Higher education

University of Iowa slowing down planning process, citing concerns

'We literally can't attend any of the events, even for part of the time.'

About 30 staff members and fewer than a dozen students turned out Monday, April 25, 2016, for the first University of Iowa public forums aimed at helping guide its development of a new strategic plan. Before the meetings, critics called for a boycott of the forums. And few people attended. (Vanessa Miller/The Gazette)
About 30 staff members and fewer than a dozen students turned out Monday, April 25, 2016, for the first University of Iowa public forums aimed at helping guide its development of a new strategic plan. Before the meetings, critics called for a boycott of the forums. And few people attended. (Vanessa Miller/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — In response to criticism of an “accelerated” process for creating a five-year strategic plan, University of Iowa administrators are changing the timeline for gathering public feedback — providing faculty, staff and students the opportunity to contribute to the conversation in the fall.

The original concept had a Strategic Plan Development Group gathering input on a new 2016-17 UI Strategic Plan through seven meetings between April 25 and May 5, then delivering a proposal to Provost Barry Butler and Vice President for Student Life Tom Rocklin on June 30.

The plan was to become publicly available over the summer, along with metrics for gauging progress on its goals. Butler was to convene work groups to advise on implementation, which was to begin in the 2016-2017 academic year.

But organizers announced Wednesday that faculty, staff, students and community members will have a chance to participate in forums on the topic in September as well — before a new strategic plan is finalized.

The Strategic Plan Development Group still will produce a document in June based on feedback received to date, but that will be a draft that then will go out to the campus — giving people time to consider their vision for the university and provide thoughts in the fall semester.

Sarah Hansen, co-chairwoman of the Strategic Plan Development Group and assistant vice president for student life, said returning for more conversation in September will allow the campus to engage in “much deeper dialogue about that draft document” and give students, faculty and staff more opportunities to provide input.

David Cunning, co-chairman of the Strategic Plan Development Group and chairman of the UI philosophy department, said they initially thought the expedited timeline was doable.

“But we’ve heard a lot of feedback,” he said. “There were many people who wrote us and said, ‘We literally can’t attend any of the events, even for part of the time.’ And so given that this whole thing is not going to work unless there’s the right kind of buy-in, we want to make sure that what we’re submitting to Barry is a draft on June 30.”

Cunning said the administration hasn’t nailed down a new deadline to submit a final plan.

“We are just excited for this development,” he said.

Turnout at the three forums that have been held so far has been dismal — with about 30 staff members attending one Monday, fewer than a dozen students coming out later that evening, and about 10 faculty attending a Wednesday afternoon forum.

Among the feedback Cunning said his group received related to the planning process was a call to boycott the meetings from the advocacy group “Iowans Defending Our Universities.”

“Why initiate a serious planning process at this time in the academic year when everyone on campus is at peak effort and then conclude it in the summer when most students and many faculty are off campus?” the group said in a news release. “The university community is perfectly capable of planning its future, but not according to a rapid timetable.”

According to the university’s original pitch for an expedited process, the faster pace could enable the campus to start “working toward those goals sooner.” Typically, according to a UI news release, developing a new strategic plan takes up to 18 months and involves just two to four open forums.

But, Cunning said, they are glad to slow it down if it means gathering more input.

“The university is going to be making strategic decisions in the coming years that will have long-term consequences for the University of Iowa, and I think it’s really important that faculty, students and staff get into a document where they want the university to go — so the university is held accountable,” Cunning said. “If (the university) doesn’t go in that direction, we can say, ‘What happened to the strategic plan?’ So I think it’s crucial to have a record.”

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