Thursday, December 18, 2014

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Sullivan Provides Update on University of Virginia Strategic Planning Process

Using preliminary findings from the University of Virginia’s ongoing strategic planning process, President Teresa A. Sullivan at the May meeting of the Board of Visitors outlined five emergent ideas that would help drive the University’s future.

Sullivan launched the strategic planning process at the beginning of the academic year, and the board is scheduled to receive a draft of the full plan in the fall. The points Sullivan outlined are distilled from planning done by seven working groups – each tasked to examine an area of the University’s operation – as well as an outside consultant, and represent the broad actions the University will detail in the full plan later this year.

“The University of Virginia is at an inflection point in its history,” Sullivan said. “This strategic planning process gives us an opportunity to re-examine and re-imagine the University’s mission. More importantly, this planning period gives us an opportunity to define the vision for the University’s future. When complete, the strategic plan will guide us on where we will focus limited resources and how we can best direct limitless energy.

“These strategic drivers represent the broadest recommendations of hundreds of students, faculty, staff, alumni, friends and supporters who participated in this important stage of the planning process. We owe them all a debt of gratitude,” Sullivan added.

The Art & Science Group LLC, a Baltimore-based company with expertise in market-informed strategy for universities and colleges, also conducted a peer review comparing the University to other top institutions of higher learning and consulted with a variety of leading thinkers in higher education, including university presidents and technology innovators. The consultants presented the results of that peer review at Tuesday’s board meeting.

The five strategic drivers identified by Sullivan represent areas in which U.Va. can build, and would require additional financial investments in order to succeed. The five are:

• Enriching and strengthening the University’s distinctive residential culture

• Assembling a distinguished faculty and focusing research strategically

• Making ethical leadership and leadership preparation a common purpose uniting faculty and students

• Pioneering a pedagogy that produces new levels of engagement and access

• Developing a sustainable organizational model for academic excellence

These are broad points, each comprised of many smaller ideas, Sullivan said. Enriching and strengthening the University’s distinctive residential culture, for example, includes concrete recommendations such as reworking the advising process; enhancing high-impact educational experiences for undergraduates such as research with faculty, service learning, entrepreneurial experiences and internships; and instilling a global sense in the on-Grounds culture.  

Assembling a distinguished faculty includes steps such as reinventing the recruitment process and engaging in world-class development of faculty, while the commitment to focused research could involve creating high-potential, cross-Grounds research initiatives that play on the University’s strengths – regardless of disciplinary boundaries – and contribute to the public good.

The University will continue to develop ethical leaders through co-curricular and extracurricular programs, such as the Honor Committee, residential life and student organizations. In addition, the University will emphasize curricular approaches to leadership, with some leadership programs residing in the College of Arts & Sciences or schools, while others will cross Grounds, such as the social entrepreneurship initiative and the Jefferson Public Citizens program.

With regard to new teaching approaches, Sullivan said the University will invest in production facilities and classrooms that enrich traditional in-class activities with Web-based or digital technologies. Also, the University will capitalize on existing research capacity to be a source for new teaching and learning environments within higher education.

The University will remain open to a variety of new collaborations that use technology innovatively, including relationships with Massive Open Online Course developers, and will seek to expand online resources for undergraduate degree completion programs, executive programs and professional master’s degrees, she said.

The last of Sullivan’s points centers on developing a sustainable financial model that strikes the right balance between state support and market-based tuition. Doing so would include balancing in-state and out-of-state students, continuing to take steps to restructure the University for the 21st century, and recommitting to access and affordability. Such a model would assure excellence in U.Va.’s undergraduate and professional schools, assure a value-based relationship with the commonwealth, create a best-in-class philanthropic development model and allow U.Va. to pursue a program of operational excellence.

During the meeting, Sullivan also described several guiding principles the University will embrace moving forward as it works to implement the final strategic plan. Those principles are:

• Ensuring the plan’s actions conform to the University’s values

• Welcoming opportunities to serve the commonwealth

• Pursuing continuous improvement as the source of ongoing excellence

• Making collaboration an institutional hallmark

• Seeking opportunities to enhance the University’s global perspective and presence

• Leveraging technology for maximum gain

• Aligning financial resources with aspirational goals

“A truly valuable strategic plan provides a roadmap to long-term success for an organization,” said Board of Visitors member Frank B. Atkinson, who is co-chairman along with Linwood H. Rose of the Special Committee on Strategic Planning. “This process will do just that and today’s presentation represents President Sullivan’s strong commitment to continuous improvement and advancing excellence at this great institution.”

“And in mapping that success, it will benefit the citizens of the commonwealth by ensuring that this flagship public university remains in the best position to serve our students, our patients, our thirst for new discoveries and innovation and our economic well-being,” Atkinson added.

“An effective strategic plan needs to provide both the broad areas that indicate major priorities and specific targets that provide the actual steps to carrying out the plan,” Rose said. “These preliminary ideas set the stage, and I am eager to discuss them with my colleagues on the board and to work with the president and her team once the final plan is completed.”

Board members expressed their appreciation for the hard work and dedication of all of the individuals involved in the robust planning process. University officials will continue to refine implementation plans and metrics as board feedback is received over the next few months.  Sullivan will present the full strategic plan to the Board of Visitors for its consideration in August.

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