Making Effective Use of an Advisory Committee for Your Media Center

Michael J. Albright, Ph.D.

Academic Technology & Media Services

California State University, Monterey Bay

The comments that follow are oriented primarily toward media managers in a higher education setting. However, they are easily generalizable to K-12, business, and other settings where DEMM members are employed.

Is your media center buried in an organizational structure that gives you little support, budgetary or otherwise? Are you treated as a virtual nonentity by senior administrators and other key decision-makers? Do faculty members on your campus complain about lack of access to media resources because your center is underfunded and understaffed? Is instructional technology routinely ignored in academic planning documents at your institution?

If you answered "Yes" to any of these questions, an advisory committee can help. Many media managers in higher education do not have the academic credentials, position status, and campus reputation to be influential in higher administrative circles, particularly among those who determine institutional priorities and allocate budgets. A carefully selected advisory committee can represent your center's interests in places where you personally cannot go, help others on campus learn more about your center, its potential contributions, and its needs, and assist you in the performance of your managerial tasks.

Committee roles. Some specific roles for an advisory committee are as follows:

Assist in strategic planning for the center. An advisory committee can identify and prioritize the future directions for the center. Strategic plans developed by a committee of the center's constituents and collaborators are much more likely to be taken seriously and supported and funded by administrators than plans devised unilaterally by the center staff with little outside consultation.

Approve center policy. The advisory committee should be consulted during policy development and then approve the completed policy documents. Again, policies are much easier to defend and enforce if they come from a committee of persons the center's customers respect, and with whom they can identify, and do not appear to emanate arbitrarily from the director's office.

Serve as advocate for the center. If members of the committee are carefully selected, they can help to bring visibility to the center and ensure that the center's interests are represented in meetings of academic units, other committees, the faculty senate, planning groups, and other settings where the center needs advocacy.

Serve as conduit for faculty concerns regarding instructional technology. Faculty members on the committee can raise issues and voice concerns on the part of the faculty, keeping the director in touch with their attitudes toward the center. Conversely, these individuals can report back to their colleagues that the director is concerned and is doing everything possible to serve faculty interests and needs.

Offer advice to the director. On many occasions, the media center director can benefit from outside consultation before making decisions. This is a valuable function for the advisory committee.

One function that should be avoided at all costs is for the advisory committee to have approval or disapproval authority over departmental equipment or software purchase requests. The committee may set campuswide standards or recommend formats or models, but a few disapprovals viewed by the requesting units or professors as arbitrary and unfair can do more than anything else to damage the advisory committee's credibility. If campus policy requires that requisitions for media products be approved by your center, form another committee for that purpose. Keep the advisory committee out of it.

Committee membership. Who should be on the advisory committee? First of all, a couple of myths need to be dispelled. One is that the committee should be appointed by the president, chief academic officer, or some other high echelon official. Another is that all major academic units need to be "represented" on the committee. Either of these conditions lead to political appointments of persons who are friends (or enemies) of the appointing officer or need promotion and tenure credits but don't necessarily have the inspiration to be productive members of the committee. Such committees tend to be next to useless and often set new campus standards for absenteeism.

Another mistake is for the center director to appoint his or her own personal friends to the committee. These meetings often turn out to be compelling social events but little else.

It is, however, strongly recommended that if campus policy permits, the media center director or immediate reporting senior (preferably the former) should appoint the committee membership. They are indeed political appointees, but they should be your political appointees! The ideal members of the committee are those who are in a position to help your center succeed in its mission, who have a strong interest in the success of the center, who are influential in high places, who can serve effectively as advocates for your center, who have the trust and respect of the center's customers, who can get things done, who can provide important liaisons, and whose cooperation you need. This is a good shopping list to follow when considering potential members.

The most important individual is the chair of the committee. This person should be someone who has routine access to the highest levels of the administration, has an impeccable reputation, is technologically literate, has a sincere interest in seeing your center succeed, and is able to get the job done. Without a strong chair, the committee will likely flounder. You should not, under any circumstances, take the role of chair. Your role on the committee is as "ex-officio" member.

Faculty representatives are essential. They should be persons who have unique expertise that they can bring to the committee (such as instructional technology, architecture, or higher education administration) or can provide liaison with other key committees (e.g., academic planning, curriculum, classroom allocation, etc.) and/or the Faculty Senate. At least one faculty representative should be at the assistant or associate dean level. A representative from the office of the vice president for academic affairs or provost can provide vitally important linkage there.

Other committee members should be appointed to fill specific roles, depending upon the center's most significant needs. Potential appointees might include the directors of the campus library, computing center, faculty development center, or office of information technology. A representative from the office that schedules classrooms might be extremely valuable. The physical plant should be represented, preferably by someone from the facilities planning office who can wire the committee into new construction and renovation projects.

If support of distance education programs is part of the center's mission, a representative from the office that administers those programs should be on the committee. It may also be politically advantageous to include a member from the student government. Others that might be considered include persons from other campus media- related centers, the campus public relations office, the purchasing department, and environmental health and safety.

A committee of 15-18 persons does not have to be unwieldy and may turn out to be extremely productive. The first time you call them all together, you will likely sit back and watch in amazement as they establish liaisons among themselves. It is entirely possible that they have never before all sat around the same conference table together.

You know best who the movers and shakers are on your campus, the people who get things done and whose support is essential for your center to be effective. Don't hesitate to ask them to be on your advisory committee, regardless of where they are on the VIP scale. Most of them will be happy to serve, and the results can be extraordinary.

Keys to success. Having the right mix of individuals on the committee is half the battle. The other half is to have specific agendas and to work with the chair to keep the committee on task. These are folks who take time out from very busy schedules to work for you for an hour a month or so. Be careful not to waste their time with disorganized meetings, lack of carefully focused tasking, and a general lack of support on your part.

There is no magical formula for how often to meet. Once or twice a semester may be perfectly sufficient. At other times, such as when a report or plan must be generated, more frequent meetings may be desired.

Don't forget to express your gratitude to committee members for their contributions. Recognize them in your newsletter. Send them thank you notes when they complete important tasks. And most important, thank them verbally, in person. Let them know how grateful you are for their

help and support.