Strategic plan to research academic, social future for GW

The group of faculty and administrators leading the year-long development of a strategic plan will gather input from the campus community to help define the institution’s trademark globally.

With the existing strategic plan nearing its 10th year, Provost Steven Lerman initiated the process for writing a new plan last month. The group will spend the rest of this academic year seeking suggestions from students, faculty, staff, alumni and members of the Board of Trustees through face-to-face meetings and social media like Facebook.

A newly formed eight-member executive committee will spend the next month predicting the economic and academic climate in 2021. Their decisions will guide the selection of areas for financial investments as GW approaches its bicentennial.

“One of the ways we conceptualize this plan is not as a blueprint for everything the University will do in the future,” Lerman said. “We conceptualize this plan as laying out a very small number of what we hope are important themes around which we can align a chunk of the University’s activities.”

The executive committee will look to scholarly literature to determine potential scenarios like research funding pools, the profile of the college-aged population and broad societal challenges like climate change.

“At some level, we’re talking about the sustainabilty of higher education and the sustainability of GW in the long-run,” Gary Simon, director of the division of infectious diseases in the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, said at a faculty meeting Friday.

In the next stage, the committee will choose a central theme for the plan – such as “engaging the world” – and then will create a list of three to six focus areas, such as research or reputation. Lerman said narrowing down the plan’s goals and keeping them specific to GW will ensure that the recommendations are actionable.

“Plans, to be useful, have to make choices. So the plan that tries to be everything to all people might as well be not a plan,” Lerman said.

Working groups will think of ways to enact and measure the progress of each goal and realistically assess its chances for success.

“The big picture here is we want these activities to lead to GW being truly great in the world at those things,” Lerman said.

Since the original strategic plan was written in 2002, all 10 deans of the University and all but two of seven vice presidents have turned over. That plan pinpointed enhancing academic excellence, raising the University’s ranking and strengthening GW’s infrastructure as three overarching goals for the institution.

With the development of a new plan, University President Steven Knapp will have a more formalized opportunity to make his mark on the institution and carry out the plan’s goals until at least 2017, when his extended contract expires.

The leadership for the planning process will widen to include students, staff, alumni and trustees by December. This larger working group will collect and distribute data to analyze the specifics of each goal.

To gather outside input during the planning stages, Lerman said he has already started hosting dinners at his home on the Mount Vernon Campus to discuss ideas with faculty. In addition, the provost will hold large-scale lunches with about 100 faculty members, staff and students.

Two online forums – a more traditional website and a social media effort spearheaded by GW School of Business Dean Doug Guthrie – will provide the latest updates on the plan’s development. The websites will offer space for dialogue with the GW community, especially alumni who may donate to support the plan.

“As time goes on, we’re going to try to figure out other ways to reach out to as much of the community as we can to inform them about where the plan is, give chances to comment on it and, to be honest, to make them feel that they are in this plan, that this is their plan, not someone else’s plan,” Lerman said.

In tandem with the strategic planning process, Vice President of Development and Alumni Relations Michael Morsberger will craft a University-wide fundraising campaign to match academic priorities that emerge from the strategic planning process with the appropriate resources, while Vice President for External Relations Lorraine Voles will lead a communications plan to streamline the University’s visual message.

Besides the philanthropic initiative, Knapp said the strategic plan would likely rely on financial support from tuition revenue and the Innovation Task Force, a cost-savings program that looks to eventually raise $60 million per year after its first five years.

“That’s why it’s so timely that we do the strategic planning exercise now, so we know what we’re aiming at when we’re going out, and so we can have a marriage between these resource-generating efforts and what we plan to spend them on,” Knapp said.

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