Changes in OAA and EMSA

I do not believe in change for the sake of change alone.  In my two years at Portland State I occasionally have asked if our structures optimize the accomplishment of our goals and mission.  With the opportunity presented by the search for a new Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs (EMSA), I, along with the guidance of the Academic Leadership Team (ALT-comprised of the deans, vice provosts and myself), assessed some of the services in EMSA that are most aligned with our academic functions and wrote a white paper with a set of recommendations.  EMSA provided their perspectives and conversations took place between the two divisions, with final recommendations reviewed and discussed with President Wiewel. 

As a result, President Wiewel made a decision that we should move Advising & Career Services, the Learning Center, the Office of the Registrar, and graduate student recruitment and admissions from EMSA to the Office of Academic Affairs (OAA).  There are many details to work out in making these moves that will involve the participation of numerous individuals and groups over the next few months.

It is important to note: 1)  Certain reporting structures will change to better align with the university’s academic priorities, and that will require reorganizing some functions. However, there are no plans to eliminate positions as a result of the change in reporting lines, and 2) this change is not in criticism of the great work that EMSA has done, but rather to better align and implement the strategies critical to our academic programs and student success. For example, PSU faces increasing competition for graduate students and we need to develop a comprehensive graduate admissions system that is separate from undergraduate admissions and coordinated closely with our schools and colleges.
This is not the first time, nor will it be the last that we ask if our structures serve our current and future needs. I asked that question in “my own back yard” when I first arrived at PSU by taking a critical look at the functions of the provost office.  In that case, I merged and reduced leadership positions.
Last year when the dean position in the School of Social Work (SSW) was vacated, I asked SSW faculty and staff about their structure and leadership. There were some initial concerns that I might have already made up my mind to merge the school with another college.  I assured them that was not the case. As a result of SSW’s thoughtful and deliberate conversations it was determined that their current status as a school, with a dean, was critical to the success of their programs.
I again asked a structure question this spring when the CLAS dean position was vacated.  At the suggestion of faculty and staff in CLAS we administered a poll to see if they wanted to have a discussion about the structure of their college.  Seventy-one percent (248 out of 349) of the full-time faculty and staff responding to the poll indicated a desire to do so.  That conversation is taking place now–again with no predetermined outcome.
Change for the sake of change is never a good idea.  But we need to remember that throughout PSU’s history we have been an institution that has been willing to look at how our structure serves our students, faculty, staff and community.  Today, we have seven schools/colleges (and maybe an 8th if the Faculty Senate recommends creation of a School of Public Health), a division for Research and Strategic Partnerships, a division of EMSA, and an office of Global Diversity and Inclusion (GDI) – all a result of a willingness on the part of this university to occasionally change our organizational structure.
I am interested in your thoughts on the topic of structural change and on any specific changes that have taken place or are under consideration.

2 thoughts on “Changes in OAA and EMSA

  1. Sona – thank you for this information. While conversations around this recent decision will undoubtedly still continue, I think it important to note that at the end of the day, we all play for the same team and have the same goal: the success of our students.


  2. I like Ron's reminder that we are all part of the same team. While I did not play team sports (or rather, didn't play them well), my teenage daughter plays soccer at a high level and I have learned many lessons about being on a team from that experience. If I may, allow me to continue the metaphor with a story about her team as it has helped me understand how change can effect people in different ways. My story also reflects some of the hopes I have (and fears, too, I guess) as those of us who are directly impacted move through this transition.

    When my daughter began playing club soccer, the organization had a goal that teams at all age groups would finish in the top half of their division. This was communicated to the parents, and the team was given the resources (i.e., stronger players) to do so. Her team finished #1 in their division that year. The following two years, however, the stronger players were re-allocated to a different team and a less experienced coach came in. The reason for this change in focus was not communicated, and both the girls and parents were frustrated. Some girls considered giving up soccer altogether.

    After the losing season, the club brought in a different coach. This coach communicated well with the players and the parents. If a girl was going to spend the game on the bench, he would tell them ahead of time and tell them why. He would provide detailed information to the parents and tell them often what he was working on. He himself was a parent of a player in the club, so it seemed like he understood our needs and frustrations. That team, with the same players who months before had won only one match, went on to win the state championship. As a result of their success, the team has gained back some of those stronger players, and due to their success players from other clubs joined. Recently, they beat the national champions for their age group!

    So, what is the point of my little parable? Well, I could go a number of directions, but the most direct lessons related to the current situation are that when the vision is communicated well, when people understand the reasons for change (even if they don't agree), and when the necessary resources are made available, the results can be amazing. My office, Advising & Career Services, is the result of a recent merger (the Undergraduate Advising & Support Center and the Career Center), and while we are still licking our wounds, those wounds are smaller (more like paper cuts than gaping lacerations) and we have emerged stronger because we were mindful of these principles in our transition. I hope that we can do the same as we move forward, eyes on that goal our our students' success.

    Becki Hunt Ingersoll, Associate Director, Advising & Career Services


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