Building Synergies

September 13, 2010

Dear Faculty, Staff, and Students:

The academic year is now well underway at KU. There is a palpable excitement in the air as we begin again with new possibilities: new freshman class, new buildings, new faculty, new challenges, and new possibilities. Being new to KU myself, I very much appreciate the warm welcome I have received from the KU community, which heightens my excitement to be a part of the Jayhawk Nation.

A distinguishing strength of KU is its clear sense of community. And a crucial aspect of a vibrant community is communication. Not coincidentally, the words “community” and “communication” share the same roots. One of my goals as provost is to communicate with the KU community on a regular basis about important activities and plans and to invite your input. To that end, I am launching with this inaugural issue a series of biweekly communications called Provost eNews. I also look forward to getting to meet and hear from you in person as I visit the many departments, programs, research centers and institutes, and administrative units on campus.

As we embark on a new year and the possibilities before us, it is an opportune time for us as a community to come together and proactively shape our future via a strategic action plan, as I have been charged by Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little to do. I can hear the collective sigh… “No more planning, haven’t we done that already?” Agreed; there have been strong foundations laid in recent years. In our strategic planning process, we will follow up on the broad visions set out in Initiative 2015. And we will incorporate the insights and recommendations from the three task forces commissioned by the chancellor this past academic year on the topics of admissions, retention and graduation, and research.

But there is much important work yet to be done. In the face of recent budget shortfalls and painful changes, the KU community has shown tremendous resilience. As we look to a more stable financial future, we have the opportunity to advance the university in significant ways. One way is by uniting as a community to focus special attention on a small number of priorities with a clear timeline, where we as a university can make a real difference. An important mechanism is to build on the synergies we share as a community to make our collective effort far greater than the sum of its individual parts. We can accomplish this goal by exploiting the natural synergies that bring together scholars from across the university to address society’s grand challenges, synergies between undergraduate education and graduate education, synergies with cultures in foreign lands, synergies that link our scholarly activities with direct public impact, synergies with the business sector and external partners, and the synergies among the multiple campuses of KU.

Our goal is to deliver a strategic action plan to the chancellor by Summer 2011. The planning process we are embarking upon this year will be one that seeks input and involvement from the entire KU community — of faculty, staff, students, alumni, and external partners. I am very pleased to announce that Mabel Rice, the Fred and Virginia Merrill Distinguished Professor of Advanced Studies, has signed on to co-chair the steering committee with me. Mabel will provide stellar leadership and foresight. We will also be working closely with our Medical Center colleagues to formulate a common vision and set of goals for the university, leading ultimately to a coordinated strategic action plan. The general work of the steering committee will be assisted by work groups that will develop recommendations in three key areas: energizing the educational environment, driving discovery and innovation, and engaging scholarship with public service. We have solicited nominations for the steering committee and work groups from many quarters, and we will provide membership rosters in the coming weeks as the groups are formed.

One immediate activity is to follow up on a key recommendation of the task force on retention and graduation, namely, to take a new look at the general education requirements of the undergraduate curriculum. A key to success will be ensuring broad involvement and buy-in of the KU community. To set the tone of inclusiveness, we will invite all members of the community to submit desired goals for the curriculum. From a summary of this poll, all academic departments and interdisciplinary degree programs will be asked to convene their faculty and instructional staff for discussion of relative priorities, after which they will submit their recommended set of learning goals. Student groups and alumni will have similar opportunities for input. The strategic planning work group on education will then examine the priorities provided to gain broad consensus on the key goals for a KU degree. Recognizing that the entire process of formulating a new general education curriculum cannot be completed in a single year, we will focus our educational efforts in this year’s strategic plan on laying out the basis for such a curriculum — its learning goals and primary components — as well as a timeline for its successful implementation.

In the coming days, you will receive a request from Chris Haufler, who chaired the task force on retention and graduation and who is currently serving as special advisor to the provost. He will be asking for your recommendations of educational goals. Please respond to the survey request, and especially look forward to the subsequent discussions in your departmental or programmatic groups, so that we can begin to zero-in on the key elements of a KU curriculum.

One of my jobs during the strategic planning process is to keep you updated all along the way and to provide multiple opportunities for input and comment. Please visit the strategic planning website, which you can reach by a link from the provost website It will contain current information on the planning process, including links to Initiative 2015 and the chancellor’s three task forces, and August's provost retreat. I will be sending out biweekly installations of Provost eNews, like this one, with progress reports and other news about activities at KU. It is my hope that every person at KU will participate in one way or another in this important process for advancing the stature and impact of the university. As always, you can reach us with questions and suggestions at

Provost's Message Signature: 

Rock Chalk!
  -- Jeff

Jeffrey S. Vitter

Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor
Roy A. Roberts Distinguished Professor

This issue of Provost eNews as well as past ones can be found on the Provost eNews web page.

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