Friday, August 29, 2014

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Strategic Planning Group Looks to Identify, Eliminate Barriers to Excellence

University of Virginia faculty, staff and students shared ideas Tuesday on ways to simplify and improve University practices.

About 60 University community members met in the South Meeting Room in Newcomb Hall for a public forum hosted by the Streamlining Working Group, one of seven such groups convened as part of the strategic planning process launched earlier this academic year by President Teresa A. Sullivan.

Participants discussed ideas such as using technology to cut through red tape, fostering collaboration across schools and departments, and reducing administrative costs by eliminating duplicative functions.

Robert F. Bruner, dean of the Darden School of Business, chairs the working group. At the meeting he said the term “streamlining” may have different connotations to different people, but that the group’s mission is to help find ways to improve University processes.

“What we’re setting in motion today is probably going to have consequences two, three, five years from now,” he said at the meeting. “This is a marathon, not a sprint. We need to simply commit ourselves as a professional community to doing better – to not merely sustain the institution we have, but to build it and grow it.”

During the meeting, participants broke into small groups to discuss ways the University could improve. At one table, ideas ranged from reducing U.Va.’s electrical footprint to recommendations about updating the phone and voicemail systems. But, like many other groups, much of the discussion centered on ways to increase efficiency and reduce duplicative efforts.

Dr. Ronald Turner, the associate dean for clinical research in the School of Medicine, said the research process – from applying for a grant to reporting on its results – is filled with labor-intensive administrative steps, and said the University could use technology-based solutions to make it easier and faster.

Jennifer Bonenfant, director of the UVA Fund, said there is duplication in some parts of the University’s fundraising operation. Each school has its own foundation and business office, and while that structure allows each unit to be attentive to its own needs, there are some basic back-office administrative functions, such as processing receipts, that might be more efficiently accomplished centrally, she said.

Marsh Pattie, associate dean of students, said the University could create a database of information for faculty, students and administrators that could include their research focuses or scholarly interests. Such a database might make it easier for faculty or students to find collaborators outside of their own schools or departments. “This could provide a good first step for collaborative projects,” he said.

In other groups, many participants talked about the need for the University to decentralize as much as possible – making sure funds and resources are in the hands of those who best know how to use them – while at the same time identifying and strengthening those areas best served by a central administrative structure.

The working group will distill the public forum feedback into a small number of points to be incorporated into the overall strategic plan. Meanwhile, members of the University community interested in providing additional feedback can respond to the group’s online survey, or leave feedback on the strategic planning website.

The strategic planning process continues Wednesday with the Resources Working Group open forum at 4 p.m. in the Commonwealth Room in Newcomb Hall. An open forum for students follows at 7 p.m. in the auditorium in the Harrison Institute and Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library. A full schedule is available on the strategic planning website.

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