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Introduction to CAS Strategic Planning

“Why UB?”  Many of us have heard the President and Provost put this question on the floor during their visits to our schools and their faculties.

For us in the College, this question reverberates at many levels. Why would a student from Syracuse or Hempstead choose the University at Buffalo as the place to spend four years?  Why would a promising young scholar choose UB as the place to make their academic home?  Why would UB alumni and friends choose to send their children here for their college education?

There is much about this University to recommend. As a major public research university the array of opportunities for a student can be exhilarating. Although UB has a large undergraduate population, initiatives such as the Honors College and the Academies offer ways to create a smaller community in which students can make a home. The Strategic Strengths provide a foundation for scholarship that transcend departmental boundaries and provide a place for interactions that would not otherwise happen.

After a national economic collapse the likes of which none of us wants to experience again, the NYSUNY2020 legislation provides financial support for all the SUNY institutions to recover and flourish – a measured, planned set of tuition increases and steady state support. In turn this campus has made a series of promises – hire faculty, improve research funding, improve undergraduate student success, and move the medical school downtown.  How do we as a campus, and especially CAS as the home to so many of those faculty-to-be-hired and most of those students, deliver on these promises in a timely way?

As we consider our responsibilities as a College, we should be mindful of external considerations that color the environment in which we must operate.  The number of college age students in New York is expected to decline by about 7% by 2020, and the outlook in neighboring states is not much better.  At the federal level, given the pressures on domestic spending, the competition for federal research dollars will only intensify. In the national conversation one hears words like ‘assessment’ thrown around, as often as not without a clear sense of what is being assessed; post-secondary education is often seen not as a public good but as a private goal. And we are wondering whether digital technology and the rise of Coursera and MOOCs will diminish the need for, and attractiveness of, a residential university campus experience.

With all these issues stirring, it is a good time for us in the College to take a step back, to think. In 2018 CAS turns 20 (at least this incarnation of CAS turns 20). What do we want to look like on our 20th birthday? What programs should we have in place? How do we make a distinctive experience for our students? How do we ensure that UB continues to attract some of the best faculty talent in the nation?

Assuming we maintain enrollment, the NYSUNY2020 legislation enables us to slowly walk our way out of the fiscal hole in which we now find ourselves. From the current “new normal” we can begin a measured growth in faculty size.  Along the way we must assess the education we offer to our undergraduate and graduate students, in light of the world into which they are graduating. How do we want to grow? How do we support our faculty, and where do we house everyone? What changes should we consider in the programs and courses we teach and the experiences afforded to our students?  How do we ensure that they are well- prepared to become good citizens, successful in their chosen field and engaged as CAS alumni?

So I ask you all, to begin with me a thoughtful study of CAS@20. At the university level we all may be “planned out”. But the College has never had a strategic plan for itself. A strategic plan cannot direct the precise path an institution will follow. But a strategic plan sets direction. As the guiding star, a strategic plan helps orient decision making, and can be invaluable in focusing on long term priorities during difficult times.

To start the process, we have established six task groups, to examine undergraduate and graduate education, research, faculty support, space and resources, and identity; some 50 faculty members from across the College are serving on these groups. CAS Associate and Assistant Deans are serving as chairs of these task groups, and, together with the vice-provosts for undergraduate and graduate education and the vice-president for research, constitute a steering committee.  The task groups will be soliciting input and ideas, through meetings and communications. Departments have been asked to write a brief plan outlining the likely evolution of their discipline and the hiring they envision over the next few years to capitalize on that unfolding development. The reports of the task groups and the department plans will all be integrated into a plan for the College. I expect there will be some recommendations that we can implement quickly, some that may need further study, and some university issues for which we will advocate.  I will be in touch with all of you through this blog (http://planning.cas.buffalo.edu/blog/). The task groups will report through this web-site, too. Feedback, via comments and email, is welcomed.

Permeating this entire process should be the mission of the College – “to discover and advance knowledge by engaging in research, scholarship, and creative activities in the arts and humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences; to foster excellence in all areas of undergraduate and graduate education in the arts and sciences; and to engage the larger community through our scholarly activities”.  We are a public research university – public, supported by taxpayers to maintain affordability for the young people in this state, research, with a mission to advance knowledge, and university, a community of teachers and scholars. In some ways the responsibilities incumbent in those three words are in tension; the teacher and the scholar. The individual pursuing her specialized research is part of a larger community that itself must thrive in order for her to have the freedom to follow those interests. Living creatively with those tensions, making a whole from the triad of research, teaching and service, makes this a place where the best of the intellectual life can flourish.  And, for students and faculty alike, helps makes UB and CAS the destination of choice.