February 10, 2010

University Drafts New Strategic Plan Initiative

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As part of Reimagining Cornell’s tri-pronged approach, a strategic plan designed to improve and ensure the University’s future is currently being written. On Jan. 27, a working outline of the document was uploaded to the Reimagining Cornell website.

The initial working draft is available online for review by the Cornell community in hope that the community will provide the Strategic Planning Advisory Council, responsible for creating the plan, with comments and suggestions.

SPAC co-chairs Prof. Ed Lawler, Industrial and Labor Relations, and Provost Kent Fuchs have taken the lead in the process of drafting of this plan — currently entitled “Cornell University at Its Sesquicentennial: A Strategic Plan for Excellence.”

According to the Reimagining Cornell website, “This plan will identify the goals, strategies, tactics and metrics that will define the Cornell of the future.” The strategy outlines goals for the University in five major areas: educational excellence, excellence in research scholarship and creativity, excellence in public engagement, faculty excellence and staff excellence.

Within each of the five goal areas, the draft details numerous objectives that are necessary for achieving each goal; for each objective, the plan lists actions that are crucial for achieving the stated objective.

According to Lawler, while the five stated goals are long-term University aims, the objectives are small steps and are focused in areas that the university can improve in within the next five years.

“The objectives in each section are chosen because those are places the university can improve and increase in excellence over the next five years,” Lawler said.

In addition to the five overarching University goals, the draft sets forth a lofty goal for the University to become a top-ten research university in the nation and world within the decade.

Lawler notes the presence of consistent themes throughout SPAC’s plan. He said, “[There are] certain themes. One is to think of Cornell as a singular unit and look across colleges, at cross-cutting issues. [Therefore,] each of the action items in the plan will not necessarily apply equally to each of the colleges.”

In the section of the outline focused on the goal of promoting educational excellence, Lawler emphasizes the idea of Cornell as a whole and coordination among colleges.

“With education, the idea is to provide Cornell students with more of a shared experience across colleges. We would like to make it easier for students in [one of the] colleges to take classes in other colleges. We would like to reduce Big Red tape and allow for students to take full advantage of the University as a whole.”

Student Assembly VP of Finance Chris Basil ’10 is serving as the undergraduate representative on the educational policy working-group advising the SPAC.

“We discussed what skills every Cornell graduate should have when they graduate from Cornell and have a Cornell degree,” Basil said. “We highlighted a number of things that all students in all majors should know how to do. English majors should still know how to do math. Engineers should still know how to write. That was the way we looked across colleges although the goal was not to make every college a liberal arts college.”

The plan’s aim to promote educational excellence at Cornell is closely tied to the related strategic goals such as the pursuit of excellence in research, scholarship and creativity and to promotion of faculty excellence.

“Attracting faculty and keeping them depends on the quality of students so there is a tie between student experience and the aspiration [to become a top-ten research university]. Recruitment and retention of faculty is a core issue here,” said Lawler.

He also explained that SPAC aims to create a stronger culture of teaching and to bolster the research programs at Cornell.

“In the research area we would like to develop ways for Cornell to get even stronger … to have even more departments and programs to be leaders in their fields and disciplines.”

Basil expressed support for the research goals outlined in the SPAC plan. “Research is a component of undergraduate education,” he explained. “It will help the Cornell experience holistically inside and outside of the classroom. The attitude of the plan is not just to boost our rating but to see where we can improve the University holistically.”

Michelle Leinfelder grad worked with the Research, Scholarship and Creativity work-group and believes that the research improvements included in the plan will generally improve Cornell: “The undergraduates will be learning not just from the textbook but from the expert on the subject.”

Lawler stated that the emphasis placed on viewing Cornell, as a single unit is similarly present in the outline’s desire to promote excellence in public engagement. “We would like to make it easier for students to have international experiences and public engagement and public service learning. … part of the idea is to think of the outreach mission of the University in broader and more exclusive terms.”

Basil emphasized the plan’s focus on Cornell’s values as an institution. “Anyone who goes to Cornell now knows that having all these majors, colleges and opportunities is a huge asset that you really don’t get anywhere else. The committee looked to draw in the extent of all these colleges and make something unique and special to allow students access to all of the great things at Cornell.”

According to Lawler, the entirety of the plan also focuses on improving Cornell’s diversity and inclusion. “We think this is an opportune time to increase the diversity at Cornell across the board. This includes a more diverse body of students and a greater diversity among faculty.”

Assembled by Fuchs, SPAC is composed of eight faculty members who are ultimately responsible for drafting the plan, because of their status as distinguished scholars and teachers capable of viewing the University in broad, cross-college terms.

The Council oversees four working groups on education; research, scholarship and creativity; public engagement; and organizational stewardship.

“Around the beginning of December, the working groups took these issues and essentially went deeper and delved into them.”

From there, the council drafted a set of objectives and action items which were ultimately sent back to the working groups for more feedback. After further revision, the objectives and action items were given to the deans, the vice-president and the provost for additional discussion.

Aside from the working groups, the Council considered input from the overall Cornell community including deans, vice-presidents, University staff, faculty members, the undergraduate Student Assembly, the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly and informal groups of students.

The Council was also able to draw on information from Reimagining Cornell’s 20 academic task forces, strategic plans from colleges and schools and previous annual reports. According to Lawler, the next step is to examine the objectives outlined within each goal area and develop priorities. A revised draft of the strategic plan, scheduled for release in May, will address these priorities, which the council believes the University should focus most on in the next five years. Therefore, Lawler insists that community input on the draft available today is crucial.

“The plan is a draft and it is a partial draft. We want feedback before we fully develop priorities. We will go through every comment and ask whether it suggests a change some place in the plan, a new idea that we had missed or reveals something thing that we have not communicated well. This will help us clarify what we are saying and get an initial response of the content of the plan — are we headed in the right direction, are we being helpful, will these things improve the University?”

After the release of the revised draft in May, the Cornell Board of Trustees will evaluate the draft and feedback from public discussion during an all day retreat. A final plan will be issued in May.

Lawler notes that although a final plan will be issued in May, that plan will be subject to change. “The plan should change. Any plan is a living document. This plan will be written in pencil. It will be assessed and revised as situations change and it will be flexible in that way.”

Original Author: Michelle Honor