Report to the President

Past as Prologue and Present Profile

This report for the consideration of the Boston University community is a living document that reflects months of thoughtful and sometimes spirited discussion. The Strategic Planning Coordinating Task Force hopes that this report will be useful in initiating a broader conversation among all members of the University community to produce a set of objectives and strategies that are seen as shared, compelling, and effective in building a better BU.


For over a century Boston University has been a leading and truly distinctive institution of higher learning in the United States. Chartered by three Methodist abolitionists in 1869, it embraced two principles that define American higher education today. First, higher education should be accessible to all. Second, the pursuit of learning is enhanced by direct engagement with surrounding communities and the larger world.

Since the day of its opening, the University has admitted students of both sexes and every race, offering them the opportunity to receive college, graduate, and professional degrees. Boston University was the first university in the United States to admit women to its medical school, to graduate an African-American psychiatrist, to grant a doctorate in medicine to a Native American, to award a Ph.D. to a woman, and to graduate a woman admitted to the Massachusetts bar. When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. received his doctorate from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in 1955, he was taking his place in a long line of alumni whose inclusive and engaged educational experience prepared them to serve, shape, and improve the world.


  • We are one of the world’s prominent large, urban research universities – a rapidly evolving, remarkably diverse, exceptionally engaged, and broad institution that encompasses the liberal arts, sciences and engineering, the fine arts, and the professions. We have a long history of developing outstanding academic, civic, cultural, scientific, and technological programs and enterprises. At present, however, our stature is not commensurate with what it should be, and what it can be within a decade if we harness our resources more cooperatively and efficiently, improve the delivery of education to our students, raise our intellectual standards, and share our strengths with the outside world.
  • We are a research university with many individual faculty members whose research and scholarship are acknowledged as preeminent by the academic community, as well as many graduate degree programs with recognized quality and impact. In the last quarter of a century, Boston University rose dramatically to prominence as a research university, as did the national stature of our largest and most visible professional schools – medicine, health professions, law, and management. We must continue our drive toward excellence in research, scholarship, and graduate and professional education.
  • We are an inclusive institution with a high percentage of international students and exceptional global reach. We enroll a significant part (10.7 percent) of the international student population in New England, thanks to imaginative and prescient recruitment strategies initiated in the 1980s. In the 2005 – 2006 academic year, 39 percent of undergraduates at BU participated in our study abroad programs. We need, however, to increasingly prepare our faculty and students for global shifts in economics, politics, and research, as well as for changes in global and national demography. Moreover, as we move to educate an ever more socio-economically and culturally diverse student body, we must focus on creating the diverse academic community needed to ensure the success of these students.
  • Excellence in teaching is fundamental to the University’s mission and is taken extremely seriously. Direct instruction by faculty is an important part of the educational experience at BU, which is distinguished by the centrality of the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) and the College of General Studies (CGS), and by the number and diversity of our graduate and professional schools: in arts and sciences, communication, dentistry, education, engineering, fine arts, health sciences, hospitality, law, management, medicine, public health, social work, theology, and extended education. About 20 percent of our undergraduates complete an intensive, two-year program of core requirements in CGS before transferring to another College to complete their degree. These students compete well with the remaining undergraduate cohort. Seventy percent of our undergraduates are enrolled in CAS, and those enrolled in the professional schools take between 25 and 69 percent of their courses in CAS. Thus CAS plays a fundamental role in setting intellectual standards of excellence in undergraduate education. In the next decade we have the opportunity to make the BU educational experience unique by developing a new integrative model of undergraduate education. We can offer all BU students an unparalleled range of choices and challenges by providing them with a liberal arts foundation and access to basic research in science, cutting-edge ideas in the professions, advanced technology, and exposure to the fine arts, social sciences, and humanities. Few institutions can aspire to this breadth and this level of disciplinary integration.
  • We are a residential urban university for our approximately 30,000 undergraduate and graduate students. We have invested heavily in expanding and updating residential housing and recreation centers and will soon have the highest percentage of undergraduates living on campus in our history (85 percent). Our challenge is to build on this foundation to strengthen the student experience at Boston University.
  • BU is exceptionally engaged with local communities and the wider world. We are affiliated with Boston’s largest safety-net hospital and top-ranked trauma unit, administer the Chelsea Public Schools, and sponsor the Huntington Theatre, the Tanglewood Institute, numerous exhibitions and performances, WBUR, the Framingham Heart Study, and Boston University Academy, a premier private high school. We support AIDS research in Africa, archaeological excavations in Belize, campuses in Brussels and London, an extensive array of overseas programs and internships throughout the world, and a center for remote sensing and monitoring of the Earth’s surface.