Members of the University of Virginia community have an opportunity to share thoughts and recommendations about the University’s future during a series of public forums that begins next week.
The forums are part the strategic planning process launched earlier this year by President Teresa A. Sullivan. As part of that process, seven working groups comprising University administrators, faculty, students and alumni are each studying an issue related to U.Va.’s operation.
Each working group will hold an upcoming public hearing on its topic, and fold the resulting feedback into its final recommendations. The planning process is on track for University officials to present a draft strategic plan to the Board of Visitors by the beginning of the 2013 academic year. The approved plan will guide the University’s growth and operation for years to come.
Senior Vice Provost Milton Adams, who is overseeing the strategic planning process, said public feedback is critical to the plan’s development.
“To have a good plan, we need to have people understand what ideas are beings discussed and to weigh in on those ideas,” Adams said. “It also needs to be a two-way communication. These public forums are a way to solicit feedback, but they are also a chance for people to hear about the work the work groups are doing and the kind of questions they are thinking about.”
The series of public forums begins with the Public University Working Group, which will hold its hearing Dec. 12 at 4 p.m. in the South Meeting Room in Newcomb Hall. The Synergies Working Group will follow at the same time and location on Dec. 13.
Dean Carl P. Zeithaml of the McIntire School of Commerce chairs the Public University Working Group. The group’s task is to consider questions that go to the heart of what it means to be a top-rate public university, Zeithaml said. What should the structural relationship between the University and the Commonwealth of Virginia be? How do changes in that relationship affect the University’s governance system? What funding model should a flagship public university follow? What are the implications for tuition, financial aid and access? What are a public university’s responsibilities in areas such as research and job training?
The group will then translate these broad questions into concrete recommendations that can be incorporated into the final strategic plan, he said.
“It’s widely acknowledged that universities in general – and public universities specifically – are facing unprecedented challenges,” Zeithaml said. “Our work group is tasked with trying to identify these challenges and determine how U.Va. should appropriately respond.”
The forum is a chance for members of the University community to weigh in on issues related to U.Va.’s responsibility to the public and what those issues mean for the University’s operation. Topics could range from governance structures to questions about how to maintain excellence across disciplines in an era of diminished state funding for higher education, Zeithaml said.
“We are very interested to learn more about how our community sees these issues,” he said. “What we’re trying to emphasize and examine is not what’s wrong or where we’ve been. We’re interested in where we’re going.”
Jeffrey Walker, who chairs the U.Va. Council of Foundations, also chairs the Synergies Working Group, which is tasked with finding ways to bolster cooperation across disciplines and schools at U.Va., and to identify effective techniques developed in one area of the University that might be useful in others.
As an example, Walker referenced a pedagogical technique adopted by the School of Medicine. To boost lecture attendance, instructors started assigning more course work prior to the class meetings, reducing class sizes, emphasizing group work, and using technology and the Socratic method to bolster the in-class experience. Class attendance rose considerably, Walker said.
“Afterward, we heard from a chemistry professor who said, ‘I didn’t know they were doing that. That’s exactly what I was thinking about,’” Walker said, “and that’s a great example of what this committee is going to try to do: Take the best of what’s already happening in places at the University and make it available to the rest of U.Va.”
Over the course of the next several months, the Synergies Working Group will consider questions such as the usefulness of creating an innovation fund to support collaborative ideas from around the University, or how to break down barriers that might prevent researchers from drawing on relevant alumni experience or networks.
Walker cited the recently created Contemplative Sciences Center as an example of what can happen when an initiative crosses administrative and disciplinary boundaries.
“Using our strengths and our ability to collaborate across schools on issues, causes and research that no one school could do by itself can help us remain nationally competitive,” Walker said. “Our committee is going to identify tools and techniques, lay out several different examples of best practices and areas that could be used as models, and then identify other examples of areas where we think there is strong potential for further cooperation.”
The public forums resume after the holidays with the Faculty Recruitment, Retention and Development Working Group on Jan. 14 at noon in the Newcomb Hall Ballroom. The Streamlining Working Group meets Jan. 15. Additional information on those public forms is forthcoming in UVA Today.
Adams said the finished strategic plan will outline a broad vision that could guide the University for the next 10 to 20 years, as well as a series of concrete steps and recommendations to be taken in the next three to five years.
Planners will develop their first set of ideas and strategies by late January, and present an update to the Board of Visitors at its February meeting. Consultants hired to perform a peer assessment will also update the board on their findings.
Afterward, the working groups will continue to refine their work through the spring, and will provide another update at the board’s May meeting, Adams said. A working draft of the complete report will follow in late summer.
The strategic planning website includes descriptions of the process, video segments featuring key participants, as well as a way to contribute ideas and feedback via email.