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President Launches $1.8 Billion Strategic Initiatives

Liberal and fine arts, MED, LAW, and SMG ID’d as key strengths

Boston University will invest $1.8 billion in the fulfillment of its strategic plan over the next 10 years, the president announced yesterday, devoting new resources to unlocking cross-college opportunities for undergraduates, improving the campus’s academic and residential facilities, and recruiting new faculty for the University’s largest college.

The strategy, titled Choosing to Be Great, sets goals to be carried out over the next decade, with an initial focus on augmenting the programs that are seen as BU’s current strengths and a longer-term plan for recruitment and expansion throughout all schools and colleges. While the College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the College of Fine Arts, the School of Law, the School of Management, and the School of Medicine are all identified as key players in the early stages, broader goals include more research funding for students across the University and continued renovations of both residential and community facilities for use by students, faculty, staff, and alumni.

“The great strengths of Boston University are the breadth of excellence stored in its faculty, coupled with its focus on rigorous and well-delivered education,” says President Robert A. Brown. “What has emerged is a plan that builds on this foundation, strengthens it, and leverages it to move toward a uniquely broad, but also collaborative university.”

The cornerstone of the plan, which calls for more campuswide collaboration, is a focus on undergraduate education, starting with an effort to encourage cross-registration among schools and colleges and encourage undergraduate students to take full advantage of both the liberal arts and the professional programs available. Brown says that he hopes the effort to “unlock undergraduate education” will give students a more complete academic and cultural experience while at BU, enabling aspiring business leaders at SMG to study mass communications at the College of Communication or allowing a chemistry major with a passion for the clarinet to learn from a distinguished CFA faculty member. At the start of this semester, Brown appointed Victor Coelho, a professor of musicology in CFA and CAS, as the first associate provost for undergraduate education; in this new role, Coelho will be responsible for coordinating the core undergraduate experience, which includes creating intercollege academic opportunities and working with deans to bring these plans to light.

Arts and Sciences is set for expansion as well; the college and graduate school are slated to hire 100 new tenure-track faculty members over the next decade. Dean Virginia Sapiro, who was appointed to her post at Arts and Sciences last summer, says the move will aid efforts to build BU’s reputation, locally and nationally. “Our reputation is built on our excellence, and the growth will be built both on advancing the quality of teaching and research and with our current efforts to increase the strength of our ties with alumni and the broader community,” she says. “Our major strength in undergraduate education is that Arts and Sciences is the heart of undergraduate education at BU, with a first-class faculty of scholars who work at the frontiers of knowledge and delight in sharing that knowledge with undergraduates.”

Several of the University’s professional schools have also been targeted as current strengths and candidates for growth. The School of Management — named 15th among U.S. business schools for overall quality in 2006 by BusinessWeek and first for career progress by the Financial Times — will hire 20 new faculty. The School of Law will begin its capital campaign for an expanded and fully renovated facility, with a dollar-for-dollar match in funding from the University. The College of Fine Arts, long recognized for integrating its undergraduate and graduate programs with respected arts institutions throughout greater Boston, also has plans for facilities renovation and expansion, with the same financial commitment from the University. With these plans in place, Brown hopes to draw even more prominent faculty and make CFA’s resources more available throughout the University.

“This reinforces our goals and our commitment to supporting students in their pursuit of an arts education within the greater BU community,” says CFA Dean ad interim Walt Meissner. “The arts can truly be a unique defining element for this University, because of our geographic location but even more so because of the track record of our successful programs and alumni. Enriching the arts experience for all Boston University students has the power to instill a sense of creativity, entrepreneurialism, and humanity that elevates us all, no matter what our field of study.”

The School of Medicine also is poised for growth. Already with a national reputation in medical education, clinical practice, and research, the school is moving to expand its research efforts, especially in select areas of emphasis. “The recent completion of the Moakley Pavilion and the current recruitment of a new medical oncology chief should enhance our competitiveness in cancer research and treatment,” says Karen Antman, the dean of MED and provost of the Medical Campus, “and certainly the National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories will contribute to recruitments and research initiatives in infectious diseases, virology, vector-borne diseases, and microbiology, as well as public health.”

Interdisciplinary research that spans traditional branches of study has also been identified as a current strength with room for growth. Andrei Ruckenstein, a CAS professor of physics and the newly appointed associate provost and vice president of research, is working with the faculty to identify BU’s current strengths in cross-disciplinary research and to drive the hiring of up to 30 new faculty members to help grow these activities across the University.

Much of the plan centers on the quality of people within the community. Brown plans to devote a significant part of the $1.8 billion to continue to draw world-class scholars, both students and faculty, to the University. Undergraduate student financial aid aimed at keeping Boston University accessible to qualified students, regardless of their economic status, is a major priority, as is making faculty salaries and benefits competitive for the very best teachers, scholars, and researchers. There also is a focus on strengthening graduate research programs, especially in disciplines where the University has or may gain national preeminence.

Initiatives focusing on life outside the classroom are considered key to the plan’s success, and efforts to engage both current students and alumni have already begun. The ongoing construction of the Student Village 2 residence hall is part of a long-range expansion campaign that includes renovations to housing, recreational facilities, and dining halls and a focus on leveraging this commitment to strengthen the campus community.

Brown says the University plans to broaden and deepen its engagement in Boston and the world through education, research, and public service. Several local initiatives are under way, including BU’s involvement in Boston Mayor Thomas Menino’s Step Up program, which pairs Boston-area colleges with students and teachers in the Boston Public Schools. The University’s international programs are also moving aggressively forward: BU’s study abroad programs, already rated among the top in higher education by U.S. News and World Report, will grow as well, as three study abroad programs open in Asia this year. The University is also moving to establish professional educational opportunities abroad; a new dental training institute in Dubai was announced earlier this year, with a planned opening in summer 2008.

The plan also calls for the creation of new opportunities for alumni, including mentoring programs to connect students to the professional world and a revamped career counseling system that will provide broader resources for BU graduates.

“Our greatest challenges are to communicate the quality of this University today, to explain our goals and aspirations for the future, and, finally, to involve our alumni and friends in the life of the University,” says Brown. “We are working hard to make up for lost time, but there is much to do.”

Brown’s announcement of the plan caps an 18-month planning process that included a faculty-run task force convened in summer 2006. The strategic plan was created with significant input from students, faculty, staff, and alumni and was released on a Web site for initial public review in December 2006. Since then, nearly 100 members of the BU community have offered comments and critiques of the president’s plan, which were reviewed before the final proposal was presented. The plan was first approved by the Board of Trustees last spring and reaffirmed at its annual meeting this fall.

The financial implications of the plan are significant, calling for increasing annual expenditures of up to $225 million for support of the plan’s eight goals. Over half of the $1.8 billion required to fund the plan over the next decade will come from BU’s operations budget, through strong fiscal management and expense controls. The University has had an impressive net investment return from its endowment in recent years — the 20 percent return for fiscal year 2007 was far above the average for peer institution endowments — but at $1.1 billion, the endowment remains small relative to most peers. In presenting the strategic plan last spring, Brown said that strengthening the endowment is a crucial part of the University’s growth and that support from alumni and friends will be “critical to fulfilling our goals.”

“After an intense process of discussion, debate, and hard work by the faculty, the University leadership, and our Board of Trustees, we feel we have a plan that will propel Boston University forward into the league of the very best large urban research universities in the world,” says Brown. “This is our goal, and we owe it to our students, faculty, and alumni to succeed.”

For more information about the strategic plan, click here.

Jessica Ullian can be reached at jullian@bu.edu.