Identifying Strategic Themes and Initiatives

November 30, 2010

KU Faculty, Staff, and Students:

Welcome back from Thanksgiving break! At such a busy point in the year, I’m sure that, like my family and I did, you all enjoyed the break and the opportunity to spend time with family and friends, as well as to gather energy for the finish of the semester. Mt. Oread seemed pretty quiet during the holiday break after all the activities of the last few months. I’d like to let you know how thankful and proud I am to have joined the KU family, and I am filled with gratitude for the students, staff, and faculty whom I’ve met during my first semester.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to extend my thanks to the staff members who will continue to work through the semester break to keep KU running and prepare for next semester. My sincere thanks go to all of you who keep our offices, museums, student services, and libraries open, clean, and running year-round. As staff, you are the backbone of this institution; your commitment to KU is crucial and very much appreciated.

The important business and momentum of our strategic planning will continue at full speed during the break. This issue of Provost eNews is focused on forming strategic initiatives and how we need your individual and collective involvement in the process.

In the November 18 issue of Provost eNews, we mentioned that an exciting part of the planning process will be to identify and develop strategic themes at KU, so as to bring together individuals from multiple disciplines to form vibrant communities of scholars. We envision that these strategic initiatives will advance KU in several important ways:

  • Address emerging and escalating global grand challenges and societal issues where KU can have special impact;
  • Build scholarly communities that challenge, engage, and inspire individuals from many disciplines around a common theme;
  • Enhance KU’s national and international visibility and impact;
  • Engage and motivate funding agencies, foundations, state government, community, alumni, and friends to provide much-needed resources; and
  • Provide our students with unique experiences that will position them as highly recruited and valued drivers and innovators of social and technological change.

The great minds of the preceding centuries such as Newton, Galileo, and Descartes did not view themselves as purely mathematicians, physicists, or philosophers. Rather, they were members of a wider community of academics whose discoveries and interactions inspired one another. In the same way, modern-day researchers who are experts in their individual disciplines inspire one another and build synergies to meet society’s grand challenges.

Strategic initiatives that build links across KU’s schools and campuses are one way to leverage our tremendous disciplinary strengths and to build such broad communities of scholars. We recognize the importance of interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, and engaged scholarship. Institutional silos make these activities difficult and sometimes impossible. Strong pockets of synergy, as exemplified by The Commons and other centers on campus, give glimpses of what can be achieved.

The KU strategic planning effort has set forth a broad-based process designed to receive and incorporate constructive input and feedback about strategic initiatives. Departments, centers, and student groups will send in their nominations for strategic initiatives, after which the College and the schools will have the opportunity to “buy into” and shape these exciting initiatives. The process will be as follows:

  1. The deans and the strategic planning committees will identify the desired criteria for strategic initiatives. The criteria will be finalized in the coming weeks; they will be used as the basis for later choosing strategic initiatives from the set of those nominated.
  2. Departments (or schools for those schools having no departments), centers, and student groups will submit nominations for strategic initiatives. Nominations must be submitted on or before February 28, 2011. We are requesting that departments, centers, and student groups schedule open meetings during the months of January and February and solicit broad input on desired strategic initiatives as the basis for the nominations they will make. Templates will be provided by the steering committee in the coming weeks for the nomination process.
  3. In order to make informed nominations, it is important for departments, centers, and student groups to be aware of the many exciting and diverse activities at KU. To assist the process, the Driving Discovery and Innovation (DDI) work group will provide two sets of information:

    • One is a set of areas of emphasis identified by the College and the schools at KU. This list of emphases is not meant to be inclusive of all that is happening in the schools, but rather to inform the campus about interests of the schools.
    • The other, which will come online next week, is an online discussion board of suggestions for strategic initiatives (and responses to suggestions) from individuals in the extended KU community (faculty, staff, students, alumni, local community, and external partners).

    We hope that both sources of information, which you can find via the strategic planning web site, will help drive groups’ discussions and their ultimate nominations of strategic initiatives.

  4. In March, after nominations have been made for strategic initiatives, the deans, in coordination with the strategic planning committee, will synthesize the information, identify synergies, and seek input from an external panel of experts. Ultimately, in April, the steering committee will recommend a number of initial themes to form strategic initiatives.

I am sure that some of you will ask, “What if the work I do doesn’t fit neatly into one of these strategic themes? Will this mean I am not valued or that my area of study will not be supported?” Please be assured that KU will continue to be a comprehensive university that has a broad foundation in the liberal arts and supports an array of professional disciplines. Our strategic action plan will continue to support and value all forms of scholarly excellence. The identification of a number of strategic initiatives that cut across the many disciplines at KU will add another dimension and leverage our expertise for greater effect.

These initial strategic initiatives will be specific to KU, magnify the impact of the investments we make, and help spread the story of KU excellence to our many stakeholders. They will spotlight our ability to be forward-looking and relevant in challenging times.

I welcome and value your involvement during the next few months as we work together to identify strategic initiatives.

Strong Ties Signature: 

Rock Chalk!
  -- Jeff

--
Jeffrey S. Vitter

Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor
Roy A. Roberts Distinguished Professor

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