U.Va. Board discusses process for a long-term strategic plan

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Print this page By Paula C. Squires

The first gathering of the University of Virginia Board of Visitors since the forced resignation and later reinstatement of its president began on Wednesday with an apology and ended with a call for a new, university-wide strategic plan.

On the first day of a two-day retreat at the Omni Hotel in Richmond, Rector Helen E. Dragas, who played a key role in the forced resignation of President Teresa A. Sulilvan, began the meeting by acknowledging the turmoil that rocked the campus in Charlottesville after Sullivan’s ouster on June 8.  Following an outpouring of support from faculty, students and alumni, Sullivan was reinstated by the board 16 days later.

“I again offer my sincere and personal apology for the controversies that, at best, have been distractions from the important work ahead of us,” Dragas said in her opening remarks.  “My hope for this retreat is that we can lay a foundation for collective and collaborative success.”

Dragas, however, apparently isn’t backing away from her belief that U.Va. needs to craft a long-term, strategic vision as higher education grapples with issues such as shrinking state support, faculty retirement and the role of online education. In earlier statements, Dragas said she pushed for Sullivan’s ouster because she felt the president wasn’t moving fast enough in implementing bold, strategic change. 

During Wednesday’s retreat, the co-chairs of the board’s new Special Committee on Strategic Planning presented the draft of a letter to Sullivan that assigns the president and her leadership team with coming up with a new, strategic planning process for the university that would include outside consultants and broad engagement from school constituencies, such as the Faculty Senate. “…We need to examine and, if appropriate, refine our mission and articulate our aspirations with a strategy for making them a reality,” the letter to Sullivan said.

In comments to the board, Lin Rose, one of the committee co-chairs, said, “We offer this letter not as a final product but as a work in progress for review by others …” Rose, a new board member, is the former president of James Madison University. The other co-chair is Frank Atkinson, chairman of Richmond-based McGuireWoods Consulting.

The letter suggests that Sullivan establish a steering committee and necessary work groups to get the plan under way. It also asks that one of the co-chairs for the Special Committee on Strategic Planning participate in the selection of an outside consultant experienced in higher education strategic assessment.  In terms of a timeline, the letter said the special committee would like to see a draft plan by the end of the academic year. “What we don’t want to happen is to have the entire process move through an entire year and then get back to us with a document,” Rose said. “ We need to have discussion about issues as they move along.”

Some of the topics the committee would like to see addressed in the plan include: academic quality and innovation; efficiency of operations; financial constraints; research; student life; enrollment; STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics); health work-force needs and private support.

While the plan is under way, Rose said,  it’s important that the university not take a “strategic pause” from dealing with such pressing issues as faculty retention, recruitment and compensation. “Work on those projects can move ahead rather than wait.”

Board member Alan Diamonstein of Newport News said he wanted some time to ask questions about the letter before it was put into a final form and sent to Sullivan. Rose suggested that the committee answer the questions and put the letter in a final form by the board’s next meeting in September, “so that the charge to the president could occur no later than that date.”  The September meeting also is the time when the board will vote on a rector for the new academic year.

Sullivan, who released her vision for a strategic plan for the university in May, asked if U.Va’s health system would be included in the new plan. “My feeling is that the health system is in, but we’re not going to ask them to do another strategic plan. We heard that presentation this morning, and I thought it was well done… But we can pull from that document,” Rose said.

Provost John Simon said in an interview with Virginia Business that many of U.Va’s schools, such as engineering and the Darden School of Business, have their own strategic plans.  “One of the challenges in developing a university plan is how it’s informed by what the schools are trying to achieve, and the flip side is how would schools adjust to the more institution-wide plan.”



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