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Strengthen the School Infrastructure

Through the strategic planning data collection discussions, faculty and staff identified a need to strengthen the School’s infrastructure on multiple levels. Most actions necessary to achieve the goals in this pillar are centered internally. With our programs available across campuses, the School of Social Work is one of only two remaining academic units within Indiana University that function as a “system” school across most campuses. Accordingly, we must maintain centralized functional areas to ensure equitable supports for faculty and staff on every campus.

Focus Area 1. Collaborating as a System School #

In 1858, in Springfield Illinois, Abraham Lincoln gave a famous speech that began, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Another common phrase is that, in some cases, the sum is greater than its parts, and, in another, “There is safety in numbers.” A major political campaign in the past decade adopted the slogan, “Stronger together.” As a system school, the IUSSW is perhaps the most structurally complex school of social work in the United States. Indiana University has no plan to disaggregate our system; doing so would be expensive to the university and to individual campuses.

One strategic goal will guide our work in focus area # #

  1. Create connections across campuses to foster relationships, provide equal access to resources and information, and to explore curricular approaches that lead to consistent student learning outcomes.

Each individual campus program strives to promote excellence in research and scholarship, teaching, and service. We must maximize the potential strength of a unified, respectful and collaborative joining together of the resources present on each campus. This plan aims to maximize the strengths of a system school that embraces the uniqueness of each campus and harnesses the diverse strengths present across the system.

Key elements of the overarching goal include the value of connecting across campuses; developing ways to integrate research, teaching, and service as a school; and using all available tools and technology to advance the IUSSW as a system. School constituencies prioritize the elements in this particular subtheme differently depending on their day-to-day role in the School. Based on the perspectives offered in our data collection process, administrators and staff view collaborating as a systems school as more critical and believe we have more capacity to address this strategic area than is thought by faculty and students. This is not surprising in that administrators and staff most often work in roles that involve processes and policies that affect the entire IUSSW system, while faculty and students may have more affinity for their individual campuses and be less oriented to the systems-nature of IUSSW. Indeed, the faculty and student perceptions actually suggest the need for increased focus on this area, as we are a system school and not an unrelated set of programs.

Over the next three to five years we will work to strengthen the systems-character and day-to-day functioning of the IUSSW. Strengthening collaboration within the system will focus on issues of equity and access across all campuses, as well as attention to building school collegiality and relationships which are foundational to healthy and productive work environments. The objectives and planned efforts reflect a need for both relational and technological platforms to bring teaching, research, and school policy into a common space that is understood and accessible by all relevant parties.

Focus Area 2. Establishing Faculty Research Supports #

Nationally, the trend in funding of public higher education has involved a reduction in public funding, higher tuition, and a need for higher education programs to generate external funding (Pew, 2019). Such external funding supports the creation and dissemination of knowledge, goals that are fundamental to scholarly work. External funding also generates revenue to support salaries and free up other funds for use in strengthening educational and service missions. The level of external funding also affects the reputation and ranking of higher education programs.

One strategic goal will guide our work in focus area # #

  1. Develop content-focused research groups and create a system-wide infrastructure that increases and maintains research funding.

A faculty research supports committee convened to develop strategies to address this need and established two broad aims. The first aim is to develop a system-wide infrastructure to increase and maintain research funding. Central to this aim is establishing an office for research support and hiring people who can help facilitate the grant writing process. Personnel should include operational and editorial support; post-award support, such as project and grants managers; and statistical support. Increased physical space for research activities, including space for research assistants and staff, are vital to cohesive operations.

The infrastructure will establish a committee of faculty to meet regularly to help all faculty pursuing grant applications. Ideally, faculty would submit a draft of their grant application to this committee for review and the committee would provide verbal and written feedback to faculty. This aim requires faculty to take ownership of the School’s grant activities and recognize faculty with expertise in writing grants across the school system. Faculty must also be made aware of research funding opportunities by providing ongoing education and communications around different forms of funding, such as types of federal funding mechanisms, as well as state, foundation, and private sources of research funding. While aspirational, the infrastructure would support mechanisms to pay faculty summer funding for writing grants. Negotiated with the dean, and contingent on faculty submitting a grant writing activity plan, such support increases faculty capacity to write grant applications over the summer. The research infrastructure and supports must be accessible to faculty across all campuses. One metric to demonstrate success of the infrastructure and related activities is an increase in the number of grant applications submitted and the number of research awards obtained.

The second aim is the development of content focused research groups. Faculty across the School share research interests; however, not all faculty are aware of overlapping research interests. Initially, we will determine those areas of shared research interest, such as mental health, school social work, child welfare, etc. Once established, these groups would meet regularly. Creating online communities could facilitate connection of group members and ensure all campuses are included. One activity for these groups would include writing manuscripts and grants together. Not only would these groups help to connect faculty with similar interests, they would help to develop research relationships across the state. The primary metrics to demonstrate success would include an increase in the number of manuscripts and grants generated from the research group partnerships. Further evidence of the research groups’ success would be an increase in the number of community research partners.

Source: Pew Charitable Trusts (2019). Two decades of change in federal state higher education funding: Recent trends across levels of government. Online at https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/issue-briefs/2019/10/two-decades-of-change-in-federal-and-state-higher-education-funding

Focus Area 3. Enhancing School Communications #

Swift and clear communication is a necessary tool to move the IUSSW forward and strengthen all aspects of the School. Emerging from the strategic planning data, this subtheme emphasizes the essentiality of strong communications both within the IU School of Social Work, with our Alumni, and with external entities.

One strategic goal will guide our work in focus area # #

  1. Strengthen internal and external communications through the use of technology and leverage existing IU communication systems.

An internal focus will ensure communications reach our entire school community in today’s digital and mobile world by identifying the most effective tools to connect people across our school how and when members prefer. Efforts include establishing formal processes to guide workflow and expedite the sharing of information, as well as enhancing the School’s presence and capacity around the use of social media to increase the number of people engaged in our social media platforms.

This goal also aims to strengthen the use of technology in School communications. A key effort is to better utilize digital communication channels along with an integrated approach that merges progressive technologies with time-tested tactics. Enhancing the school’s website and its respective infrastructure will provide a relevant face for the School in today’s communications and marketing environment. We will maximize the technological capacity of the School to increase our data collection and use of data analytics in decision making. Building on past efforts, an enhanced intranet for faculty and staff promises to improve internal operations and communications across our School system.

The School of Social Work also plans to leverage and increase its participation with existing IU Communications Systems. Salesforce, a communications management system, offers tremendous opportunities for us to develop a centralized system for more efficient communications within the School and with external constituencies. Increased use by faculty and staff of Collaboratory, a centralized system to enhance our capacity to externally communicate the extent and impact of our community and global engagement and impact. Similarly, engaging faculty in the use of IU’s Research Funding and Communication system would serve to inform others of their research interests and successes, while identifying grants and potential funders with interest in the great work of our faculty.

Focus Area 4. Strengthening Organizational Systems to Support Faculty & Staff #

Provide clarity of responsibility and authority, use of annual reviews, and ensure School policies and structures are clear and effective. Concrete issues related to workload, salary, advancement opportunities, and position descriptions.

One strategic goal will guide our work in focus area # #

  1. Ensure overall operational structure supports faculty and staff by providing meaningful mentorships and creating an organizational structure that supports workloads for work-life balance.

One strategic action for this goal is to provide meaningful mentoring and support for new faculty and staff. We recognize the importance of supporting the professional growth and development of all employed members of the School community. Planned efforts include assessing current mentoring processes in place as well as the needs for faculty and staff across campuses. These assessments will inform recommendations for organizational structure and any changes needed for effective mentoring of faculty and staff.

Another strategic action is to create an organizational structure that supports balanced workloads and a healthy work-life balance for staff and faculty. Specifically, advancing communications from across the School system about workload experiences and needs will serve to inform areas to be addressed by administration. The key aim in this focal area is to ensure equitable workloads across faculty and staff.

Ensuring the School’s overall operational structure supports faculty and staff retention and job satisfaction is also important to strengthening the organizational structure. Conducting a review of the School’s organizational structure will identify areas where improvements are needed to address faculty and staff job satisfaction, advancement, and encourage optimal and creative performance. We desire to create a structure which provides opportunities for staff as well as faculty advancement.