President Kaler's Strategic Planning Update to the Board of Regents

Monday, September 23, 2013

(Remarks as delivered. Slide deck available for download.)

Board of Regents September 2013

We are in a time of tremendous change in higher education and are faced with both extraordinary challenges and opportunities. To help us focus our vision for the next decade and beyond, I have launched a strategic planning process for the Twin Cities campus. I have asked Provost Karen Hanson to chair the Strategic Planning Workgroup.

Why plan? Why now?

I’ve completed two years on this job. I’ve been around the state, around our campuses, in countless meetings with students, faculty, staff, community and business leaders, parents and you. Here’s what I’ve heard, seen and learned.

  • Citizens are eager for the U to be good … but distrust what we do.
  • They think we’re fat and bloated, that our tuition is too high, and that we employ too many administrators.
  • We have a large number of Ph.D. programs, but of variable quality.
  • We are improving our undergraduate experience and metrics, but the coming demographic changes will be dramatic.
  • We need to improve the Medical School.
  • Athletic success matters.
  • We need operational improvements. 
  • We have an opportunity to build a reputation to match our outcomes.
  • We need a better connection with Greater Minnesota.
  • We need to improve educational efficiency, perhaps via e-learning and MOOCs.
  • We need to figure out the usage of the right space in the right place.
  • We are sometimes burdened by heavy consultation and processes.
  • And we’re not as collaborative as we should be.

Here’s where I want this University to be in 20 years, what I want us to achieve, and how I want us to be known and perceived.

  • I want a nationally prominent undergraduate program,
  • A leading research institution,
  • A destination for graduate and professional education,
  • A center for recognized faculty excellence.
  • I want us to be known as a nation-leading health care provider,
  • An athletic powerhouse,
  • With deep community engagement,
  • World-class philanthropy,
  • And sustained state support.

I want that all to lead to and add up to affordable excellence. In short, in a word … I want us to be ambitious.

I want us to embrace ambition. Ambition is not just an earnest desire to achieve greatness. It includes the will to aspire, and aspire to greatness. That aspiration must be driven always by hard work and sometimes by tough decisions.

Here are my goals for the strategic planning process.

  • Overall: to increase this University’s impact and reputation.
  • The plan should be bold, inspirational and aspirational. 
  • We must create a Twin Cities campus plan that intersects those of other campuses. 
  • It must articulate a 10-year vision and specific action steps for the next 3-5 years. 
  • It must include defined metrics to guide investment decisions and articulate both what we will and will not do. 
  • We can selectively build on past initiatives, but with a new vision, goals, priorities. 
  • The campus community must own and advocate for the plan. It can't be my plan. It must be our plan.
  • The plan must reflect the broad diversity of our institution, our state, and our students.
  • Process should be consultative and inclusive, but move along. 
  • We must place a high priority on using existing structures/groups to provide input. 
  • And we’ve got to align this overall Twin Cities plan with current collegiate or unit strategic plans, our long range financial plan, and current initiatives, such as the Enterprise System Upgrade Program.

There are many potential benefits to doing this work now. This strategic plan can:

  • Create buy-in and ownership among current leaders, including the Board of Regents.
  • Give the University community a rallying point,
  • Leverage a shared ambition for greater excellence,
  • Activate a sense of urgency,
  • Create a common purpose,
  • And it will allow us to deliberately choose our priorities, rather than having our future decided for us by others,
  • Finally, it will help us continue to create a more efficient, effective organization by aligning resources and agendas

Why now? First, a lot has changed since the University completed its most recent planning process under the previous administration. Key initiatives of that plan have been completed and Transforming the U no longer serves as a meaningful guide for choices today.

As you can see, the external environment for higher ed has dramatically shifted. Meanwhile, policy makers and business leaders regularly express frustration with the pace of change at the U. But, thankfully, there’s a high degree of confidence in our current leadership—that is, all of us around this table and in my leadership team.

We are perceived as change agents. So, let’s deliver.

Here are the strategic plan components as I see them:

  • They begin with a vision, then our mission – who we are – and include our values and goals.
  • We develop strategies, action plans and metrics to track our progress.
  • Ultimately, we establish annual priorities and, importantly…critically…we align our budgets to support those priorities.

This will take a lot of hard work. That’s part of ambition.

There will be a Strategic Planning Workgroup. This group of about two dozen faculty, staff, students and administrators will gain input from the campus community. The group will identify key strategic issues, trends and strengths. They will draft a final report that will come to me, and then to you about a year from right now.

This is the Strategic Planning Workgroup, and it is, frankly, a spectacular, respected, diverse, experienced, highly opinionated, and, of course, very smart group of this University’s top talent, leaders and thinkers.

As I said, Provost Hanson will chair the group, with Vice Presidents Friedman, Herman, Pfutzenreuter and Wheelock, and former Dean Levine, now in the Provost’s office, and Professor Durfee on the executive committee.

Our timeline is quick. We must execute this with focus at a healthy pace. I will keep you informed and engaged throughout the process. You will review the Workgroup’s work again next summer or early fall.

We expect the process to be dynamic and we won’t stand still even as we are planning. If warranted, there may not be a bright line between completing the plan and starting to implement new initiatives. We will start when we’re ready to go!

The provost and I are committed to robust input and consultation every step along the way. We’ll prepare a multi-pronged engagement plan that reaches people through different channels and in various ways throughout the process.

Members of the board, I can’t emphasize enough: your involvement is critical, and it will run the spectrum from being informed, to being consulted to being deeply involved. I need you to be fully engaged in this.

So, let me summarize. Our goal is an ambitious, bold plan to chart our course for the future. I expect it will require some tough, unpopular decisions. If it doesn't, it's not strategic enough. It must be and will be driven by strong executive leadership and the faculty. The process will be consultative and inclusive, but timely. I am thrilled with the quality of the workgroup. I am excited about getting the Twin Cities campus community engaged in this.

It’s time for us to be ambitious in a way we’ve never been before. Let’s begin.

Thank you, and I am open to your questions.