A few months ago, I spoke with the student staff team in my office about impending changes to our department due to budget cuts. This was a difficult conversation not only because of how connected our staff is to what we produce, but because the changes were not something I had planned for nor felt all that positive about myself. This conversation with our student staff team probably helped me more than it helped them to understand that while changes are sometimes difficult, we will always persevere. I usually don’t script out my talks in this way, but I wanted to be intentional with each word I used. Here’s how it went…
I’m going to share some department updates and in order to help me do this, I am going to pass out some play dough for you to play with.
Start out by creating any shape of your choice. This shape now represents our office.
When I started this job almost six years ago, we had a very small staff. One day in April I was one of three people that walked in the door to join this team. At that point, our office expanded both in staff and the programs we were able to do. Take your shape and spread it out.
Then one of the people I started with left and our office changed shape again. We didn’t get to rehire one position and with that decision part of our programs went away. Over break, I found out, we will not be able to rehire one of the critical professional staff team positions we had on our team. The shape is changing again.
Now that we have changed the shape a couple of times since the beginning, it takes some more creativity to reshape our shape. When a previous professional staff member left, the programs that person worked with were discontinued and changed to fit what we could accomplish. It’s still good, but it’s different. Now that this second position will not be a part of our office, we have to be creative when thinking about covering the responsibilities of her position we can’t walk away from.
So this is how we are going to reshape our office yet again. Starting very soon, we plan to change our office name to more accurately describe our sharper focus and communicate more clearly what we do in a way that is easier to understand. Our remaining professional staff and graduate student staff will have expanded responsibilities that will require them to oversee a broader array of functions and everyone’s responsibilities will change. Because of this, we are going to need to rely on you even more to do the jobs you were hired to do and help us produce what we can for students.
There is a certain excitement that comes with change and all of us are excited about the new potential, but the down side is that when we reshape, instead of expanding, we are getting smaller. As the staff becomes smaller, the programs must become smaller as well.
We will always make sure our events and experiences are inclusive of all students, but we will not be able to do as much diversity and inclusivity specific programming and training with resources for that being shifted to other areas on campus. In addition, we will be “handing off” other programs to other offices that have more capacity to make them happen and are a good fit with their mission and goals. Finally, perhaps the biggest change of all is the elimination of our popular service program. This is an extremely strong and award winning program, but as the staff who manage the program will tell you it takes an extraordinary effort to manage and there simply isn’t time with the shifting of other responsibilities our team has to make. Although this makes us sad, we are excited about new potential programs related to volunteerism and leadership we can develop with partners on campus.
So, how many shapes have you turned your play-doh into? What I’ve described to you is a lot of change and one lesson in all of this for me, is that sometimes we aren’t the people who get to decide whether or not we want to change shape. As leaders and as a team we have to band together to deal with the change that happens. I am extremely proud of our team and how we have banded together to come up with this new plan.
Also, look back down at that play-doh….although it has taken many shapes during this time I have talked to you, it’s still play-doh! What it is hasn’t changed and who we are as a team hasn’t changed either. We are still here to provide experiences for students to connect to our campus, feel comfortable and supported, and get the most from their college experience. Thank you for everything you do to make us who we are.