Thoughts about what it means to be an enterprising university

by julia.hanigsberg | September 22nd, 2014

This is the last of a series of three blogs that focus on elements of Ryerson’s new Academic Plan.

Ryerson’s new five-year Academic Plan forges new territory by making explicit a set of values for the entire university. One of these is the value of being “enterprising.” This value may be one of the most unusual, and perhaps most controversial in a university context. The Academic Plan’s definition of “Enterprising” emphasizes action: “The university champions innovation and entrepreneurship, and empowers its students, faculty and staff to think creatively, take initiative and demonstrate resourcefulness.”

Ryerson is winning many accolades recognizing our contribution to entrepreneurship and innovation with the Ryerson Digital Media Zone being the most well-known, but far from the only example. Why has being enterprising caught fire at Ryerson in particular despite the fact that “innovation” is finding its way onto most university web sites? It’s because of the connection to the University’s Mission, to its DNA. At Ryerson the Senate policy requires that all programs have advisory committees, i.e. that they are connected. In an era of debate about the value of the university education, particularly liberal arts and social sciences, Ryerson’s mandate of societal need–connectedness rooted in Senate policy is especially well positioned to prove that value. Innovation is who we are not an affectation or an idea of the moment. Whether something is a zone or otherwise demonstrates its connection, the Ryerson University Act and our Senate ensure that meeting societal need is embedded in each new program. We were incubating new academic programs in the Chang School before “incubating” was a thing! Many well-known programs started in continuing education (e.g. Retail Management).

Being enterprising is connected to our goal of being Canada’s leading comprehensive innovation university. If the most obvious embodiment of this to some is the Digital Media Zone, it is equally Ryerson’s designation as Canada’s only Ashoka Changemaker Campus, the G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education Certificate in Aborigina​l Knowledges and Experience​s not to mention the Fashion Zone, Design Fabrication Zone and more. Soon after joining Ryerson, almost nine years ago (long before Zone education was in anyone’s vocabulary), I remember observing that one of the things I loved at Ryerson was that it was as entrepreneurial at the Ted Rogers School of Management as in the School of Disability Studies. I thought that was pretty striking at the time…and I still do.

Understanding labour market needs, listening to employers, policy-makers and institutions, predicting what the future holds for our students and listening to what our students tell us they need to learn (described in the Academic Plan as “trusting” students to learn) is what we do at Ryerson and distinguishes us from other universities.  We will continue our success by continuing Ryerson’s tradition of innovating in program and pedagogy.

We need to be equally innovative in our operations. We have good examples of administrative leadership. For example Financial Services has been a leader in developing paperless process and recently won an award for its leadership in e-procurement. Our food program is pushing the boundaries in local and sustainably sourced (and delicious!) institutional food.  Our student affairs area has been recognized for its innovative use of social media. For us to champion administrative innovation, we have to support creative thinking, take initiative and demonstrate resourcefulness.

To be enterprising in operations we need to do more to push the boundaries of being intrapreneurs.

  • What do Intrapreneurs do? They try new things. They learn from failure. They attempt to improve existing processes. They conserve resources.
  • Like their entrepreneur counterparts, intrapreneurs take initiative, aren’t afraid of taking risks, are innovative and creative, and are problem solvers. They don’t give up because the first attempt was a failure
  • They set up cross-functional teams and work on “pilots”. Why? Because pilot is a code word for “this may not work”: underpromise but overdeliver
  • Pilots are a good way to leverage existing resources to show things can work before making a budget request
  • An effective intrapreneur also keeps in mind the organization’s priorities. It is not about working on a favorite project but understanding how the project fits within the overall organization wide priorities and then pursuing it

Embracing the value of being enterprising from our new Academic Plan is as much about the nimbleness we will need to demonstrate to continue to build success in the future as it is to draw strength from our history and tradition of embracing change in teaching, learning and SRC.

Enterprising is who we are: past, present and future.

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