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Excellence in the 21st Century: Planning Initiatives at the University of Virginia

As the 1998-99 academic year begins, the University of Virginia is embarking on a long-range strategic planning process aimed at ensuring excellence in four areas:

 bullet.gif (864 bytes) Fine and performing arts
 bullet.gif (864 bytes) International programs
 bullet.gif (864 bytes) Public service and outreach
 bullet.gif (864 bytes) Science and Technology

These initiatives will involve broad dialogue, intensive study, and thorough deliberation. Participants will be asked to approach the planning process with clean-slate thinking, but at the same time to draw upon their experience, their knowledge, and their familiarity with the University to create a vision for the first part of the 21st century. The process then will involve a focus on action plans tied to specific goals, timeframes, and funding requests.

The four areas of planning are based in individual schools and departments throughout the University. Yet, the planning process will emphasize the interdisciplinary ties that already exist, among them graduate and undergraduate studies, teaching, scholarship and research, and local and international perspectives. All will be encompassed by this work.

Planning Structure

Preliminary activities have involved formation of a structure to enable the planning process to proceed in a manner that is inclusive, participatory, and thorough. The structure sets the stage for both "top-down" and "bottom-up" reporting and review. Three primary groups are responsible: the University Planning Council; the Planning Commissions; and the Project Management Team.

The University Planning Council (UPC) is a deliberative body composed of senior University staff. The UPC will provide oversight for the entire planning process and will serve as the final review entity on recommendations and implementation plans.

Four Planning Commissions have been created – one for each major initiative.

A faculty member will chair each commission, and the members will represent complementary interests and backgrounds. Most members will be from the faculty. Others will include University officials, students, alumni, and other constituents.

The Planning Commissions have these primary responsibilities:

bullet.gif (864 bytes)  Define the scope of programs included in the review
bullet.gif (864 bytes)  Assess current strengths and weaknesses
bullet.gif (864 bytes)  Determine appropriate benchmarks and aspiration groups
bullet.gif (864 bytes)  Evaluate opportunities for achieving excellence
bullet.gif (864 bytes)  Set priorities and goals for implementation, including strategic  investment in programs (personnel, facilities, support services, etc.)

The commissions will use work products from existing and ongoing planning efforts, including the Provost’s Program Review process and the master plan for the Carr’s Hill Arts Precinct. External peers will assist the commissions by providing concept papers that offer broad assessments and stimulate initial discussion. These individuals and other objective external reviewers will provide critical review, or "vetting," of the commissions’ recommendations.

A project management team will provide logistical support and coordinate research, communications, decision support, and analysis for the UPC and the four commissions. Communication efforts will include maintenance of a Web site to disseminate information about the planning initiatives and to post the commissions’ work for responses from the community at-large.

Conclusion

The initial phase of the strategic planning process will carry the University into the first part of the 21st century. This process follows the successful planning efforts of the 1990s. The past ten years can be characterized as a time in which disciplined choices, thoughtful planning, and restructured finances have supported progress and enhanced quality in many areas of the University. Success, however, is a process, not an event – and not a single ranking held over time. This process is expected to serve as a template for future planning to maintain and enhance the University.

The rewards of this long and painstaking effort will be great. As the president said in his March 1998 State of the University address: “The benefits will be more powerful teaching, better prepared graduates, greater impact on the communities we serve, and greater value in all University degrees.”

 

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