At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s (SAIC) operations were informed by our state-mandated Campus Emergency Operations Plan, where working groups were established to manage the significant challenges presented to the health and safety of our community and to our teaching mission.
The immediate crisis response work has now subsided, and it is critical that we engage in longer-term planning for our post-pandemic future. The objective of long-range planning is to ensure that our structures and resource allocations advance our core mission and values, while attending to our financial realities and opportunities. Wherever possible, the planning should build on the previously approved initiatives of our 2019 strategic plan, NEXT.
Long-Range Planning Steering Committee
With approval from the Faculty Business Senate (FBS) and SAIC’s president, the long-range planning process will be overseen by an expanded Academic Steering Committee (ASC).
ASC is a Faculty Handbook-defined body that brings faculty and administrators together to oversee and approve School policies. As described in the handbook, ASC includes: provost, dean of faculty, dean of undergraduate studies, dean of graduate studies, vice president of finance, vice president of student affairs, chair of faculty, chair of FBS, and two elected faculty representatives-at-large. For the purposes of long-range planning, additional members will include: director of diversity, equity, and inclusion for academic affairs; vice president for campus operations; lecture representative; and a part-time liaison representative.
ASC will approve planning processes developed by each of the long-range planning groups, have group chairs make reports, make recommendations to the groups, review and approve final group recommendations, and forward its own recommendations to the president.
Fall 2021 Update
In the spring of 2021, the Academic Structure Group circulated an all-faculty survey in order to better understand the academic priorities of faculty, and a departmental questionnaire to catalyze conversations within academic departments about potential areas for collaboration and growth. The chair and a subset of the Academic Structure Group then met with the chair, graduate coordinator, part-time faculty liaison, and some senior administrative directors for each of 24 departments plus the Spine. Working with the results of the survey and from information gleaned from conversations with departments, the group identified several interdisciplinary thematic clusters or concentrations with widespread interest across the School. The group then formed an "operational" subgroup from its membership to provide models for how those interdisciplinary concentrations might best be realized and what kind of departmental structure might work best for the School going forward. The subgroup will now work with the larger Academic Structure Group to discuss and refine those models, before they are presented to faculty for feedback and further refinement. Ultimately, any major structural changes to emerge from the group’s work would need to win approval from the academic steering committee, administration, and faculty business senate.
The Administrative Structure Group has engaged on two separate tracks—reviewing requests from vice presidents and deans for budgetary increases and staff additions necessitated by the expected increase in the size of the entering first-year class and developing plans to boost revenue generation from non-degree programs. The group recommended funding a number of requests that directly support the projected increase in student and faculty traffic on campus this fall and sent several requests back for further information or development. Subgroups are currently at work in refining staffing plans that were not initially approved and in developing first drafts of the revenue generation plans. Once these plans are approved by the group, they will be presented to relevant campus stakeholders for feedback. Ultimately, the plans and campus feedback will be delivered to the Academic Steering Committee for its review and approval.
The Administrative Structure Group helped us quickly address the immediate challenges presented by the anticipated increase in the size of the first-year class and the need to grow our non-degree revenue. Its work was made all the more important because we were in the second year of our biennial budget process. In year one of the process, each vice president and dean takes months to prepare proposed budgets, which typically request new spending and hiring, for the next two years. Approved budgets then extend for two academic years. Since the pandemic overlapped with year two of the budget process—and vice presidents and deans were too involved with the day-to-day challenges of the pandemic to spend time on the usual budget-building process, we streamlined the process to allow for the presentation of critical requests. With effective vaccines, a mandatory vaccination policy, and a return to more normal operations, we are now able to return to our standard budgeting process as we enter the first year of our next biennial budget process. All of this means that Administrative Structure Group will complete its ongoing projects by December, and allow us to resume our standard budget process, as practiced under our shared governance process, in the 2021-22 academic year.
The Anti-Racism Committee, made up of a main steering committee and six subgroups completed a significant amount of work over the course of the 2020-21 academic year. In the spring the committee and President Tenny supported all 23 action items recommended by ARC’s six subcommittees. Those initiatives that fell within the purview of the faculty senate were forwarded to the relevant committee for review, refinement, and—should the committee support them—approval. Those that fell wholly within the purview of the administration tended to fall into one of two categories. Either they were fully developed plans, in which case they were sent to the relevant vice president for implementation, or they required additional details to be fleshed out, in which case the appropriate ARC subgroup has continued to refine the initiative. This summer, two additional ARC groups were formed; one focused on Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander visibility and the other on staff concerns. The two newest groups expect to make recommendations to the main ARC this fall. In addition, an advisory group that includes members of ARC has been formed to provide ongoing advice and counsel to the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for Academic Affairs.
The Space Reorganization Group’s first task was to address the immediate need for additional classrooms in spring 2022 when we expect a return to largely in-person instruction. The loss of our rented space in Spertus was not an issue while we were teaching many remote and hybrid classes. But with the increase in our on-campus population in spring 2022, as we return to in-person teaching, we will experience a pressing need for lecture halls to meet the demand for required art history survey courses. The Space Group advanced proposals for creating two, new large lecture classrooms to the academic steering committee for approval. Next up, the Space Group will consider longer-term objectives: how the opportunities afforded to many staff to select hybrid work will free up existing office space that may be repurposed to create new teaching, making, and lab space. And, in coordination with the Academic Structure Group, they will study how potential, new academic structures may necessitate new space needs.
The Reimagine Our Time Group began by familiarizing its members with the time plan developed during our recent strategic planning process, NEXT. In 2019, the strategic planning steering committee, School president, and Board of Governors approved the proposal to award more credits to undergraduate students for their course contact time, even as many details of the initiative remained to be developed. After reviewing the work of NEXT, The Time Group subsequently discussed how best to operationalize the plan in a way that met students’ desire for course variety, did not negatively impact existing departmental requirements, preserved existing financial aid opportunities, and created an opportunity for creating new skills-based mini-courses. The group also devoted significant attention to analyzing whether credit hour changes to studio courses made sense for academic courses as well. Summer meetings will culminate in a retreat to synthesize work completed over the 2020-21 academic year and articulate next steps for the group’s fall work. To date, the group has worked with the Registrar, student financial services, and a range of faculty from studio and academic departments. Future conversations will include the Academic Structure Group, Curriculum Committee, and Space Group.