an olive branch turned into stifled innovation

Disclaimer:  The Tech Steering Committee Innovation Grants offered by Santa Clara University are a terrific idea in support of those that have viable proposals to move teaching and learning forward.  Without these grants, many projects could not even get off the ground.  That these grants even exist at a smaller university is a testament to the commitment from the very highest levels of the university to innovative uses of technology in meaningful and hopefully important ways on education, learning, and university experience.

Having said that…a recent experience with the TSC grants has left a very bad taste in my mouth.  It seems contrary to the goals of the program, in fact.  It takes what was an olive branch offered in line with the very criteria for a proposal and turns things all around, potentially stifling innovation.

Several factors are indicated that improve the chances a proposal will be approved.  Many are expected – pedagogical impact, use of new technologies, online learning – but some are more about your own commitment.  For instance, I know that if the proposal includes funding from the requesting department, it is more likely to be approved.  If I indicate that I’m willing to put in money out of my budget, I show that I am committed to making this work.  That what I need is a (big) jump start in funding to get things moving, but that I’m also committed to keeping things going with my own money.

In a recent proposal, I offered roughly $7,500 from my own budget to go along with about $22,000 in requested funds.  A big proposal, I admit.  And if you think about it, the $7,500 is clearly not meant to be the key operational funding.  If I could pull this off with just my own money, I wouldn’t have to ask the university for more.  In a way, I stretched my capabilities as an olive branch to the committee to show them that I was committed to making this work.

The “approval” flipped the whole thing on its head.  The $7,500 would be the funding to get a pilot going.  The pilot would be smaller than the proposed install.  The committee would provide $11,000 should the pilot prove successful.

Now, I admit that it’s my mistake that I didn’t clarify that I needed a full installation to see if the program would work.  A smaller installation would not give clear results.  That’s my fault.  But the key thing is that what was meant as an olive branch, as money offered in kind but on a much smaller scale, is now supposed to be the entirety of my operational budget.  I am now looking at spending closer to $10,000 to make this work, and having to pay more in software costs in the long run in order to reduce them for now.  In the end, I am looking at doing this on my own, in fact, to get a pilot that might not even lead to further funding.

I am willing to throw the full weight of what resources I have behind projects that the university will help jumpstart.  But why offer us this opportunity and then approve them half-heartedly?  Just reject my proposal, or ask me questions, or both.  Going halfway is the same as forcing me to go alone.

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