You could almost hear the collective sigh from University of Kentucky faculty, staff and students last week when new President Eli Capilouto kicked off his tenure with a plan to hire a consultant to re-examine UK's goals.
Just the words — consultant, plan, goals, re-examine — conjure a Dilbert-esque image of bureaucratic miasma.
That said, perhaps it is time to consider the Top 20 plan of former President Lee T. Todd Jr. in the harsh light of a teetering economy, a stingy General Assembly and tapped-out students and their parents.
Capilouto and his board of trustees might deserve a pass this time but it should come with at least one condition: They must report back.
Publishing the report online won't be enough. The UK administration must follow up by saying just what they learned, the changes they will make as a result and exactly how all this will improve education at UK.
In a strange alignment, also last week the Chronicle of Higher Education published an excerpt from a new book, The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters by Benjamin Ginsburg, a political science professor and director of the Washington Center for the Study of American Government at Johns Hopkins University.
"Whenever a college hires a new president, his or her first priority is usually the crafting of a new strategic plan," Ginsburg writes.
He offers a number of explanations for why plans have become so prevalent, including that universities now have huge administrative staffs with the time to do them.
He also notes: "Still another way in which strategic planning serves administrators' interests is as a substitute for action," offering the appearance of intense activity in the process of developing the plan itself.
Ginsburg acknowledges that some plans and the processes used to develop them actually do help universities focus their efforts and their resources.
Those usually include concrete objectives linked to budgets, with understandable and measurable indicators of progress.
That's what Capilouto and the trustees need to deliver and use as a guide when they face decisions in the future.
A plan that doesn't focus and deliver on improving UK's service to Kentucky, or that is set aside when, for example, a well-heeled interest group waves a big check, is not worth the trouble.