INSIDE BINGHAMTON UNIVERSITY
Center for Quality has new approach
By : Stephen P. Jensen
Chris Knickerbocker’s mantra could easily be stolen from a vacuum cleaner television spot: “Life’s messy. Clean it up.”
Her forte isn’t so much mopping up spills, but streamlining. In essence, she helps people – and organizations – get from Point A to Point B with less friction. In her world, she’s a facilitator.
The director of the Center for Quality, Knickerbocker said her organization, born in 1997, has undergone a facelift of late. Once a somewhat low-key entity, even with a twice-yearly slick newsletter that highlighted its projects, the center is now taking a higher profile, despite the now-obsolete news bulletin.
“In that newsletter, we’d highlight different areas and groups we were working with to generate interest across campus,” Knickerbocker said. “Someone might read that and say, ‘You did this in the president’s office, so maybe you could do that for our office, too.’”
These days the Center for Quality generates interest and grabs more attention, campus- and community-wide, through the distribution of what she calls an E-card. Recipients of that e-mail, which goes into effect this month, will get ideas on “management, or effective organization processes,” she said.
When the center opened its doors, its representatives were “facilitators of process-improvement teams,” Knickerbocker said.
“If a process wasn’t working, we’d come in, bring team members together, guide them, come up with a resolution or an improvement,” she said. “That was our bread and butter.”
Now, it’s just one of many services the center offers.
“We facilitate focus groups, we facilitate retreats for departments, whether it’s on single topics or team-building,” Knickerbocker said. “And we have workshops on a variety of continuous improvement-related topics. It’s a mix now.
“Fundamentally, it all boils down to communication.”
Numerous examples of the center’s influence are apparent throughout campus, including Binghamton University’s newly adopted “Sanctioning Guidelines” for the judicial process.
Over the course of 10 months, a six-member team met each week in an effort to craft an inclusive sanctions document. Members represented campus police, students, resident directors, the Residential Life Office and Judicial Affairs, while Knickerbocker served as the guide, so to speak.
“The goal for the team was to make things consistent and updated,” she said. “We needed to have parity among the sanctions. For example, loitering and harassment wouldn’t receive the same treatment.
“I don’t believe that had ever been done on such a thorough basis,” Knickerbocker said of the document that was finished in June. “At least not as a group.” And therein lies the key.
Whereas a number of divergent individuals providing input toward a solution may never agree, a collective assemblage, with the proper temperance, stands a much better chance to streamline a process, reach a goal or formulate a more efficient plan.
Grace Hoefner, assistant director for Residential Life, was a member of the sanctioning team.
“It’s really good to have a facilitator who’s not a part of the (team), or of the task at hand,” Hoefner said, “so they can bring you back on track when they need to, or ask for clarification. Sometimes certain (team) members will use terminologies others might not be aware of, so that helps clarify things.
“And the facilitator has no feeling about the outcome, but they want to help you get to the outcome.”
Everyone associated with the sanctions team, Hoefner said, was familiar with the judicial process. Where they butted heads was when it came to the severity of the sanctions. Most of their discrepancies touched on alcohol-related violations, she said.
In those areas, the facilitator successfully aided the process.
“During the philosophical discussions, it was very helpful for the sanctioning team to have someone steer us back on track,” Hoefner said. “Otherwise, we might still be there now.
“It was an interesting experiment, and I think it did work.”
Hoefner was also a member of a 2003 team that made decisions regarding housing during school breaks.
“We did agree on some key points,” she said of her collective Center for Quality team memberships, “and through some techniques offered from the center, you have to come to some consensus. You keep hammering until you come to that consensus.”
“We also did something with the Communications and Marketing Department,” said Knickerbocker, referring to the center’s role in guiding decisions on how recognition is given in campus publications.
THE PROCESS, IN ACTION
Inside BU, for example, includes what’s called a “staff box” on Page 2 of each issue. In it, key members of the operation are listed, along with contact information.
“We put together a team from different publications and departments to see what would be an acceptable ‘staff box’ that would be consistent throughout those vehicles,” Knickerbocker said. “In some of them, they’d have an entire list of trustees. Others didn’t mention many at all. We had to work through that to find a common solution.”
While that might seem simple to an outsider, there are obstacles. Often, there’s resistance to finding a fix.
“Anything that involves people is never simple,” Knickerbocker said. “But we lessen that. We only go where we’re asked to go.
“Sometimes it’ll be the front-line staff that’s asking, and sometimes it’s the management asking,” she said. “But usually, once we’re involved, people want to have their hand in the fixing of something that affects them directly.”
Perhaps the most direct involvement occurs when Knickerbocker or a member of the center’s staff mentors an individual.
“We offer one-on-one consulting for people who need help with planning,” Knickerbocker said. “Some people need help with how to organize their work load, but some just need help in filtering what to do, and what not to do anymore. “They might need help with deciding what to get rid of, and what to keep,” she said. “And not just things on a desk, but tasks.”
Ann Glossl, assistant vice president of student affairs, is benefiting from such an assist.
“I’m looking at what I do, as my position continues to evolve,” said Glossl, who could never be described as disorganized. “As you begin to take on more things, you also want to take a look at how to reign it all back in.
“I’m very organized in my head,” she said. “But it’s more management of papers and schedules. That sort of thing. Things seemed as if they had a chance to get out of control. I found myself in more of a crisis management mode.
“This will have ramifications down the road, as far as our staff being able to take on more things,” she added.
The center bridges the gap to the community, too, having helped non-profit organizations such as Danielle House, the Crime Victims Assistance Center and Tioga County Council on the Arts, to name a few. The center has also consulted for institutions including Onondaga Community College and the State University Colleges at Cortland and Oneonta, among others.
There is no cost for the center’s guidance for individuals, organizations and departments on campus, “and we generally haven’t charged for non-profits,” Knickerbocker said.