Contemplating Change

October 19, 2010

KU Faculty, Staff, and Students:

I’ve been thinking a lot about change lately — what change means for an institution overall and for the people actively involved in that institution. KU is not alone among universities in contemplating changes in budgets, demographics, technology, and the way we do business. How to make sense of a changing world and how to navigate needed changes seem to be in the portfolios of leaders not only at universities but also in business, government, and social services. Glance at the bookstore shelves, and there you will find books with titles that contain the promise to help us understand the secrets of change… in eight steps, twelve key concepts, or four essential elements.

Our university community knows intellectually that change is necessary to move KU forward in these challenging times. The key element that will enable success is to plan strategically and to use those plans to guide our future decisions and actions. I have placed great emphasis on communicating with you about the need for strategic planning and our steps to date. I am writing today with some updates as we get ready this week to formally launch the steering committee activities to create a strategic action plan.

Steering committee roster and activities

A steering committee of approximately 50 faculty, staff, students, alumni, and community representatives will oversee the processs to create the strategic action plan. Distinguished professor Mabel Rice and I are serving as co-chairs. You can find the full roster online on the strategic planning website.

The steering committee will be meeting for an extended time during each of the next four weeks. During this week’s meeting, the steering committee will explore the important challenges we face at KU and the roadblocks that prevent us from realizing our full potential. The discussions will set the stage for the following week, in which we will consider the synergies that can elevate our collective efforts to be far greater than the sum of what we do individually in schools and departments. At this meeting, six faculty members will lead a panel discussion about establishing creative scholarly connections. The third steering committee meeting in early November will begin with a panel of students sharing their expectations for a KU education. By the end of the meeting, the themes developed over the preceding weeks will be incorporated into specific goals for the following three work groups:

  • Energizing the educational environment (led by co-chairs Chris Haufler and Ann Cudd),
  • Driving discovery and innovation (led by co-chairs Steve Warren and Kristin Bowman-James), and
  • Engaging scholarship with public service (led by co-chairs Kathleen McCluskey-Fawcett and Jeff Aubé).

At its fourth meeting, taking place in mid-November, the steering committee will meet jointly with the three work groups and formally kick off their activities. We will announce the members of the three work groups in the next issue of Provost eNews. Over the following several months, each work group will develop strategies and action time lines for meeting its goals. A similar process will be followed at the KU Medical Center. In fact, the KUMC steering committee will be meeting jointly with our steering committee so that we develop common goals and ultimately a coordinated university strategic action plan.

Albert Einstein is credited with defining “insanity” as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Our strategic planning process will be informed from previous studies and will result in an action plan to move the University forward in significant ways. Change will necessarily be involved. We want your involvement in the process so that the best ideas emerge and, most importantly, so that we can be confident that what results represents our shared vision and is worth implementing.

Here are two keys areas where we are seeking active involvement:

  1. As Chancellor Gray-Little wrote about last week, prioritizing learning goals will be the subject of faculty meetings in the upcoming six weeks in each and every department on campus, as well as in interdisciplinary programs and among student groups and alumni. Building upon the results of recent surveys in the KU community, Profs. Chris Haufler and Ann Cudd will soon provide department and program chairs with talking points for discussions about prioritization. These discussions will lead to a core set of learning goals, from which we will ultimately renew our general education requirements.
  2. Please touch bases with your department representative on the stakeholder committee that will help guide development of the Faculty Activity Reporting System, which I wrote about in the previous issue of Provost eNews. The system will be designed to help gauge faculty productivity and to identify colleagues on campus doing synergistic work. It will enable departments and schools to compare their productivity with programs at peer institutions and, more importantly, to determine which steps could best advance their levels of excellence.

During the course of the planning process, I commit to keeping you informed of where we are in the process and how you can get involved. As always, you can send us your thoughts and suggestions by email to or by going to the strategic planning website and clicking on “Contact Us.”

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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