In this final installment of a podcast series dedicated to the Texas A&M University-Commerce 2019-2024 Strategic Plan, Dr. Mark Rudin takes time to spell out the thinking behind the four foundational principles laid out in the plan.
They include commitments to be:
A transcript of the discussion, recorded in early February 2020, is below.
Jerrod Knight: This is The President's Perspective, a podcast with the purpose of sharing what's important and what matters to the president and CEO of Texas A&M University-Commerce, Dr. Mark Rudin. I'm Jerrod Knight. This project started as a series dedicated to the 2019 - 2024 strategic plan adopted by A&M-Commerce. It spells out the vision and mission of the institution as well as its four foundational principles which we will be exploring this episode. The plan itself is available online at TAMUC.edu/strategicplan, and we'll link to it everywhere this podcast is available. These four foundational principles... a commitment to be transformative, innovative, inclusive and sustainable. Dr. Rudin, talk about where these foundational principles are coming from.
Mark Rudin: Sure. Jerrod, thank you so much for having me. When we put together the strategic plan for the university, we knew that we were going to outline a number of objectives and goals and those type of things. But we also felt like it was extremely important to take an opportunity to define who we are to the core as a university. Visions, mission statements, goals and objectives may come and go, but we wanted to establish these foundational principles that no matter who's in charge, who's here, these are who we see ourselves as, as a university, and that's how we landed on these foundational principles. So the first one you mentioned was transformative. We see ourselves as a transformative institution. You know, Jerrod, we get our more than fair share of valedictorians and great students from across northeast Texas and across the state, actually, and outside the state. From a number of different demographics, including economic strata. But, you know, we also serve a fair share of first generation students and those first generation students, I would venture to say, are oftentimes are not sitting around the table during their high school years, saying, "Hey, where am I going to go to school," and maybe don't have family that lived that experience that can offer them that sage advice. And so a lot of these kids, we're starting to find out, are thinking, "Well, I'm not cut out to go to a university." And we beg to differ. We feel like we are uniquely set up in terms of academic rigor, and so forth, and these wraparound services to help our students negotiate. College is hard enough. But there's a lot of other things you need to do in college besides go into class and we feel like we can provide those lovingly intrusive services to our students, and put them in a position where they come to A&M-Commerce, they get their degree, they're properly prepared, and they go on to get a job that totally transforms their life. At one time, the route of going to university and getting a great-paying job maybe wasn't on their radar. We want to put it on their radar.
JK: Well, and I would argue, too, that even beyond students... we talked in a recent episode about families who could potentially consume cultural experiences here or business that would, by partnering with the institution, could potentially see growth and expansion in their industry. And I think that the idea here that no matter who it is, no matter how they interact with the institution, on the back end of that they are different, they are transformed in some way, for the better. I think that it's an easy concept to apply to just about every situation and certainly we should strive to leave folks better than we found them when they interact with the institution.
MR: Absolutely, you know, and it's too simplistic to say, "Come to A&M-Commerce and get your degree in accounting," and we'll produce the best accountant we possibly can. We are actively looking at and talking to potential employers and so forth to have a discussion with them to say, "What skills do you need? Okay, we're going to produce the best technically sound accountant we possibly can but what other skills do they need?" And there's an awful lot of learning that happens at a university outside of the classroom. As I mentioned before, and someone once told me, "Don't let going to class get in the way of your education." There's a lot of development that a student can go through throughout their career and we want to create those opportunities for our students.
JK: The next principle on the list of the foundational principles here, a short list, but a powerful one. This one is a commitment to be innovative. The text here: "Establishing a campus environment with the freedom to explore, create and challenge tradition." And of course, I am passionate about the idea of challenging your long held beliefs and traditions for the sake of reinforcing them when you can defend them, that means that they, you know, have a place and it's worth challenging those traditions challenging those ideas. And university campuses are where that's happening in 2020.
MR: Yeah, absolutely. And I want to make sure that whatever we do, we are on the cutting edge. Whether it's academic preparation, research, community service, whatever that may be. Higher Ed is changing. And let me say this: Higher Ed is not changing at the pace it needs to be changing at in order to meet the needs of this Generation Z that's coming out right now. We have to explore and look at what kind of educational opportunities will be most effective to serve the students that we serve nowadays, 18 to 27 year old students we serve nowadays. We continue to explore new pedagogies and new ways to teach. We again, Jerrod, I apologize, I keep on overusing this word, "opportunity." But we are looking to expand every opportunity to look under every nook and cranny to properly prepare our students going back to this whole idea of student preparedness. We have to, I feel like and this is kind of my background, we have to constantly question. I feel like we need to question everything we do. We do a lot of great things. But it's okay to question it. Are we still on the right path? Are we still doing what we should be doing in that regard? If we are, great! if we're not, then let's explore and let's constantly improve who we are as an institution. That's the mindset I would like to see at our university and continue to develop that culture,
JK: I see that sort of defined in a way that says a commitment to being innovative is a commitment to rejecting doing things, "because that's the way we've always done them." It's got to be more than that.
MR: When you said that a little chill went up and down my spine, because that's... I hate hearing that. "But that's the way we've always done it." That may be the way we've always done it, but have you ever considered this?
JK: So, another foundational principle: "A commitment to be inclusive." Now, we had a long discussion already in this series about the strategy around inclusion. But the text here is that, "We're ensuring a welcoming environment, where all are respected." And I'll say this: we are in a time, in an age, in a location where it is necessary to bake this into the fabric of the being of the institution, but it's there. It's part of who we are, and we're going to do it.
MR: Absolutely. The goal at A&M-Commerce is to make sure that we provide a safe, healthy and inclusive community so students, faculty and staff can pursue their ambitions and be successful. I kind of capsulize in my mind, what A&M-Commerce is all about. And that inclusivity piece is incredibly important. And we've created a number of different initiatives at the university: a diversity and equity inclusion committee that's exploring these type of things. Because studies and data will show you that the more inclusive the more diverse your campus is - the more diverse your discussion is, how about that, the more innovative and more productive that is, right? There's a story, and people can look it up on on the internet and I won't mention any names of companies, but there was a company that developed a soap dispenser that was used to stick your hand under and you get the soap out of your hands, you wash your hands, and they put it in a hotel, the hotel chain and so forth. And they found out that it didn't work for darker skinned individuals.
JK: Oh, so it used a sensor of some sort.
MR: Yeah, I probably should explain that. So it was there was a situation where there was a soap dispenser that was made by a company that was electronically used, and you stick your hand in there and it reads your hand and it dispenses the soap when you wash your hands. Well come to find out that it didn't operate properly for folks with darker colored skin. And first question you have is: who's sitting around the table when you were developing that soap dispenser? And there was probably a lot of money lost on that soap dispenser. And so having a diverse group, an inclusive group, and maybe more from the standpoint of diverse thought, and diverse innovation, that good things happen. And that's what we want on our campus. We want a robust, diverse campus on our institution and a campus that everyone feels welcome. You know, sometimes when folks hear the words, "diversity and inclusion," they jump immediately to race. I've had this discussion with our campus before. I'm not there. At A&M-Commerce diversity & inclusion is a large umbrella. It's just not about race. It's about gender, ethnicity, LGBTQ, veteran status, disabilities. We have to create an inclusive environment where every one of those individuals feels welcome, feels acknowledged, feels respected, and feels like the university has totally invested every last ounce they have into making them successful. That's where we need to be as a university.
JK: In 2020, for better or worse, folks are still polarized with regard to their political leanings. And I think that when we're talking about, "Everyone's welcome under the umbrella," that includes folks who might be on the opposite end of political thought, as well.
MR: Absolutely. You know, and this whole diversity and inclusion discussion goes hand in glove with civility, another initiative we have going at the university. Listen, Jerrod, I may not agree with your political view. I may not agree on a number of different areas. And I'm guessing I probably won't, (just kidding!,) but we should be able to have a discussion about that. And at the end of the day, go out and have a quick drink and wrap it up that way, you know? But it's okay to disagree with people. But let's do it in a civil manner. Our nation is founded on the basis of checks and balances. You and I are not going to agree. But we need to figure out a road to compromise and we need to be able to acknowledge each other and agree to disagree and get things done.
JK: For the sake of moving forward. The final foundational principle here, which is part of the text which is available again, online tamuc.edu/strategicplan is the commitment to be sustainable. The text here is: "Maintaining the necessary people, financial resources, facilities, and environment to serve future generations." That sustainability isn't just a buzzword surrounding recycling or whatever it is. Here, we're talking about fiscal sustainability. We're talking about cultural sustainability. We're talking about our locale. We're talking about all of these things.
MR: Absolutely. And it's long term. That's that's really what everything is long term. We have the right people in place. We're not in a land of infinite resources at this university, we have to be very strategic. But I'll use the example of civility. I think there were probably some parts of the university saying, when I first got here and I touted this, and moved this civility initiative forward, and diversity, equity, & inclusion... I'm sure they were probably parts of the campus are saying, "Okay, this is kind of Mark's platform that will come and go." The civility, diversity & inclusion [initiative] is going to be a sustained effort for however long I'm here to ensure that we, we can always do better in everything we do. So I want that mindset, that we're in this for the... we're in this together for the long haul. That's where the sustainability comes in.
JK: How did you and the team that you put together to help build the '19 - '24 strategic plan... How did these four foundational principles rise to the top? What did that discussion look and feel like?
MR: I gave the chairs of the of the committee kind of my hour briefing on what I would like to see in the strategic plan. But after that hour, Jerrod, I said, "Go knock it out of the park. These are my initial thoughts. Let's convene a group." And we had a rather large committee that was comprised of faculty and staff and students and folks from the outside, too... from the community that had a different perspective, maybe sometimes a better perspective, of the university. That large group is really the group that put these foundational principles down on paper, and identified these and laid out the text and what each of these means. So I can't tell how proud I am. Again, I had only been here for about three or four months when this plan was started, and was still trying to learn the culture myself. These folks on this committee in the chairs really stepped up and really put those thoughts to paper.
JK: They continue to be thought leaders on campus and so they continue to drive the discussion and move forward both the text and the concepts here.
MR: Absolutely. And what should be noted is that this plan is pretty high level. I think that the committee and the university the campus did a great job putting this plan together. I think everyone can find a way how they fit into the various objectives and the foundational principles and so forth. The next step is for each of these various individual units to develop their own strategic plan that's consistent and aligned with this plan. So the College of Business, the athletics department will be putting together their plans that talk about being transformative, innovative... student preparedness, you know, aligning with the community and so forth. This is the umbrella document. But a lot of the work happens at these individual departments and offices across campus.
JK: I think that this document is produced using some of the same ideas that we're using to produce this program, which is to make something that is easy to understand... It's like a good, what is it they say? "Like a good game, easy to learn a little bit more difficult to master." You know, something that you constantly have to work toward, and I think that that makes it something that is within everybody's grasp to grab and to implement in their professional life.
MR: And you know what, Jerrod, you'll notice if you read through the document, there's nothing fancy in here, right? It's pretty straightforward. The document would not be useful if it was hard to understand, okay, what are they trying to say, and so forth. And to that end, you know, we've also produced a Spanish version of this document that can also be found online. Because we want our, maybe, our English as a second language, or folks that don't speak English to totally understand what we do on our campus, also.
JK: It's important. This is sort of the embodiment of the mission. And the mission, we always say here: "The mission is your covenant with your client. We commit to this." And there's no reason to have flowery language. This is straightforward. "This is what we will do. If you decide to interact with this institution, this is what you can count on."
MR: It was not the intent of this document to be a nice pretty document with cut out colors and so forth, which it is, but then stick it on a shelf. When the university is trying to make budget decisions annually, we're asking folks, "Tell me how it fits into the strategic plan at the university." I think oftentimes at universities budgets drive mission. Mission needs to drive the budget. And that's what this does.
JK: Dr. Rudin I appreciate your time so very much. The President's Perspective, this podcast, is produced by 88.9 KETR from the campus of Texas A&M University-Commerce. This wraps series one. We are already planning and executing series two, where we'll have specific discussions between yourself and other faculty and students change agents here on the campus of Texas A&M University-Commerce, so we'll look for that in the future. Check out ketr.org for archived episodes of this and other programs. While you're there, you might consider making a contribution to support public radio here in northeast Texas. The, "Donate," button at the top of the page always works. Dr. Mark Rudin, thank you so much.
MR: Thank you, Jerrod.
JK: I'm Jerrod Knight. Thanks for listening.