Higher education

University of Iowa to host seven 'strategic plan' town halls

Community meetings part of an accelerated process

People walk along the T. Anne Cleary Walkway on the campus of the University of Iowa in Iowa City on Wednesday, April 30, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
People walk along the T. Anne Cleary Walkway on the campus of the University of Iowa in Iowa City on Wednesday, April 30, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — As the University of Iowa ramps up efforts to develop a new strategic plan for the next five years, it’s seeking community input through a series of town hall-style meetings across campus.

The university’s Strategic Plan Development Group will lead the seven forums, which will be held with students, faculty, staff, and the broader community between April 25 and May 5. The meetings are part of an “accelerated” development process for the UI’s 2016-2021 Strategic Plan.

“Over the last 20 years, development processes for the UI’s strategic plans have taken up to 18 months, while only hosting two to four open forums for broader community input,” according to a UI news release. “The current development process will take less than six months and will include seven open forums.”

These upcoming forums are separate from the communitywide town hall meetings UI President Bruce Harreld has committed to hold. Earlier this year, he vowed to hold at least three of those town halls a year. Following his first in February, which was contentious and peppered with protesters and loud critics, Harreld suggested topics from diversity to sexual assault on campus for the next forum.

A date for that next meeting has not been announced.

Harreld, who succeeded former UI President Sally Mason on Nov. 2, has stressed the importance of creating a unified vision for the institution going forward. In a statement issued to the campus this week, Harreld tied the planning process with the university’s responsibility to be “good stewards of resources.”

“To define how we can best be good stewards, we must articulate our values,” Harreld said in the statement. “When we know who we are and what we’re about, we can most effectively fulfill our mission of excellence in teaching and learning, research and creativity, and service and engagement.”

During a Board of Regents meeting Thursday in Council Bluffs, Harreld highlighted principles that will guide the university’s planning and budgeting process — student success, quality indicators, values, and the future.

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He highlighted the budgeting process the university is going through — delegating the job of prioritizing spending to college deans and departments heads. And, he said, following the guiding principles, like increasing quality through faculty pay, will be more difficult with less-than-expected state support for the upcoming budget year.

“We are going to have to ask some harsh questions about what we’re going to leave behind,” Harreld said.

The strategic planning process is happening parallel to the broader budgeting process, and officials said the new plan will be implemented in the next budget year that begins in July.

Sarah Hansen, assistant vice president for student life, and David Cunning, chair of the philosophy department, are co-chairing the Strategic Plan Development Group. They say the community and constituent meetings will mean the final plan “should hold no big surprises for the campus.”

“Traditional planning processes can take over a year,” Hansen said in a statement. “But they don’t necessarily have a lot of feedback from the community, which is one of our priorities.”

She acknowledged that some might have reservations about the fast pace, but pointed to advantages, including the ability to “start working toward those goals sooner.”

The student, faculty, staff, and community meetings will follow a “flexible agenda covering student success, faculty research and teaching, and services that the UI provides to the state.”

The planning group will submit a new strategic plan to Vice President for Student Life Tom Rocklin and Provost Barry Butler on June 30.

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“Sometimes, strategic plans end up not guiding decision-making, for a number of reasons,” Rocklin said in a statement. “We have charged the Strategic Planning Development Group with developing a plan that is concrete and specific enough to be a useful road map as the university makes big decisions shaping our future.”

Board of Regents Bruce Rasetter on Thursday praised Harreld for his inclusion of larger groups of constituents across campus in planning and budgeting.

“One of the interests the board had when you became president is your commitment to collaboration, inclusiveness, to broadening the group rather than a top down approach to it,” Rastetter said.

Several deans and faculty leaders have come forward, he said, with increased excitement and buy-in around “the ability to impact areas that they had no knowledge of before.”

The university will post the plan on its website starting in the summer. It will be accompanied by metrics for gauging progress on the plan’s goals.

Forum times include:

Student Forums:

5 to 6:30 p.m. April 25 in 2520D in the University Capital Center

5 to 6:30 p.m. May 5 in the multipurpose room in Peterson Residence Hall

Faculty Forums:

1:30 to 3 p.m. April 27 in 348 in the Iowa Memorial Union

3:30 to 5 p.m. April 28 in E331, General Hospital (Elevator BW, 3rd floor)

Staff Forums:

2 to 3:30 p.m. April 25 in 166 in the Iowa Memorial Union

9 to 10:30 a.m. May 2 in E331, General Hospital (Elevator BW, 3rd floor)

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All-Campus Forum:

2:30 to 4 p.m. May 4 in 2nd Floor Ballroom in the Iowa Memorial Union

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