April 1, 2010

Provost Moves Ahead With Strategic Plan

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Provost Kent Fuchs and Prof. Edward Lawler, industrial and labor relations, presented broad, long-term goals for the future of Cornell to a medium-sized group of faculty and staff yesterday, the latest stop on the Reimagining Cornell train.

By University officials’ own admission, the 2010 “Strategic Plan for Excellence,” developed by the Strategic Planning Advisory Council and released on Mar. 11, by and large lacks the pragmatic suggestions needed to bring about what Fuchs termed Lawler’s “visionary” goals.The plan — now in its second official draft — focuses on general recommendations to be implemented over a period of time: a predominant theme which, as outlined in the document’s first sentence, prescribes “treat[ing] Cornell University as a single unit or entity.”Similarly, the document’s executive summary lists an “overarching aspiration” to make the University a “top-ten research university in the nation and world,” but does not specify how — or at what cost — this will occur.In an interview after the demonstration, Lawler defended the virtues of setting and defining lofty aspirations.  “[The plan] sets forth a general direction,” Lawler said, adding that “you need goals,” even if they seem obvious, for success.Fuchs introduced the talk by saying it would be the “last public forum” on the proposal — which will undergo one more revision before it is submitted to the president and the provost.When asked why this was so, Lawler said that the advisory Council has “[already] had a number of forums and gotten feedback … at some point you have to take the feedback you’ve got and push the process to its conclusion.”Lawler clarified that Skorton and Fuchs “could have more” public discussions after the advisory council submits its third draft for their approval.Lawler and Fuchs discussed how the advisory council has responded to recent student suicides in the Strategic Plan, in response to a question from Marrie Neumer, the Johnson Museum’s Director of Development.It “seems to me we’re all focused on being a top-ten University,” Neumer said.  “[But] in lieu of recent tragedies … should this document touch on student experience … where is it?”Lawler responded that “We are adding … a new objective in the education section [on] health and well-being [to] promote [the] health and well-being of graduates and undergraduates.”Lawler, however, also stressed that the plan had already dealt with the student experience, saying that “three of six objectives [in the education section of the document] have to do with student experience.”“[Our] impact on students … is our enduring legend,” Fuchs said.Despite the expansive nature of the advisory council’s strategic plan, over the six-week period between the first draft and the second it has inched towards exploring how to execute general objectives.For instance, as Lawler told the crowd, the advisory council added “set priorities” among “the objectives in the five goal areas” and “developed the seven strategic initiatives.”  He said that these were “more directed at implementation” than the first draft.“It’s more complete, [there’s] more meat to it,” said Linda Schmidt ’07, an executive staff assistant in the office of the vice provost of initiatives.One of the more specific of the seven strategic initiatives involves an expected wave of faculty retirements and suggests “giving priority to recruiting new Ph.D.s and ‘rising stars.’”Lawler discussed this initiative in his presentation, saying that with “30 percent of our faculty is 60 and over,” “we’re looking at a major transformation of faculty in the next 10 year, unique in Cornell’s history.” He urged Cornell to “prefill” on faculty before retirements. During his presentation, Lawler also emphasized that there had been a revision to the “University Aspiration” section of the text.  He said after faculty and student “feedback,” the advisory council added the wording that said Cornell, in addition to becoming a top-ten research University, aspired to become “a model university for the interweaving of liberal education and fundamental knowledge with practical education and impact on societal and world problems.” The tone of the question and answer session following the presentation was generally amicable, with one professor praising the document for its commitment to public engagement.Prof. Tony Bretscher, molecular biology and genetics, however, said that there was a “remarkable paucity of space given to funding graduate students.”“There is an objective about graduate students,” Lawler responded. He also speculated that “if you costed out” a section on grad students, it might reveal a significant monetary commitment to the students, though he admitted he did not know the actual figures.Fuchs responded somewhat differently, saying Bretscher was “absolutely right” that there “[hasn’t been] as great a focus on recruiting [and] supporting graduate students” and that there should be. The advisory council is expected to submit its proposal to the provost and president in May.

Original Author: Jeff Stein