U maps out long-term priorities

Every president establishes broad goals for the University, and Kaler’s will roll out in fall.

by Haley Hansen

With every new wave of University of Minnesota leaders, the institution re-establishes goals to hold the administration accountable and make sure the school is moving forward.

The plan under University President Eric Kaler’s administration is underway and will launch this fall. Though most strategic plans come and go with the administrations that created them — and with little accountability for achieving what they set out to do — this plan has been touted as more aggressive than its predecessors.

Officials say the plan is intended to ensure that members of the University community are working toward similar goals and that measures to evaluate success are uniform across departments and colleges.

“It’s important for all of us to feel like we’re accomplishing something and for students to feel that their education is as good as it can be,” Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Karen Hanson said.

Officials who created the plan are in the process of establishing benchmarks so the goals are accurately measured. Hanson said these guidelines will serve as a baseline for many years to come.

Kaler appointed students, faculty and staff members last fall to iron out the plan’s details and provide their expertise during the drafting phase. Minnesota Student Association officer Mick Hedberg,  one of two students in the workgroup, said some of the plan’s goals coincide with each other.

“[They’re] not just for the set individuals that are leading the discussion,” he said. “This is something that is going to be applicable to everyone in the University in some way.”

Including a diversity of voices in the planning process also makes sure that the University has a large enough budget to achieve its goals, said workgroup member and graduate student Meghan Mason.

All of this is part of making sure the plan lasts.

“We need to keep our institutions as strong as possible,” Hanson said, “and we do that by not becoming complacent, by looking at what we’ve got and thinking how we can build this into something even better.”

Outside the Twin Cities

University campuses throughout the state create similar plans, each with their own focus.

Every school within the five-campus system has its own process of developing goals, and they are currently in different stages of implementation.

The planning process sets aside valuable time for administrators to assess campuses and identify their individual strengths and specialties, Duluth Chancellor Lendley Black said.

“No university can be all things to all people,” he said. “And so it’s important that we have a good sense of our strengths [and] a good sense of the character of our institution.”

The Crookston campus is midway through the planning process, said Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Barbara Keinath, and is moving more quickly than the Twin Cities campus because the school is smaller.

Crookston’s three-part proposal focuses on increasing enrollment numbers, highlighting philanthropy efforts and promoting the school as a community resource.

Just like the other campuses, Rochester releases reports that aim to increase accountability, evaluate the school’s challenges and establish priorities. The current goal centers on how the school can better help students who are entering health science fields.

The Morris campus has the oldest active plan, adopted in 2006. It focuses on recruiting faculty and students, as well as improving communication and effectively using campus resources.

Morris Chancellor Jacqueline Johnson said the school is satisfied with progress so far, noting that it’s critical that plans remain active and schools follow them.

Although these black-and-white guidelines are helpful, Keinath said, they can sometimes be difficult to push forward over a long period of time.

“It’s a challenge for any organization to put the time and energy to strategic planning and keep living it out,” she said.

Hanson said the University is not alone in formulating these goals, and people — even those beyond just students, faculty and staff — will benefit for years to come.

“I think at regular intervals, institutions as complicated as these take stock and figure out where they should be going,” she said.