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Planning for the future

NMU continues Strategic Resource Allocation

Northern Michigan University’s Jacobetti Complex has been part of the Strategic Resource Allocation project. The SRA is an ongoing process, said NMU President Fritz Erickson. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

MARQUETTE — Northern Michigan University’s Strategic Resource Allocation process continues to evolve.

NMU began the first phases of the SRA in 2016 to adequately allocate resources, with an Implementation Task Force starting to review recommendations in 2018.

The SRA is considered a strategic alignment of NMU programs and services, and is not intended to be a budget-cutting exercise. However, some change is unavoidable.

“The SRA’s gone very, very well,” NMU President Fritz Erickson said. “What we’ve done is we’ve worked through a whole series of implementation opportunities, and what’s interesting is, really the SRA, even though we look at it as one thing, it’s really multiple things.”

He said many “transformation opportunities” have been seen, program by program — some big and some small.

“I’m getting the real sense that the individual departments are really, really pressing innovation for their programs in a lot of exciting ways,” Erickson said.

For instance, some departments, he noted, are talking about expanding graduate programs.

Erickson also mentioned the art and design program, which has three art degrees: bachelor of fine arts, bachelor of arts and bachelor of science.

Students largely earn the BFA degree, he said, if they plan to work in the commercial art field.

However, the bachelor of arts and science degrees are being restructured for multiple connections and opportunities.

“People have the opportunity to do art and something else,” Erickson said, “and I think it’s such clever thinking on their part.”

Students can earn such a degree as well as study welding, which adds a level of flexibility, he said.

“Art degrees are really pretty powerful, employable degrees,” Erickson said, “and what they’re doing is making them even more so.”

He said NMU has received transformation plans from quintiles 4 and 5, which are the quintiles with the greatest opportunities for change and a different direction.

He commended faculty and staff for “thinking through” those changes and how to make investments in programs.

Another plan addressed in the SRA, Erickson said, is renovating the Jacobetti Complex, with one idea having been to build a new facility.

“We now think we can get greater bang for the buck by doing a pretty substantial renovation over there, actually reducing the square footage — taking some of it off — and really creating a premier career and technical center,” Erickson said.

Another change is that students won’t be required to have a minor, although they won’t necessarily vanish from NMU life.

“Part of the SRA is really encouraging departments to develop minors, to be able to reach across multiple kinds of disciplines,” Erickson said. “I’m a believer that the greater the educational diversity that we provide for our students, the greater their life opportunities will be.”

That could mean majoring in a traditional liberal arts or science field, then earning a minor or a certificate in a career or technical field, he said.

“We make a mistake when we think four-year degrees versus career or technical,” Erickson said. “It should not be an either/or. There’s an opportunity to really be able to do both.”

Although the SRA probably will affect many programs positively, some will not fare as well.

Mark Matteson, retired associate professor in aviation maintenance technology, expressed his disappointment with the SRA.

“The NMU Strategic Resources Allocation project was to view of all university programs and services, to assess needs for the university’s overall success,” Matteson said in an email. “The Academic Task Force recommended the Aviation Maintenance Technology program for transformation with revised resources, as the program was important to the mission and core values of NMU.”

Matteson said faculty submitted a transformation plan to the Implementation Task Force identifying the program’s strengths, such as it being certified by the Federal Aviation Administration, and being the only such program in a 230-mile radius as well as the primary source of new maintenance technicians for the seventh-largest private employer in Marquette County.

It also identified its weaknesses: students, parents and high school guidance counselors being generally unaware of the program; FAA rules being changed; and the need for investment and administration support, he said.

Matteson said the ITF decided to suspend enrollment into the AMT program starting this fall, with AMT having addressed the NMU Board of Trustees to request the board reconsider the administration’s decision to suspend enrollment.

“I am disappointed with the process,” Matteson said. “The SRA was to be a transparent and objective assessment of all programs, based upon equitable criteria and equally applicable to all. That was not the outcome for Aviation Maintenance Technology; ATF faculty recommendations were ignored by ITF administrators.”

He has other concerns.

“What will happen to the AMT program space?” Matteson asked. “The late (state Rep). John Kivela once stated that the northwest wing of the Jacobetti Complex would be occupied by the Michigan National Guard, and NMU would turn the armory at Lincoln Avenue and Wright Street into a parking lot.”

Matteson also stressed there is a shortage of trained personnel to enter the aviation industry.

Erickson called the situation “unfortunate.”

“Unfortunately with aviation, we just haven’t been able to drive the kinds of enrollments that would make it a viable program,” he said.

Erickson he noted he always has thought of the SRA as a continuing effort, with many implementation pieces such as curricular changes needing to go through the traditional university process.

Sometimes the NMU Board of Trustees will have final approval on a change depending on the recommendation, while other items won’t require board approval, such as the addition of a single faculty person, he said.

“The SRA has created a lot of energy on campus,” Erickson said. “It’s been difficult. The workload has been incredible on a lot of people. It’s not for the faint of heart to say, we’re going to look at every program on campus, and decide whether this is something we need that’s going great guns and we better leave it alone and they’re doing great, or whether we need to make some transformation or whether we need to add things.”

For details on the SRA, visit www.nmu.edu/sra.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.