Dear Campus Community,
The topic of this spring campus update is strategic planning.
What has happened?
Soon after I began as provost in May 2021, I pressed pause on the strategic planning process. While we had some of the best thinkers on campus engaged in strategic planning, some campus constituencies expressed disappointment with the penultimate draft. Candid conversations illuminated the significance of the extraordinary challenge presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, which closed the campus in March 2020 and caused a serious financial deficit by fall 2020. The dissonance between visioning far into the future and dealing with the budget cuts of the present was difficult to overcome. There were also divergent understandings across the campus of what a strategic plan was supposed to be. For some, the plan was intended as a broad, high-level statement of the campus’s aspirations for the long-term future. Others wished to see more clearly defined goals, with timelines and metrics announced. Given the challenges of coordination in the pandemic year of 2020-21, it was difficult to achieve desired cohesion in the draft document.
This past fall and winter, I met with many groups to chart a path forward: the strategic plan steering committee, the Senate executive council, faculty executive committee chairs, other Senate committees, the Staff Assembly executive board, the deans’ council, the provost’s cabinet, the chancellor’s cabinet, and numerous individual faculty and staff, some of whom expressed reservations about the first phase of the planning process and others who were supportive of it. I also discussed strategic planning with faculty in several academic departments during my visits to their department meetings. What follows went through several iterations, based on these interactions.
I learned that it was important to acknowledge that we are in a very different place today from where we were when the strategic planning process started in 2018-19. The world was turned upside down because of the pandemic, and it was clear that we would not be able to conduct business as usual. Given the exigencies of the ongoing pandemic and the uncertainty of the future, I proposed a new approach, dispensing with the effort to write a unified document that encompassed a single set of aims for all of our multifarious constituents and instead coming to consensus on the overarching framework for strategic planning at UCR, which can then be carried out at the unit level.
You may recall that the 2021 draft strategic plan identified four institutional goals:
1) Distinctive, transformative research and scholarship
2) A rigorous, engaging, and empowering learning environment
3) A welcoming, inclusive, and collaborative community
4) Advancement of the public good.
Upon further reflection, it seems to me that these are not goals so much as they are pillars of our identity at UC Riverside. They define who we are and what we do, and they provide a framework for strategic planning. The central campus administration must provide a foundation upon which work in each of these pillars can flourish.
To that end, building upon goals identified in the previous stage of strategic planning and based on clear needs of this university, I have proposed three broad strategic goals for the central campus organization:
1) Build financial stability, resiliency, and sustainability
2) Invest in the success of the people who teach, do research, work, learn, and live at UCR
3) Expand the visibility and scope of influence of UCR locally, nationally, and globally.
Attached to this email is a matrix that lays out suggested objectives, key initiatives to support those objectives, initial specific action items to further the objectives, and metrics by which we can gauge our progress and develop additional action items. It also lists senior administrators as lead coordinators responsible for working with the deans and other unit leaders to provide resources and services in support of the objectives that each school/college/unit sets for itself and to facilitate coordination and collaboration for multidisciplinary and cross-campus initiatives.
What happens next?
Schools, colleges, and support organizations can use this framework as a foundation to develop unit-specific strategic plans that set goals, timelines, and metrics for achievement. Indeed, many units are already actively engaged in this process; the four pillars provide shared scaffolding for building out plans that are relevant to the intentions and aspirations of each organization. Units can also draw from the strategies, actions, initiatives, and recommendations laid out in the comprehensive set of reports generated by the Strategic Planning working groups in 2020.
Why should the units take on this endeavor?
The units are the places where the work of the university gets done: teaching and learning, research and creative activities, provision of support services for students and faculty. It is up to the faculty and staff within the schools, colleges, and support organizations to work with their leadership to identify where investments should be made given the resources available. This is a down-to-earth approach that acknowledges the fiscal constraints of our publicly-funded university, while at the same time building on our past accomplishments, leveraging our existing talents, and identifying promising avenues for growth to chart our course for the future. I suggest that these plans focus on actionable initiatives, with specific metrics to assess progress toward goals. Instead of trying to forecast decades ahead, let’s aim for a more manageable timeline of seven years, which takes us to 2030 and aligns nicely with the systemwide strategic framework and goals for 2030.
What will be the outcome and when will it be produced?
We will develop a dynamic website for UCR 2030 to state our intentions and hold ourselves accountable to our goals, rather than a static written document. This website can link to the 2020 working group reports and to the unit-level plans as well. It can incorporate a timeline with metrics and milestones to gauge our success. Regular updates to a website will compel us to use the plan to guide our actions and to chart our progress along the way.
The audience for this strategic plan is ourselves. Our excellence is already demonstrated to the outside world by the notable accomplishments of our faculty, students, and alumni. UCR 2030 will identify our priorities and our goals and provide us with a roadmap for how to achieve them.
What’s the timeline?
I have sent this proposal to the Academic Senate for consultation. I have also asked deans and other senior leaders to target completion of college, school, and unit plans by the end of the December 2022. This target date reflects the work already put into strategic planning on this campus, as well as the recent recommendation from WSCUC, our accreditor, that UCR adopt an updated strategic plan in a timely fashion.
One last thing
The 2021 draft included a fifth pillar, sustainability, as central to our shared identity and purpose. As I noted in my remarks at UCR’s Sustainability Retreat last month, I believe that UCR can, and should, play a leading role in the local and global pursuit of sustainability broadly conceived. Climate change is the paramount crisis of our time, and we owe it to our students to provide them with a habitable future. This must be a collective effort of humanists, artists, social scientists, natural scientists, engineers, educators, policy makers, health care providers, and business professionals. There is no research or creative activity that does not have some significance for understanding, interpreting, analyzing, mitigating, or improving the human condition and the ecosystem in which we live. The education we provide for our students – undergraduate, graduate, and professional – must equip them to live in and contribute to a rapidly changing society. Our staff are vital to this enterprise, in their direct support of the research and education missions; in their critical contributions to the sustainability of our campus buildings and landscape, in our energy usage, transportation methods, food production, and waste disposal; and in their connections to and collaborations with our surrounding communities. But this is just my opinion. I’m eager to know whether these ideas resonate with you.
I’ll be present to hear your thoughts and to answer your questions at the Academic Senate divisional meeting on May 24 and at a Staff General Assembly town hall to be scheduled for June or early July. You can also email your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I also look forward to seeing many of you in the coming weeks as we celebrate our more than 7000 graduates at commencement. It feels like we’ve turned the corner with the return of these joyous events in-person. I hope you are all able to take some time to rest and rejuvenate this summer and return in the fall with renewed vigor for planning our bright future at UCR.