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Update on 'The Highest Order of Excellence' Implementation

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November 29, 2005

Sustainable transformations of organizations don’t happen dramatically, according to the author of “Good to Great,” a recent management text describing key determinants of greatness.  To those on the inside, they seem like a cumulative process.

That view might describe life at Northwestern in the year following release of The Highest Order of Excellence II 2005-2010 planning framework -- no revolutionary events, but steady progress and momentum.

Two major undergraduate curriculum initiatives are under way. In one, a concept for a quarter-long single-focus “immersion” experience was developed by a faculty-student task force. Administrative steps are now being taken toward a smooth launch of that option in academic 2006-2007. In the other, art history professor Hollis Clayson has been appointed to lead interested faculty in the development of new undergraduate interdisciplinary courses (see related sidebar).

These and other initiatives reflect The Highest Order’s emphasis on interdisciplinary collaboration and four broad organizational goals:

- Sustainable mechanisms for innovation in scholarly research

- New visions for undergraduate learning

- Support for community-building efforts

- A flexible, service-oriented administrative culture

The framework suggests ways that the goals might be achieved but does not prescribe specific ways to accomplish them.

“Implementation of new strategies depends on the integrated efforts of an entire community,” explained Provost Lawrence B. Dumas to Observer staff, “and much excellent groundwork has been laid over the past year throughout the University. There is a growing consensus about the need for change, and many faculty, staff and students are contributing to well-thought-out plans for several key initiatives.”  

Other significant academic initiatives developed over the course of the last 12 months include an expanded charter and funding for humanities disciplines, a commitment to ally and strengthen all writing instruction throughout the institution, the start-up of several new interdisciplinary research centers (and sun-setting of others) and an agenda for doctoral program innovations and improvements. 

On the administrative services side, Dumas is particularly enthusiastic about the pilot study being undertaken by Facilities Management. “Facilities Management has agreed to be the initial focus of our efforts to reexamine, from a customer’s or client’s point of view, the way we provide ‘service.’ With the self-knowledge and principles developed through these studies, we expect to provide a framework for developing best-practice standards within all other service providers in the University community and ask them to similarly reexamine themselves.” Discussions are also under way with one of the University’s schools to undertake a similar pilot study there.

Several other significant administrative initiatives have been defined as well. They include:

- Studies of optimal staffing and roles/responsibilities for research-intensive units

- Business process improvement in graduate student services, especially in the administration of student financial support

- Ensuring coordination among the major administrative systems initiatives (SNUPER, Data Warehouse and Project Café) in enhancing access to administrative data across the University

- A professional development curriculum for administrative managers such as associate and assistant deans, business administrators and service-unit directors

- Reconceptualization and update of the faculty and staff orientation programs

The administrative initiatives are being coordinated by the Office of Change Management under the sponsorship of the provost and the senior vice president for business and finance.

All of the implementation work grows out of a series of Highest Order “visioning” conversations, both academic and administrative, with broadly representative committees of the faculty and administrative staff, convened by the provost and the Office of Administration and Planning throughout academic 2003-2004.  Complete final text is available at www.northwestern.edu/provost/highestorder/index.html.

Clayson Appointed to Lead Study

Professor Hollis Clayson has been appointed to lead a study on development of new interdisciplinary initiatives in the undergraduate curriculum across the entire University.

Provost Lawrence B. Dumas named Clayson as Special Project Director for the Office of the Provost for two years.

Clayson, professor of art history and Martin J. and Patricia Koldyke Outstanding Teaching Professor, will direct the effort to implement a recommendation made in the Highest Order of Excellence (2005-2010) to enrich the undergraduate experience.

The Highest Order of Excellence proposed the development of undergraduate courses that would explore “a broad problem or issue from multiple perspectives.”

Clayson will lead a faculty/staff team that will devise co- or team-taught multi-disciplinary and interdisciplinary courses. The goal is to develop approaches that can be organized and sustained in a discipline-based academic environment.

The Office of the Provost seeks to launch the first courses of this kind in the fall of 2006.

Clayson has been a Northwestern faculty member since 1982 when she joined the University as a visiting professor in art history. A Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence in 1993-94 and 1995-97, Clayson served as associate dean of The Graduate School, 1995-98, and chair of art history, 2000-2003.

Topics: University