UMN admin focus on system-wide plan

University administrators are reviewing potential priority areas for the system-wide strategic plan, which influences legislative funding and University budgets.

University President Eric Kaler speaks to the House of Representatives committee on higher education at the Minnesota State Office Building in St. Paul on Jan. 24, 2017.

Image by Easton Green, Daily File Photo

University President Eric Kaler speaks to the House of Representatives’ committee on higher education at the Minnesota State Office Building in St. Paul on Jan. 24, 2017.

by Kelly Busche

In the absence of a system-wide strategic plan, University of Minnesota administrators are emphasizing the plan’s creation this academic year.

The University’s Board of Regents and President Eric Kaler are in the midst of a months-long review of potential plan focus areas. Regents hope a cohesive plan that applies to all campuses will result in better guidance on future University budgets and Minnesota State Legislature funding requests.

The system-wide strategic plan outlines the University’s current and future “fundamental” priorities – influencing funding from the state Legislature as well as guiding the annual operating budget, biennial budget request and capital budget. 

Some areas the plan may consider prioritizing include student affordability, diversity, housing, research, online courses and enrollment management. 

“Everything we do moving forward is going to be based on those priorities in some way,” said Jon Steadland, the University President’s chief of staff.

Although each campus already has its own strategic plan, the University has never implemented one system-wide. 

“We are trying to think more as a University system,” Steadland said.

Representatives from the research and outreach focus areas presented to the board at the last two meetings. The board will hear the remaining areas — medicine and health, teaching and learning and funding these priorities — at its next three meetings.

Regent Darrin Rosha said he pushed for implementing a strategic plan because it’s “essential” for guiding the University’s long-term financial planning. 

“As we go through making financial decisions, you want to ensure that you’re being very deliberate about the system campuses,” he said.

The plan would be used to check the University’s introduced budget against plan priorities. 

Steadland said the current budget is “decentralized.”

“I think [the strategic plan] gives you general strategic direction for who we are as an institution, what every day we are trying to focus on,” he said.

Plus, a clearly defined plan would improve the Minnesota state Legislature and constituents’ view of the University as a state-wide institution. 

“As we approach issues, how do we put a system-wide lens on them?” Steadland said.

The University hopes to pivot Minnesotans’ view of the University by outlining the work it does across the state, he said, further influencing the Legislature.

“We are not simply the University of the Twin Cities, which [we] sometimes [get] characterized as,” he said.

Rosha said the plan will also help convince legislators to invest more in the University. 

“It’s hard to tell them what the investment is going to be going forward if you can’t necessarily articulate what the long-term vision is of the institution,” he said. 

Final priorities will likely be released May 3 at a University Senate meeting, Steadland said.

The Regents will then see a presentation of a draft plan at its September meeting, with a final approval vote scheduled for the October meeting, he said.

Kaler said he’s “pleased” with the plan’s progress at March’s Regents meeting.

“We are not simply the University of Minnesota. This University is Minnesota,” Kaler said at the meeting.