The ink had no sooner dried on a recent column I wrote on the importance of vision statements when I received a draft copy of one recently written for Baltimore City Community College. Even in draft form, it passionately presented a compelling vision of the city, its people and the college. I was intrigued by President James D. Tschechtelin's handiwork, and for good reason.
Academics and vision statements traditionally do not fare well together. I mean, mission statements are an academic's cup of tea. Very dry, very intellectual, very objective. Vision statements by their very nature have to be bold, daring, futuristic, passionate. Academics don't get tenure by exemplifying those ideals.
This week Tschechtelin will be officially inaugurated as president of the college, after two years as interim president. In those two years, he has led the college on a quest that has taken it from a declining, third-rate institution that lacked the respect of students and peers to a solidcommunity college with dreams. It's been a rocky road for everyone.
The college's turnaround is all the more remarkable when you consider that it has coincided with the most severe recession in decades. Budget cuts over the past two years already have trimmed many faculty and administrative positions, cut senior citizen programs, eliminated seven career programs, cut travel, supplies and equipment funds, eliminated cost-of-living raises, forced furloughs, revamped comp time policies and reduced catalog mailing, faculty release time and other perks associated with college teaching.
Remarkably, in the midst of these cuts, the college has increased enrollment by 10 percent to 15 percent, gained market share, improved student retention, enhanced six programs, instituted a faculty evaluation system, replaced the archaic tenure system, started a work-site degree program for 200 USF&G employees, and held a tuition increase to $2, making its per-credit cost the lowest in the state. Talk about a commitment to affordable education.
Continuing these gains may take a steady supply of miracles, given the state's projected shortfalls. Some projections have the college absorbing another $1.8 million cut from its already low $16.4 million state budget.
Turning back to vision statements, Tschechtelin figures it would have been impossible to contemplate more cuts without a clearly defined mission statement and a vision of the future of the college. By outlining how college personnel view the future of the city and its people, then defining the college's relationship to them, the document provides a framework within which present budget cuts, as well as hoped-for future revenue growth, are easier to plan.
Tschechtelin is not without his detractors, to be sure. Characteristic of his lead-by-example approach, he crafted the first draft of the vision statement himself, then gave it to his colleagues to critique, an untraditional way to go about creating a statement of vision.
No matter the leadership style, the point to be made is that statements of mission and vision work hand in hand to guide and shape an organization. All organizations are stressed today, whether due to declining revenues or accelerated growth (stay even and you die). Tschechtelin's experience teaches us how an organization can benefit by sticking to its mission, then aligning programs to reach its vision.
But, let's also not be pie-in-the-sky about what these two critical statements can do. As Tschechtelin and his colleagues know, you can't balance a budget or create dynamic programs with two slips of paper. Without adequate resources, the finely tuned mission of providing a "quality, accessible, and affordable education" for all Baltimoreans will have a difficult time indeed projecting into any vision of the future for the city's citizens.
(Les Picker is a philanthropy consultant. Write to him at 71 Bathon Circle, Elkton, Md., 21921; (410) 392-3160.)