The strategic plan does not exist

Following the publication of College’s latest strategic plan, this one for the library, D. Joyce-Ahearne looks at the plan behind the plan.

COMMENTThere is a new strategic plan. Have you read it? Do you know it? The strategy. The planning. College have shared another one with us and again we are basking in a wake of concrete assurance as to the shape of the future, having been informed of the strategic plan that is in place.

This one is for the library. The Prendervost has called it “one of the most important documents in defining Trinity’s future”. It must surely be a strategic plan of a very high calibre, because to be classified as such would put this strategic plan in the realm of the Provost’s own strategic plan, the importance of which he has made clear.

The strategic plan is College’s go to means of communicating their intentions for Trinity. A plan is what you have when you know what you’re doing. Strategic is how you might describe something intended to execute a specific role. A strategic plan is College’s means of telling the College community the specific means by which they intend to bring about their intended goals. Strategic plan outline both the means and ends for the future of Trinity and they are published so that everyone knows what’s going on.

But the reality has been that, despite all the strategic plans, we have not been in the loop as to College’s intentions for Trinity. The best (worst) example was the cuts to the capitated bodies in 2013. There was no mention of that in the strategic plan for 2009 to 2014. The capitated bodies didn’t find out about the cuts until five months after the decision had been made. One would imagine unprecedented money-saving cuts would have been planned. One would imagine they are strategic, that is to say, that they were not done out of spite or on a whim.

There was also no mention of the 5% cut to student services last year in the current strategic plan, though they were decided before it was released and with plenty of time to be included. Undoubtedly these cut are part of the plan. So presumably any information on cuts to student services would be found in the Promoting Student Life section of the plan and to presume again, under section A2.4 Student-led Activity.

 “The strategic plan could equally be called the cunning plan or the strategic plot.”

It is here that the strategic plan recognises that “participation in extra- and co-curricular activities enhances both the intellectual and personal development of students. The motivation and enthusiasm for a vibrant student experience arises from student-led activity. The role of the university is to create an environment that fosters and encourages student initiative through clubs and societies.”

The strategic plan then outlines what it calls its “primary task” (hidden away on page 30, almost like it’s untrue): “The university’s primary task will be to ensure that its academic and administrative structures allow and encourage student-led activity to flourish.”

So that’s the plan. Or at least that’s the end result of the plan; the strategic plan being both a means and an end, there is more.  What follows is how College will “achieve this objective”. One would presume that it is here that one would find an explanation for the cuts, which given the primary task of College, now seem baffling.

There are six points:

— “developing Trinity’s academic programmes and timetable to facilitate participation in clubs, societies, and community engagement”

No mention of cuts but maybe that’ll be the next point. What does this mean? Does this mean you can ask a tutor to change the time of a class so you can go to the Ploughing Championship? Can you look for an essay extension because it’s ball season?

Are they suggesting that they are willing to take individual students’ or even societies’ schedules into account when preparing the timetables? They can’t. Because they couldn’t. There is no real world application or gain to having taken the time to write these words down. I don’t see how this could be done. I don’t see how a statement so vague, or at least non-quantifiable, is going to help students.

— “ensuring that the Estates and Infrastructure Development Plan takes due account of the space needs of student-led activities”

According to the College website “The Estates and Infrastructure Development Plan will involve extensive consultation, and will be completed by end 2015.” I imagine this consultation will be very expensive and not involve us but could just be cynicism based on precedent.

They recognise that students need a place to be when they do things and that if you take away the space they can no longer do the things. Sure. So far they’ve allowed us space and time, which arguably is the bare minimum and something they probably couldn’t deny us anyway. These do not seem like means by which to achieve anything. What about the money?

— “ensuring that university policies and administrative procedures support student led activity, recognizing its key role in the student experience”

So this university policy is going to ensure it achieves its objective of supporting student led activity by ensuring that university policy supports student led activity. Ok. I mean, yeah, but is that a plan? It doesn’t seem like much of a plan. When do you tell us about the cuts?

— “enhancing the Dean of Student’s Roll of Honour as a method of giving formal recognition to student learning through participation in local, national and international volunteering activities”

Maybe this is worth something to someone.

— “providing training and professional skills development to student officers of clubs and societies”

Does this happen? I have never received any.

— “delivering an e-portfolio system to capture the full range of student development”

Right, I look forward to that.

“The strategic plan is strategic in the way the leaves covering a bear trap are strategic leaves.”

So that is College’s strategic plan for student led activity. It’s all there. But what about the cuts? Why wasn’t that in the plan? What is the point in these plans if they don’t tell us what’s going on?

This is the reality of strategic plans. The strategic plan is strategic in the way the leaves covering a bear trap are strategic leaves. What is strategic about the strategic plan is that it’s a diversion. The strategic plan itself is a strategic plan. It is a meta-engagement in duping people. Bear with me.

In real terms:

Vice-Provost: Prendervost, did they notice the tripling of fees, transition from state to public funding and the shift from free education to a privatised commercial university?

Provost: No, I distracted them with a strategic plan.

Both: Mwahahaha!

The strategic plan could equally be called the cunning plan or the strategic plot. The strategic plan does not exist. It is the big lie told often enough that it becomes believed. If you read the strategic plan, or even just the example above, you will see that it contains no plans as such. It is so vague as to appear completely harmless, even useless. The objectives are barely objectives, never mind policy.

And that is why it is strategic. It appears innocuous. The strategic plans are unveiled to fanfare and drum rolls. They are intended to hold our attention while the real plan unfolds elsewhere.

I don’t for a second doubt that College knows what it’s doing. They know exactly what they’re doing and they don’t want us to know. Not informing the capitated bodies about cuts until five months after the fact is one example. The way College is operating at the level of Board is another.

An article in The University Times in May quoted a Fellow as saying “The limited circulation of Board documents has been so late that twice we’ve had to cancel our meetings with the Provost”. This is the strategic plan the Provost has for Trinity and highlights his gross misrepresentation of the strategic plan as an important document for Trinity’s future.

We are not shown the important documents. Important documents are the ones kept from the Fellows. An important document was the one that told of the capitations cuts. Important documents are the agenda and minutes of the Planning Group that are not made public. If strategic plans were important we can be sure we would not be told about them.

D. Joyce-Ahearne

D is former Contributing Editor of Trinity News and Trinity Graduate.