Regents: Don’t delay strategic plan

The plan is moving into one of its final stages, and some worry it doesn’t do enough.

Blair Emerson

As the University of Minnesota’s strategic plan moves into its comment phase, regents, faculty members and students are saying they want administrators to commit to implementing its proposed policies.

The Board of Regents reviewed an 85-page final draft of the guiding document at its monthly meeting Friday. Administrators say they won’t let the plan fall to the wayside, but some students are concerned that the blueprint doesn’t do enough.

“I remain skeptical of it,” said Ryan Olson, who sits on the Minnesota Student Association executive board and was involved with the plan’s design. “I felt there was less student-centered conversation around it.”

For example, he said, the proposal doesn’t address student issues like debt loads.

The public can comment on the plan online until Sept. 25, and administrators will present the final version of the plan at next month’s board meeting.

Andrew McNally, president of the Council of Graduate Students, said graduate students want to see strong commitment from University administrators to put the blueprint into action and concrete examples of its expected results.

“I look forward to holding the president and the provost to the commitment that they made,” he said.

At Friday’s meeting, some regents also stressed the importance of putting the proposal in motion.

“I would venture to say, if you go to most organizations, the strategic plan is sitting on the shelf some place gathering dust,” Board Vice Chair Dean Johnson said at the meeting.

Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Karen Hanson, along with others who worked on the strategic plan, said they ensure they will follow through with the outlined initiatives.

“We’ve promised over and over again this will not be on a shelf gathering dust, and I think that people are to hold us accountable,” Hanson said at the meeting.

One of the blueprint’s specific proposals is to reframe liberal education requirements to include lessons on “grand challenges” or societal issues like food sustainability and climate change. To accomplish this, it recommends creating four course categories for students.

“[The plan] requires critical thinking,” Regent Abdul Omari said at the meeting. “I think that’s something today that young people are lacking,” he said.

The plan also recommends increasing monetary and academic support for graduate students.

One point suggests that the University consider guaranteed, multi-year support packages for incoming doctoral students and full assistantship support for them.

McNally said he’s glad the strategic plan acknowledges the need for support of graduate students.

“That means that graduate students can focus on their research and their teaching and making contributions to the community, rather than thinking about how they’re going to make the rent or taking out loans,” he said.

Another underlying theme in the proposal is a call for more diversity at the University.

For example, the plan proposes holding department heads and academic administrators accountable for recruiting diverse faculty members.

Rebecca Ropers-Huilman, chair of the Faculty Consultative Committee, said recruiting diverse faculty members is crucial for the University’s success, adding that she’s excited it is in the plan.

“We cannot have excellence without diversity,” she said.

The blueprint also discusses extending one-year contracts for professional and administrative staff.

Katherine Cramer, chair of the Academic Professionals and Administrators Senate, said the senate has advocated for longer-term contracts in the past, and she said she hopes the administration will take this step.

Each of the University’s campuses already has a strategic plan in place, University President Eric Kaler said at Friday’s meeting, and there will be more conversations to align the plan with those in the future.