Wong Assigns 'Homework' at Forum

NMU President Les Wong gave the campus community two homework assignments at Monday's university forum, where he presented a "State of NMU " update. One is to provide feedback on Northern's priorities, the most recent of which were identified in October 2003 as the basis for determining cost-saving recommendations. The other is to offer input related to the qualities or programs that positively distinguish Northern from other universities.


The first assignment on priorities stems from the state legislature's new approach to formulating the budget. It follows steps outlined in The Price of Government by David Osborne and Peter Hutchinson. The book is required reading for state lawmakers. Wong said he distributed copies to NMU senior staff members as well so they can prepare for the new direction the appropriations process is heading.


"We're starting to experience some of the realities of this model in terms of requests for data coming in, which are focused on outcomes," Wong said. "It used to be that legislators came up with a number and entities would either defend what they got or figure out how to make cuts. With this new model, it's a matter of establishing clear priorities and funding them in their respective order until you have no more money to work with.


"The legislature has set up ten task forces that will help determine the priorities of the state. Then they will decide the price they're willing to pay for each priority item, determine how to deliver each priority item at the identified price, and spend what they have to attain the priorities. If something is not a priority, no money will go toward it. This runs counter to previous Michigan models."


The last set of NMU priorities used to make budgetary decisions was comprised of the following: quality programs (academic, student life/environment/activities); high touch (responsive administrative services and student support services); and high tech (maximize use of technology in the classroom and in operations, and improve communication across campus).


"It's important for all units to ask if these are still the driving values as we move forward," Wong said. "Are they still relevant? If not, I need to know what you feel needs to be changed, added or clarified. Are we all in agreement that internationalization and service learning are characteristics of a successful program? These decisions play a role in how we deliver the curriculum, recruit and retain students, and develop values that drive decisions about our budget. They affect everyone, so I need responses from all areas not just academic. Get your responses to me as soon as you can."


Wong said it will also be important for Northern to maintain its independence and differentiate itself from other institutions. He cited examples such as the notebook computer initiative, U.S. Olympic Education Center, Student Leader Fellowship Program, and the First Year Experience.


"Here's some more homework for you: in what other ways is NMU different from everyone else? What other things distinguish us and how do those things fit our priorities? I would like to get your thoughts on this."


This year's state budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 wasn't settled until Northern was a quarter of the way through its fiscal year, which began July 1.


"Everyone is hoping for a quicker process this time around, but I don't think it will be any different than last summer. Many on campus have asked why we're not meeting institutionally to plan, but we don't know what to plan for. Because we're underpowered in many ways, I thought it would be smart not to burn up a lot of staff time planning in the dark. We want more parameters in place before we unleash the process."


House hearings on the proposed executive budget are the next step. They are scheduled from March through April and will be followed by senate hearings from April through June.



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Updated: October 26, 2005

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