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UConn Advance

Strategic plan changing way decisions are made at UConn
By Thomas Becher
May 23, 1997

Since its approval by the Board of Trustees in February 1995, the University's strategic plan has changed the way decisions are made, priorities are set, budgets are determined and tasks are accomplished.

In short, the document is slowly yet steadily changing the way the University operates.

With eight broad goals and hundreds of objectives and action items, the strategic plan has, during the last year, been analyzed and refined by task forces comprised of faculty and staff.

Goals and ideas from that plan are now beginning to be implemented, providing the University with a road map to take it into the next millennium.

"One of the things that struck me was how much has been done," said Lori Aronson, special assistant to the chancellor who joined UConn in August 1995 to oversee the strategic plan and the master plan. "It's not just the completion of many of the reports that have received the most attention. There's been a huge amount of implementation in other aspects of the plan, from reorganization and human resources to the international arena. There has been a vast amount of activity and all of it fits into the broad vision of the strategic plan."

Last month, Mark Emmert, chancellor and provost for University affairs, updated the Board of Trustees on the status of the strategic planning process. Here is a status report on some aspects of the strategic planning process:

  • Resource allocation. The University has redefined how it handles budgets, particularly academic budgets. It has moved to a model that makes deans, directors and department heads accountable for budgets and allows managers to deploy funds more flexibly.

"We have converted the operating budget from the position-based economy to the new dollar-based economy," said Vice Chancellor Fred Maryanski. "Under this model, all money is green and none of the former restrictions on how the funds could be expended will remain." That model will take effect July 1.

In effect, he said, "If you save enough pencils, you can hire a new grad student."

  • Program assessment. To review the quality of its academic programs, the University has deployed a mandatory program assessment process. The purpose is to evaluate program quality, assess program need, identify opportunities for program development and improvement, and guide allocation and reallocation decisions. Each evaluation is based on self-assessment and external evaluation. Program assessment began this semester with the departments of history, economics, modern and classical languages, chemistry, environmental research and precision manufacturing.

This fall, a team consisting of two outsiders and one University faculty member will continue evaluating programs.

  • Undergraduate experience. The strategic plan calls for a Center for Undergraduate Education, combining programs and elements to strengthen undergraduate education at UConn. Conceptually, that includes a greater emphasis on active learning in and out of the classroom; reducing the reliance on passive lectures; expanded seminar and small-scale interactions with faculty; more independent research opportunities; greater integration of technology into instruction; increased group-learning and interaction; a strong network for academic and social support; integration of living and learning; and clearer communication of the University's values and expectations about academic and social life.

Changes already have been made to address this goal: a redefined and expanded Week of Welcome; freshman interest groups; expanded freshman seminars, including sessions on undergraduate learning skills; increased funding for undergraduate research; additional funding for the Honors Program; an adopted plan to create a Center for Undergraduate Education; and increased funding for the Institute for Teaching and Learning. In addition, one administrative position has been redefined as the vice provost for undergraduate education.

"There is really an incredible amount going on," said Judith Meyer, who holds that position. "We've made good progress in this area."

Case in point: new courses planned this fall for freshmen. The courses will help freshmen master learning skills, give them a preview of the working world and provide them with small classes. An academic-geared orientation also is planned, including a meeting with deans and faculty of their schools dubbed Academic Connection.

"Units across the campus are saying this is just what's needed to retain students," Meyer said.

One goal for next year is to expand undergraduate research and community-service curricula.

As for the Center for Under-graduate Education, Meyer said its council of directors is working to get initiatives together. Among the priorities: a year-round help desk and an advising center for exploratory students trying to decide on a major, including links with the Department of Career Services.

"We're close to resolution on a physical location," Meyer said. Ideally, the center would be split between the Wilbur Cross Building and the School of Business Administration, once a new business school is built. "We've come to realize probably not everything is going to fit in Wilbur Cross," she said.

  • Physical environment. The most obvious sign of progress on campus is construction. And with master plan designs to be completed by the fall, one of the strategic plan's primary components is how the University will look - and how the other goals will fit in with those new buildings.

"It's extremely easy to spend money and not have the educational experience we want," said Mark Emmert, chancellor and provost for University affairs.

With that in mind, the administration has established goals for new buildings. They must be accessible and user-friendly, durable and flexible for programmatic changes, and aesthetically pleasing.

  • Regional campus mission. Under the strategic plan, the Task Force on Regional Campuses has big plans for the five regional campuses. Within the next decade, they will evolve to offer more programs and improve access for students across Connecticut who cannot come to Storrs for financial or family reasons. The campuses - Avery Point, Hartford, Stamford, Torrington and Waterbury - will become more integrated with the Storrs campus by providing selected four-year programs and courses that will enable students to finish their UConn education close to home.

To help begin that process, a new associate dean will be appointed in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. In addition, the University Senate has approved University-wide tenure, a topic that will be acted on by the Board of Trustees in September.

The strategic planning effort, to be sure, is never easy within a large institution, Aronson said.

"One of the biggest challenges is that there is no area of our operations - academics, student affairs, facilities - that is untouched by the plan," she said. "One of the challenges is how do you juggle all of this at the same time - and in a very constrained financial environment.

"It's hard for the outsider to get a sense of just how much is going on. Many of the undertakings of the strategic plan objectives are sort of the invisible infrastructure. That makes a hug difference in our ultimate goal."

It will be a few more years before the strategic plan is fully implemented, Aronson said.

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