U.Va. Strategic Planning Process Is on Track

J. Milton Adams speaking at a podium

J. Milton Adams discusses U.Va.'s strategic planning process during the Board of Visitors meeting.

What might the University of Virginia look like in 10 years?

That’s the question President Teresa A. Sullivan is asking all of the University’s stakeholders – those on Grounds and those spread out across the country and around the globe.

Her invitation: “Join with me, the University community and members of the Board of Visitors as together we reexamine and reimagine the University as we approach its third century.”

Now, with a steering committee in place and working groups ramping up to fulfill their assignments, the strategic planning process at U.Va. is moving ahead with an ambitious timetable – to deliver a draft strategic plan to the Board of Visitors by the start of the 2013 academic year.

“In an era of constrained resources,” Sullivan said, “we need to have a plan that assesses U.Va.’s strengths and weaknesses, sets priorities and charts a bold, but achievable, course for the University’s future.”

Sullivan is chairing the 20-member steering committee that will oversee the process, which she intends to be thoughtful, deliberate, inclusive – and brisk. A website has been established to keep the University community informed of progress and invite participation.

She is also working in collaboration with the Board of Visitors’ Special Committee on Strategic Planning, which delivered its first report to the board Thursday. This group, co-chaired by Linwood H. Rose, former president of James Madison University, and Frank B. Atkinson, a Richmond attorney with deep experience in higher education, was appointed in August and will work closely with the president to ensure an inclusive process that will provide numerous opportunities for the special committee to interact with the steering committee.

Both the president and the board view this as a critical juncture in the University’s history and are looking to create a plan unlike any other.

“We have one great advantage as we enter this period of planning, because we do so – not from crisis mode – but from a position of stability and strength,” Sullivan said. “As we begin a period of intense planning, I am committed to building a bright future for U.Va. – because U.Va. is a great university, because we have experienced its greatness firsthand, and because we want to preserve and enhance that greatness for future generations.”

The work will unfold in two phases: academic assessment and planning. On Monday, at a meeting of the Faculty Senate, John D. Simon, executive vice president and provost, announced that a consultant, Art & Science Group LLC, had been engaged to assist with the academic assessment. Art & Science has worked most recently with the University to assess AccessUVa, the University’s financial aid program, and has extensive experience helping other institutions of higher education in similar situations.

Simon told the Senate that seven working groups have been created: Faculty Recruitment and Retention; What It Means to Be a Public University; Resources; Streamlining; Student Life; Synergies; and Technology. (Descriptions below.)

But he pointed out that the University would continue efforts already under way to address three priorities that have been outlined previously by Sullivan: faculty salaries, curriculum and research.

Because strategic planning is intended to be a permanent and continuous process, Sullivan and Simon announced in September that J. Milton Adams would fill a new position of senior vice provost. Adams, who previously served as vice provost for academic programs, said he is looking forward to shepherding the process, and sees it as an extraordinary opportunity for the University.

“Our strategic planning process will ask not only how to make U.Va. and its education stronger, but ask what it means to be a public university in the 21st century and how do we maintain excellence, affordability and access,” Adams said. “We will develop a process to evolve new ideas into plans, not once every five years, but year after year.

“As we approach 2024, 200 years after the first students attended the University, we must be ready to meet the educational needs of the students of tomorrow.”

The final plan will integrate the work from previous University strategic plans, including the 2008 Commission on the Future of the University; the Virginia 2020 initiative; and the May 2012 president’s memorandum that identifies significant gaps. In addition, higher education initiatives created as part of Gov. Robert F. McDonnell’s Top Jobs Act will be taken into consideration.

At the Strategic Planning Committee meeting Thursday, Rose said the working groups’ charges also address the list of challenges and concerns that he and Atkinson outlined in a letter to Sullivan. The committee will also meet soon with the consultants, Adams said Thursday, to ensure the academic assessment looks at the issues that are important to the board.

Once the strategic plan is approved by the board, Adams’ job will be early-stage implementation of the strategy. Sullivan said planning is also a continuing process of assessment and renewal. “Milton is the perfect person to coordinate this effort,” she said.

Seven Working Groups Established

In describing the working groups, Sullivan said they were set up to focus on a series of topics and questions that are fundamental to the new plan.

• Student Life, chaired by Tom Faulders, president and chief executive officer of the Alumni Association: Sullivan considers the residential undergraduate experience in Charlottesville to be U.Va.’s signature. “We believe we offer the strongest, richest residential education in the country,” she said. “The planning process is intended to further strengthen that experience.” Among the questions to be asked will be: What should our students be learning now? How can learning be effectively measured? Do we need new or different academic programs to adequately prepare students for careers and public life? How can we continue to make a U.Va. education affordable for all qualified students?

• Technology, chaired by James Hilton, vice president and chief information officer: Even as the University affirms the value of a residential education, it needs to explore ways to enhance teaching and learning through the use of technologies. Among the questions to be asked include: Should U.Va. offer more classes and degree programs online? What information-technology resources do we need to support innovation in teaching and research?

• What Does It Mean to Be a Public University?, chaired by Carl Zeithaml, dean of the McIntire School of Commerce: Following the progressive collapse of state support over the past two decades, the University needs to determine and define its public mission, Sullivan said. Among the questions to be asked: What should our commitments be, now and in the future, as one of the nation’s great public universities? 

• Faculty Recruitment and Retention, chaired by Dorrie Fontaine, dean of the School of Nursing: With a wave of retirements coming over the next 10 years, many of the University’s great professors will be stepping down, and the University will be hiring the next generation of teachers and scholars, Sullivan said. Among the questions: What should the faculty of 2020 and beyond look like? What capabilities and areas of expertise should they have?

• Synergies, chaired by Jeffrey Walker, McIntire alumnus and chair of the Council of Foundations: The University must find more ways to identify and align the shared interests of its individual schools and faculty members, so they can effectively work together, Sullivan said. Among the questions: How do we foster multi-disciplinary approaches to solutions? How do we knock down the barriers to collaboration within our University? What are best practices elsewhere?

• Resources, chaired by David Breneman, University Professor in the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy: Sullivan said that the University must seek new ways to generate greater resources through private support. Among her questions: Can we develop three to four priorities to advance private support? How do we connect planning priorities to private support? What are our financial constraints? Do our facilities match our educational, service and research needs?

• Streamlining, chaired by Robert Bruner, dean of the Darden School of Business: The University must look at new opportunities to streamline and make its business practices even more efficient, Sullivan said. Among her questions: Are there policies that should be developed to ensure that we use best practices and are efficient in all of our work? What should our student faculty ratio be and why? Should we facilitate more joint appointments for faculty between schools with memoranda of understanding?

In her remarks to many groups, Sullivan has both addressed the historic perspective of the new planning process and looked ahead to the legacy that today’s generation of University leaders will leave once the process has been completed.

Jefferson, she has said, wanted the University to equip citizens with useful knowledge, giving them the capacity to assume positions of leadership in the American republic.

“We continue this work today, and that’s why planning for the University’s future is so important. As we shape U.Va.’s future, we’re shaping the training ground that will prepare the leaders of our Commonwealth and our country in the next generation and beyond,” Sullivan said, adding quickly: “That’s a big job, but working together we will realize success.”

Rector Helen E. Dragas described the forthcoming strategic plan as a “living, breathing” plan that will “sustain the University’s excellence for a long, long time.”


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