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December 2012: CAS Strategic Planning Update

E. Bruce Pitman Photo“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” So said Yogi. For UB, we are at that fork now.

The College began its planning work at the beginning of the semester with a request for the departments to write a three page brief describing how their discipline is evolving and, based on that narrative, the specialties of the next three hires they wish to make. We also began a series of conversations through the six strategic planning subcommittees, on issues confronting CAS in its undergraduate and graduate education mission, research and scholarship, faculty life, space, resources and identity. We are beginning to see the outlines of the recommendations likely to come back from the subcommittees, and will have to make some hard decisions about prioritizing among and paying for those recommendations.

But there is more happening. The President charged the Provost with developing the Realizing UB2020 plan. How do we as a campus build on the hiring that UB2020 developed, the activities of the strategic strengths, the opportunities afforded by the NYSUNY2020 legislation? The draft of the first part of the Provost’s report challenges the campus to be bold in defining its future. From the undergraduate curriculum and co-curricular activities to graduate education to faculty teaching, outreach and scholarship, that document argues for a fundamental re-thinking of the work we do and how we go about it.

The Provost’s communications highlight another important consideration – our response must be timely. The NYSUNY2020 legislation presents a window of opportunity for the campus, with a level of financial security that allows for thoughtful planning. But, to continue the imagery, that window can slam shut on us. Quick response and fast action are not characteristics commonly attributed to the academy. Indeed the ability to adapt, albeit slowly, is one of the reasons universities have endured for eight centuries while remaining true to core values.

At the same time, the acceleration of all aspects of society forces higher education to keep a constant watch, to see that we are responding appropriately to the needs of the nation. New modes of interacting have diminished the limitations of location and time. Fundamental changes in the ways in which (a large segment of) this country conducts its business – from the internet to financing home purchases and starting new businesses – mean the skills required of today’s student are different from those of the 1996 graduate. What will tomorrow bring?

The Great One, Wayne Gretzky, distinguishes between a good hockey player and a great player this way – a good hockey player plays where the puck is, but a great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.

We in academics tend to dismiss “betting on the future”. In point of fact, I suggest we do so regularly, but without acknowledging or admitting it. Whenever we hire a talented young colleague, we are making a bet that her work will still be relevant 20 years from now, and when we tenure and promote her we are doubling down on that bet. When we start a new research center we are placing a bet that the scholarly activities thus enabled will contribute meaningfully to the repository of knowledge.

In all the planning activity now going on, both in the College and across the University, our most difficult work is to place solid bets on the future of UB while remaining flexible and adaptable in order to respond to the next new development.