Dear New Paltz Faculty and Staff:
Introduction. I write to share key elements and a timeline for the strategic planning that we will begin this month. In this process, we will not fundamentally revise our institutional vision, identity, and primary directions. Those are clearly established, and reflect a course worth sustaining and enhancing, even as we must adjust and respond to a changed world. The emphasis of our planning will be action and improvement: how to best focus our attention and resources on objectives and goals – and the actions and metrics to achieve them – to most improve during the next 3-5 years.
This process will extend previous planning that has supported the growth in our reputation, quality, and profile. These efforts have been diverse, extensive, and their fruits palpable. Institutional planning in the late 1990s resulted in the major direction of raising selectivity and becoming a more competitive-admission institution, essentially serving high-quality higher education needs for New Yorkers. The eight “vision points” developed in 2005 have guided planning and resource allocation since then. Recent and ongoing improvements in grounds and facilities grew out of our Site and Landscape Master Plan (2007) and our Facilities Master Plan (2010), and that planning has established priorities for 2013-2018 funding requests for renovation and construction.
Major budget reductions in the face of reduced funding in 2008-09 and 2010-11 were planned carefully, using established processes and agreed-up criteria. Similar approaches guided recent decisions about investing new tuition revenues. In 2010-11, we planned alignment of campus goals and mission with themes of The Power of SUNY plan. A thorough and thoughtful Emergency Management and Response Plan guided us through Hurricane Irene in 2011, and we have applied lessons learned from that experience to improve the plan. Planning by the liberal education committee the past two years set the stage for our upcoming general education revision. We were recognized by Middle States for having built a strong culture of assessment, in which evidence and data inform our planning and decisions.
Thus, we have a strong tradition as a planful institution. This year’s process represents the next phase of our planning. It is time to build on and refine the central elements of our vision and develop a more operational plan than they have provided, and to draw on key directions from other planning. This planning process must take into account imperatives for our investment of new tuition revenues that focus on students and their learning and success. Themes from my Inaugural and State of the College addresses will inform these planning efforts. The Power of SUNY system-level strategic plan and outcomes of our 2011 Middle States re-accreditation process will provide further context and direction.
Intended Outcome. The final plan will identify several institutional-level goals or objectives for improvement, and 6-8 tasks or projects that the College will complete during the next 3-5 years to achieve those objectives, along with benchmarks for measuring our progress. While we are enacting the plan, we will continue our ongoing work of teaching and learning, scholarship, research, and creative activity, service, and running a complex organization in support of our educational mission – all while seeking ongoing improvement in how we do all of that work. A meaningful plan will result in priorities that when enacted will require that we focus additional attention and resources on these projects. As we implement the plan, we will continue to refine our processes for linking budget allocations and strategic priorities, as we began to do last year and as strongly recommended in our Middle States review.
Process. Consistent with other recent processes that have guided major decisions, our planning will include abundant opportunity for broad consultation, input, and feedback from the many individuals and diverse groups who value the College and are interested in our future. That consultation will inform the initial draft plan, as well as revisions leading to a final plan. A broadly based steering committee will guide our process, advise me at key steps, and work with our consultant, Dr. William Weary, who will facilitate the process leading to the draft plan, as outlined below. I have spoken with several presidents from among the many institutions that Dr. Weary has successfully assisted in such work, including top-tier liberal arts-based colleges and universities, and have reviewed several of the resulting plans. I heard praise for Dr. Weary’s ability to quickly engage participants, to provoke thoughtful discussion, and to draw out ideas from participants in the interviews and retreat that he will lead. I am enthusiastic about what he will bring to our process.
The Steering Committee is an institutional committee that will include 12-15 members from the College’s diverse constituencies. These members will be asked to dedicate themselves throughout this process to the best overall interests of the College. The Steering Committee is not intended to develop a plan based on its members’ aims and interests. Instead, its roles are to synthesize, integrate, and effectively communicate the input and ideas generated by the entire campus community through the interviews and planning retreat described below; organize and implement a process to solicit broad community input on a draft plan, and exercise their judgment in assessing and integrating that input; and prepare drafts and the final plan.
In guiding an open and consultative process, the community will regularly post information and updates on a planning webpage, and in other ways keep the community informed about ongoing progress using some of the same approaches as in our budget processes and Middle States self-study. Members of the community will have access to the same information and materials reviewed and considered by the consultant and the steering committee. As soon as possible, we will post some of the “foundational” materials noted above – Inaugural and State of the College addresses, Power of SUNY alignment plan, Middle States recommendations, and other planning documents.
I am pleased that Dr. Patricia Sullivan, Professor of Communication and Media and Interim Director of the Honors Program, and Dr. Stella Turk, Associate Dean in Liberal Arts and Sciences and Instructor in Communication Disorders, have agreed to co-chair the Steering Committee. They will be joined by three academic faculty members identified through the governance process; I appreciate Presiding Officer Paul Zuckerman’s efforts to do so before the September 19 meeting with Dr. Weary. To ensure a strong and diverse faculty voice on the committee, I will appoint up to three additional academic faculty after I receive names through the governance process. Professional Faculty members of the committee will include recommendations provided by Alan Dunefsky, Chair of the Professional Faculty Council. Provost Phil Mauceri has agreed to serve on the Committee, as Cabinet representative and as chief academic officer. Other Steering Committee members will include an academic dean, two students selected by SA and RHSA leadership, another Management-Confidential employee, a member of the Classified staff, an alumnus/a, a College Council member, and a Foundation Board Director. I will announce the full membership of the committee when it is complete.
Timeline. The planned timeline for this process is as follows, culminating in a well-reviewed and -vetted plan submitted for my review and approval before the end of this academic year:
- Early September: Finalize Steering Committee Composition.
- September 19: Dr. Weary will meet with Steering Committee to lay out process. The committee will recommend materials for his review, and suggest individuals to interview and individuals to participate in a planning workshop (described below). Dr. Weary has already reviewed considerable documentation in his efforts to learn about the campus, previous planning efforts, our history and trajectory.
- October 8-12: Dr. Weary will conduct confidential interviews with 80-100 individuals, who together reflect the variety of perspectives about the College. These will include faculty, staff, students, administrators, alumni, community leaders, members of the Foundation Board and College Council, and SUNY System leaders. At the close of the interviews, he and the Steering Committee will meet for several hours to share initial impressions.
- November 3: The Steering Committee, in consultation with me, will select about 75 people to take part in a day-long retreat focused on the work of the College in the next several years; these will include the same breadth of groups as the interviews. The retreat, which will include small-group and plenary sessions, will articulate College concerns, issues, and dreams through a series of open-ended questions that grow out of the previous interviews. During the retreat, the goal is to develop broad perspectives and a shared sense of direction for the College. The final exercise will capture strategic goals and objectives, and the specific efforts we must complete during the life of the plan to achieve those goals.
- Pre-December Holiday Break: Using the results of the planning workshop and perspectives shared by the consultant, the Steering Committee prepares a first draft of the plan, and edits to produce a next draft for review by the College’s senior leadership.
- Holiday Break: Administrative review, feedback to the Steering Committee.
- Spring Semester: The Steering Committee will develop and implement a process to share and discuss the draft plan with constituent groups and with interested individuals throughout the broader College community. That process will include open forums with faculty, staff, and students and meetings with groups such as Administrative Council, College Council, and governance committees such as Budget, Goals and Plans. Feedback from these sessions will be used to generate a new draft, with another round of consultations if warranted.
- Late Spring Semester: Following my review of the Steering Committee’s final draft of the plan and consultation with Cabinet, I will issue the final plan.
Other planning. This institutional-level planning process should not supplant school, department, or other unit-based strategic plans and planning. Indeed, we should strive for vertically integrated planning, where “nested” unit plans support a College-wide plan and are enriched by that broader plan. I know that some deans are already thinking about school-based strategic planning processes to align with the outcomes of institutional planning.
While the task we are undertaking presents many challenges, I am enthusiastic and optimistic about working with the entire campus community as we shape the next several years for our college through this important planning process. Your participation and input are essential to both the process and product of our planning, and I thank each of you in advance for your involvement.
Donald P. Christian