One-Off

Comments at the Fall 2009 Advisory Board Meeting

The School of Business & Technology at Webster University is one-off.

The late William Safire, the New York times language connoisseur, in a column a while back offered the following:

One-off does not mean merely "unusual"; nor does it mean "like Halley's Comet," coming back once in many blue moons. One-off is standing alone, pristine in its singularity. It is the compound adjective and noun that means "without precedent, easily copied but impossible to perfectly reproduce or clone." I submit to you that Webster University is one-off, "without precedent, easily copied, but impossible to perfectly reproduce or clone."

Pre-History - The 60s and Before
Webster University is an unfolding story that began in 1915 with the vision of the order of Loretto nuns. It was a daunting beginning, one that speaks to the value of commitment and empowerment of women and later men. The essence of this vision is to offer educational opportunity to all who seek it, regardless of their social and economic background. It's a mission dedicated to empowering people with that great equalizer we all know as knowledge. Today Webster has seen the partial realization of this vision. I say partial because we aren't finished yet.

For many institutions, the 1960s were a time of turmoil and change. Webster College was no exception. Probably no one labeled it strategic planning at the time, but the leadership of Webster College took stock of their past and viewed the future of the institution as best preserved by taking a different path - by being one-off.

Many women's colleges in this era became co-ed, but only a few with a religious heritage abandoned that part of their past to better embrace their educational mission. The Sisters, however, saw this era as a chance to help even more young people become productive citizens in a rapidly changing world. They "sold" the college to a lay board for the proverbial dollar, and Webster College became nonsectarian without losing its essential mission to educate young people.

The Birth of Management Education - 1970s
Today almost two out of three Webster University students study in The School of Business & Technology. In the early 1970s the numbers were more modest. A few leaders among the faculty in collaboration with the administration decided that part of the future of the institution was to be found in developing graduate programs.

Creation of the MAI Program
What began with the development of a cluster of courses from which students could build a degree, later became a standard degree program. Master of Arts Individualized, remained until probably the late 1970s. The program was nontraditional in its flexibility and was specifically adapted to the working adult. Classes were 8 weeks in length, and met one night a week for four hours.

The format was rather unique at the time. The actual course content was fairly standard, but the delivery format when combined with small classes offered Webster a competitive advantage for the evening adult student market, which led to explosive growth - one-off.

Growth of Extended Campuses
The success of this off campus program at Scott Air Force Base led to invitations from other bases around the country, and Webster became one of a handful of academic institutions offering graduate education on military bases.

A logical next step was to begin offering undergraduate courses in management and business in the evening for adults returning to school thus keeping the graduate and undergraduate evening programs accommodating to working adults which was central to the programs' missions.

A key part to making this happen was adjusting the teaching format. Classes were offered in eight-week blocks with students taking one or two courses every term.

We began to see explosive interest in the undergraduate evening adult degree completion programs in management and business majors, and the daytime program in management for traditional aged students was on its way to becoming a popular major.

Strategic Growth - The 1980s
In the 1980s, growth became more strategic and intentional. The Undergraduate Management Program became the Department of Business and Management to reflect its growth and strategic importance to the university.

At the end of the 1980s, it was clear the extended campus programs had moved from experimental to becoming central to the mission and daily operation of the university.

The creation of the Doctor of Management program followed in the late 1980s. This was a unique moment. Certainly the emergence of the Doctoral Program bolstered the need and argument for rapid expansion of doctoral qualified fulltime faculty.

Creation of The School of Business & Technology
By the early 1990s the need for some type of administrative restructuring was evident. Webster had grown significantly in both St. Louis and at the extended campus locations. The latter had become a significant feature of the university. Business and management education had, in two decades, matured from small experimental programs to the largest component of the institution.

So, after extended debate and negotiation, faculty and administration agreed on a plan to create a School of Business. As part of that process the Department of Math & Computer Science faculty asked to be placed in the School of Business because their growing computer science programs had much in common with the business school in St. Louis. Thus, the School of Business was renamed The School of Business & Technology.

Other Strategic Landmarks
Creation of online MBA Program in 1999 of which the School of Business now accounts for the lion's share of programs offered in this format.

Consistency Project - 2002 - a quality validation initiative focused on ensuring that we teach one curriculum in every one of our multi-campuses.

The ACBSP Accreditation - 2008 - Webster was recognized as "Best in Class" in the delivery of curriculum and assessment of learning.

Looking Forward
New building and role it will play in future of the School - brick and mortar doesn't define an institution, but the building will be a symbol of the totality of commitment to give our students the very best learning environment.

Webster University in the 21st Century
In a little over thirty years, Webster's Business, Management and Technology programs have become among the largest in the world. But we understand that rapid growth and current scale are not free passes to the future.

Our singular quest today is to extend our vision to be a recognized one-off business school.
This begs the question - what does the future hold for Webster's School of Business & Technology? I want to assure you this morning that the best days of Webster University lie ahead and we have the committed leadership to help us navigate this wide open future. We have Beth Stroble along with a committed faculty and staff.

A commitment by faculty and administrative resources to sustaining and improving quality throughout the Webster system.

Webster University became a one-off institution because of its ability to adapt in a transformational way without losing its core values. Who we are has never changed but how we do what we do has constantly changed. To remain one-off in the future, we, faculty, staff, administration and the advisory board, will need to employ a kind of organizational GPS to find the best path to the future among the divergent options, even if the satellite view is partially hidden by clouds of uncertainty.