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Setting the Course for BU

New strategic planning Web site invites comment from community

Douglas Sears, associate provost and assistant to the president for outreach and special initiatives, chaired the task force. Photo by Vernon Doucette

Boston University’s challenges for the next decade: “expand and enrich” the quality of student life on campus, eliminate “bureaucratic barriers,” and most important, continue the efforts to become “One BU.”

Unification is the major theme of the framework for a new University strategic plan released this month by the faculty and administration of the Strategic Planning Coordinating Task Force, appointed by University President Robert Brown last spring. Months of discussions went into the new report, which outlines long-term strategies and visions for undergraduate and graduate education, research, faculty, student life, and administrative services. The idea, say task force members, has been to create a strategic vision for BU from the bottom up. 

On Friday, December 15, the task force launched a Web site featuring the framework and inviting all members of the BU community to post comments. In the next weeks and months, members of the task force and Brown will lead discussions of the framework at assemblies of University leaders, such as the Faculty Council, and at alumni events and meet with faculty at individual schools and colleges across the University. Student feedback will be collected through the Student Union and a special task force led by the Office of the Dean of Students. The report’s broad recommendations include finding ways to improve the on-campus residential quality of life for students and fostering integration of BU’s schools and colleges, including the elimination of the barriers to interdisciplinary learning, teaching, and research. 

“One of the great attractions of the University is its fantastic breadth and diversity,” says task-force member Laurence Kotlikoff, a College of Arts and Sciences professor of economics. “[But] we operate far too much as separate parts. We are not connecting enough and not taking advantage of our synergies.”

And while seeking to make BU more inwardly cohesive, the framework also calls on BU to build on its tradition of engagement with both the city of Boston and the world through internships, community service, study abroad programs, and training for students and faculty that will prepare them for “global shifts in economics, politics, and research.” The result, says Brown, is a document that examines the University’s foundation, and cultivates a core ideology that will guide future growth.

“This report is really about an image for the University as a whole,” Brown says. “It’s about our principles and what our competitive advantage may be if we craft a university around them, and it offers a way to think about the decisions we make, going forward.”

There are a number of specific recommendations, such as providing first year students with small, faculty-led multidisciplinary seminars, asking alumni to mentor a current undergraduate, and creating a graduate student center. But most of the framework’s bullet points are much broader objectives, including calls to define more academic and professional “pathways” for BU students as they select courses and fields of study, to reduce reliance on part-time and adjunct faculty, and to streamline administrative offices “relating to research and grant support.” But administrators note that there’s a lot more talking to do before a final plan is in place.

“At this point, it is an aspirational document,” says Douglas Sears, associate provost and assistant to the president for outreach and special initiatives, who chaired the task force.

According to Sears, once the strategic plan is finalized and approved by the Board of Trustees, it will serve as a guide for the University’s major decisions over the next decade. “Its general directions and priorities will be what we have in mind as we’re allocating resources, promoting programs, fundraising, and committing time and creative energy,” he says.

Sears also notes that BU is already moving forward on several of the objectives outlined in the framework. The vision of One BU, for instance, received a boost earlier this year when the University hired two faculty members as “site miners” to foster research collaborations between the Charles River Campus and the Medical Campus. In addition, the framework’s goal of greater diversity at BU is shared by the Council on Faculty Diversity and Inclusion, initiated by Brown this fall, and the Admissions Student Diversity Board, created in 2002. Finally, the Student Life Task Force endorsed by the new report began meeting this fall under the direction of Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore.

As for next steps, task force members say they’re eager to hear from the BU community. “In the end, we really have to get feedback,” says task-force member Juliet Floyd, a CAS professor of philosophy. “We have to get people to tell us what works.” Floyd emphasizes that she found discussions about a vision for BU’s future “intellectually exciting,” and she hopes this enthusiasm will be shared by faculty, students, and staff.

“I came prepared to be skeptical — I teach skepticism,” she says of the strategic planning process. “But I believe that the plan is realistic and that we can be very ambitious and try to move the University forward.”

Chris Berdik can be reached at cberdik@bu.edu.