February 1, 1999
Talk to Mary Konovsky and Hugh Lester, two faculty members who, as of Jan. 1, accepted positions in the provost's office, and you'll hear a lot about changing the "culture" of Tulane. "Yes, it has become a buzzword around here," admits Konovsky, an associate professor of organizational behavior at the A.B. Freeman School of Business, who was tapped by Provost Martha Gilliland to be vice provost.
Through her appointment in the provost's office, Konovsky expects to practice what she has preached during her 12 years at Freeman, involving all members of the Tulane community in a grassroots effort to shape a more effective institution.
Lester, an associate professor of theater and dance who joined a group of academic and administrative leaders last summer in strategic planning and is now the faculty associate to the provost for technology and academic services, sees the change coming from the top, as well.
"I was just floored to see the change within that group of deans and vice-presidents [in the planning group] in terms of how they began to look at problems in a positive way and explore how they could solve problems in a collaborative manner. I think it really changed the way they related to each other."
So what gives? Is Tulane really flirting with changing the way it does business? Not just flirting with but actually changing, says Lester, who sees his and Konovsky's appointments as one way the administration is tapping into the university's own resources.
"Making real changes at Tulane to accommodate a learning community has to be done through a joint venture," he says. "The more we can erase or diffuse the line between Gibson Hall and faculty and staff, the better off we are."
As faculty associate to the provost, Lester is heading an initiative to provide timely support and assistance on hardware, software and networking issues. It is an outgrowth of a strategic planning "breakthrough project" to develop an integrated computing support mechanism.
Lester, who envisions a 24-hour maximum response time for computer-related problems, has met with the staff of Tulane Computing Services and, at press time, planned to meet with representatives from academic units across campus during late January in an effort to develop a support plan to accomplish that goal. Dovetailing into this plan is a task force Lester is chairing on integrated academic services for learning.
In early February, Lester will conduct a series of forums with students, faculty and staff with the goal of developing an effective plan for using technology on campus.
"We don't know what the end product of this will be," says Lester, "but the goal is to integrate electronic technology, material on CD ROM, software and so forth with the resources of our fine research library. "We hope," he adds, "through the success of the breakthrough project for upgrading our classrooms to provide a learning environment where the appropriate facilities would exist to support innovative approaches to learning."
Konovsky, for her part, initially came aboard not to integrate anything as unwieldy as the components of leading-edge technology but, rather, to coordinate and organize the strategic-planning activity in the provost's office. She began to do so in an unofficial capacity last November, and her consultation with Gilliland evolved into the vice provost position.
Along with helping the office update equipment and coordinating activities, Konovsky also observed how people were doing their work.
"It's an old idea that is being used more and more in the United States--all the emphasis now is on teamwork and project teams," says Konovsky. "An institution's culture is the acceptable way it does things," she says, adding that she hopes Tulane will embrace the "more qualitative aspects" of its culture.
"We should focus more on things that cannot be or are more difficult to be pinned down," she says, suggesting a diminished emphasis on quantifiable scores such as GPA and SAT. "You should let the environment tell you what is important rather than measuring a preconceived notion of what is important. The way we measure our effectiveness is being redefined as we speak."
Currently, Konovsky is working on a breakthrough project that deals with providing "customer service" training for staff members and is analyzing ways to improve Tulane graduation and retention rates. Beyond that, she says, she is occupied with the "day-to-day support of the myriad requests made to the provost's office and making sure we are responsive to people."
Both Lester and Konovsky will remain on their respective faculties and continue their duties there on a part-time basis. Lester, who normally carries a course load of four to six courses, will now teach about half that many and continue in his role as vice chair of the University Senate and chair of the senate's Committee on Educational Policy. Konovsky will forego teaching this semester but will remain the faculty director for Latin American PhD programs and chair of the organizational behavior area at Freeman.
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