University hosts town hall on long-term strategic initiative

Braden Kelner Nov 23, 2014

Students, staff, and faculty poured into the Posner Center last Monday, filling the seats and lining the walls, to begin a discussion about the university’s long-term goals as it develops a new strategic plan.

The town hall marks the first of three open public town halls to discuss the goals and focus of the plan.

Future town halls are tentatively scheduled for January and March, with the rollout of the final plan scheduled for September. Additionally, as discussions continue, there will be opportunities to discuss more focused aspects of the plan with leaders guiding the planning process.

Interim Executive Vice President John Lehoczky took to the podium first.

Lehoczky stressed the impact of previous strategic plans, citing such feats as the creation of what is now the Jared L. Cohon University Center and a focus on the student experience under Robert Mehrabian’s leadership, as well as the move into biotechnology under Jared Cohon’s administration.

“We can only imagine what sorts of ideas will come up and [what] directions the university will move in the next few years and the next ten years,” Lehoczky said of the strategic planning process. “So this kind of process really can play an integral role in developing and strengthening the university.... We’re here to listen to your ideas.”

Interim Provost Nathan Urban spoke next to introduce the strategic plan’s three areas of focus, which include “Transformative Teaching and Learning,” “Transformative Research, Creativity, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship,” and “The Transformative CMU Experience.”

The leaders of the first two focus areas, or thrusts, hope to explore how they can develop the plan looking at the context in which the university is operating in terms of its relation to the rest of the world, the opportunities that the university has through its strengths and potential for improvement, as well as barriers and questions that arise as the university plans change.

For the campus experience thrust, the leaders are asking what core values drive campus life, what key areas impact students (including professional, personal, and community development), and students’ roles within the university, both academically and non-academically, as well as their roles in the outside world.

“It’s about developing a shared vision for the future of the university,” said Interim Provost Nathan Urban. “Shared — we want to make sure that we’re getting input, getting feedback, from the whole campus community about where the university should be going. And it’s a vision. It won’t be as concrete as a plan. It’ll be something that is aspirational. We’ll be thinking about where it is we want to be over the next five years, ten years, possibly beyond.”

For each thrust there is a steering committee that will guide discussion and decision-making related to their area of expertise. For the Transformative Teaching and Learning thrust, there is an initial committee of 22 members. For the Transformative Research, Creativity, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship thrust, there is an initial committee of 29 members, and for The Transformative CMU Experience thrust, there is an initial committee of eight members. Thrust leader Michael Murphy explained that the committee will grow, but is smaller than the other committees because “we’ve got so many other groups who focus on facets of this in a way that’s somewhat unique to this pillar — that is cross-institutional groups who play in this domain space and who we think can have significant influence.” Murphy cited alumni groups, parents, and Student Senate, among others, as groups that are already involved in discussions surrounding the focus of the thrust.

After the thrusts were introduced, Urban asked the audience what Carnegie Mellon’s core values are and what makes the university distinct. He also asked those present to discuss trends in higher education that should inform the plan, and how to engage the campus community in the process before opening the floor to an hour of discussion.

Members at the town hall discussed a range of topics, from the prominence of the university’s brand across the country, leveraging alumni and their successes, the nature of relationships across the university, and the notion of looking at the university’s weaknesses in order to improve, among other topics.