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Cohesion, Communication Key to BU’s Future

Brown reports on plans and strategy at staff conference

President Robert Brown discusses the One BU Strategic Plan at the 2007 Boston University Management Conference, held yesterday in Metcalf Hall at the George Sherman Union. Photo by Fred Sway

Speaking to more than 400 staff members at the 2007 Boston University Management Conference, held in the George Sherman Union’s Metcalf Hall yesterday, President Robert A. Brown talked about the importance of communication, the progress of the University’s strategic plan, and why the letters “BU” must no longer be thought of as “the first two letters in bureaucracy.”

“Our collective goal should be to engage one another in critical conversations as we work together toward building a better university,” he said. “It is important for change, and I think everyone senses the changes around us.”

Brown discussed in detail the purpose and progress of the University’s strategic plan, commonly called One BU. “The soul of the plan involves focusing the majority of our energies on common goals that link the entire University,” he said.

Brown told the staff that a report issued by the Strategic Planning Coordinating Task Force in December had outlined long-term strategies and visions for undergraduate and graduate education, research, faculty, student life, and administrative services. The objective, he said, was to create a strategic vision for BU from the bottom up.

He explained that he had first requested each college to come up with a set of ideas about how to nurture its own academic programs. But, he said, that effort alone could not accomplish the greater goal of pulling the University together. “We are a unique, large, diverse, high-quality university with a common level of connectivity and collaboration among its faculty, students, and staff,” he said. “But for BU to become a great urban research institution, every department in every college must work together.”

The president highlighted 9 points (edited down from an original 12) addressed by the strategic plan, including an expansion of BU’s connections to the city of Boston and to the rest of the world. “I want to emphasize what the B stands for in One BU,” he said, “because the city of Boston is one of our greatest assets.”

Brown believes that the University’s internships, community service, study abroad programs, and training of students and faculty for global shifts in economics, politics, and research, he said, would help BU cultivate a core ideology that will guide future growth. He also spoke of the importance of engaging alumni in new and different ways.

“We have an extensive alumni base,” he said, “but in the past, we have not fully engaged them.”

Another goal is to strengthen the College of Arts and Sciences as the core of the University. “Whether they’re enrolled in CAS or in one of the professional schools,” Brown said, “most students fill the majority of their liberal arts requirements at CAS.”    
The theme of unification also dominated presentations by Joseph Mercurio, executive vice president, and Gary Nicksa, vice president of operations, who talked about the history of the physical growth of the BU campus, as well as its future.

“Opportunism characterized BU throughout the 1970s,” Mercurio said. “That cannot continue. In the future, BU must consciously play a role in the direction it is heading.”

Mercurio described several planned improvements, such as expanded sidewalks and renovations to the College of Fine Arts and the School of Law. He also described a long-range planning study that proposes stronger links between East and West Campuses (see today’s related article, "Study Sees New Campus Center Near BU Bridge"). All of which would require very large investments, he said, and for the University to continue the kind of growth it has enjoyed in recent decades, it would have to find new methods of funding projects. In the past, according to Mercurio, BU has borrowed nearly 50 percent of the money used to complete its building projects. “We want to reverse our strategies,” he said. “We need to find ways to make philanthropy and grants make up the bulk of our funding.”

“We’re not only examining short-term developments,” he added. “We’re looking at projects that could occur 25 and 30 years in the future, and there are some extremely exciting prospects.”

Vicky Waltz can be reached at vwaltz@bu.edu.