational Excellence] is not to address academic programs. They’re looking at facilities, consolidating positions, making things more efficient.”
Walters did express his opinion that student representation is necessary, but only to a certain degree. “There are no students on the Steering Committee, but I don’t think that’s appropriate,” he said. The Steering Committee, which has its own page on the Project 50 For- ward website, is staffed by Stony Brook administrators and professors who hold, or have held, positions on the University Senate.
Operational Excellence is only the first of three missions involved with Project 50 Forward. The other two missions are named in a similarly grandiose fashion—Academic Excellence and Building for the Future. As for the possible success of the program, President Stanley says that would be near impossible without the feedback from those important on campus.
“This is not going to be successful if we don’t have involvement from everybody who is going to be concerned by this and that’s students, staff and faculty.”