Strategic Planning at forefront of University future

Action is required for strategic plan to move forward

Finance was the topic of the hour at the Board of Visitors’ Strategic Planning Committee meeting Thursday afternoon.

As University President Teresa Sullivan and the rest of the University administration sought the Board’s approval of their strategic vision, several committee members questioned the plan’s vague price tag.

“If we approve [the plan], aren’t we just setting up contention at later meetings year after year?” Board member Frank Genovese said. “We don’t have a framework of the financials.”

Sullivan, along with other Board members, argued specific costs would be worked out in the annual budget process, but unless the University gets approval to pursue the plan’s 15 strategies first, the administration would be severely constricted.

“This process has been very inclusive,” Board member Linwood Rose said. “But there comes a time when we want to be more than just inclusive, but decisive … There are a lot of things we need to get a move on. We’ve got to establish priorities.”

After the passionate discussion, the committee voted unanimously to send the proposal along to the full Board meeting on Friday.

Board member Leonard Sandridge stressed that the debate at the table Thursday was relatively minor in scope.

“One thing I have observed is that there is no disagreement of the values and merits of the pillars [of the strategic plan],” Sandridge said. “[Passing the plan] would be a huge step forward if I were in the position of executing the plan.”

Sullivan noted that actions already taken by the Board in approving parts of the plan have gone a long way.

“At the August retreat, you told us to go ahead and get started with the Big Data Institute,” Sullivan said. “A number of corporations have already come to us about getting involved. Students have told us they want to come here because of what we are doing. All this is coming together because you gave us the green light in August.”

But she also warned that a failure to pass the plan at Friday’s meeting could scare away investors and potential collaborators.

“The cost of inaction is great,” Sullivan said. “If we don’t [pass the plan], what message does that send to the corporations and other groups reaching out to us?”

While some priorities in the plan, like the Big Data Institute, have large price tags, many of the plan’s strategies simply require a shift in organizational practices. For example, one strategy titled “Continuous Active Recruitment of Faculty” would simply change the ways deans and the Provost’s office hire.

“There’s a lot we can do by reorganizing without new expenditures or revenues,” Sullivan said.

Even if the Board approves the five-pillar plan — each pillar is comprised of two to four specific strategies — at tomorrow’s final session, Sullivan and Senior Vice Provost J. Milton Adams stressed that a continued effort would be required for the plan to work. To meet this need, a Continuous Planning office has been created to ensure the plan is properly implemented and realized.

The committee members agreed that Sullivan and her staff were deserving of their approval, but cautioned that discussion on the plan is far from over.

“The resolution before us is the endorsement that we’re being asked to make,” Committee Co-Chair Frank Atkinson said. “It’s at a level that’s appropriate for this stage in the process. Just to make sure no one reads too much into this, there’s a line that says this has to be worked through the annual budget process … [but] we want to salute the quality of work that’s been done.”

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