A Strategic Plan for UNL: Setting Our Compass
UNL Strategic Planning to Date
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln has been engaged in an ongoing academic strategic planning process since 2004. Guidelines for the process were outlined in the Chancellor's 2004 State of the University Address. They called for a coordinated effort to produce a unifying document that tied together the strategic elements of various plans (such as the 2020 Vision report, the Transitions to University report, Blue Sky report, space needs, diversity needs, and others), with agreement on core values, on common objectives, and on measures of accountability. As we engaged in this planning process, we wanted plans to represent the best thinking of our colleges and departments-in short, we did not want a restrictive University plan that limited opportunities or, worse, was too general to be ambitious. And we needed this plan quickly, by March 15, 2005.
Under the direction of Vice Chancellors Couture and Owens, colleges and departments produced first reports indicating their strategic priorities and resources required to meet them. Also, in that first year, a preliminary set of core values was drafted. And we agreed that the academic strategic planning process would have implications for decision-making and resource distribution in a number of defined domains.
Department/Unit plans were indeed submitted by March 15, and they were presented in hearings to senior administrative team and representatives from the faculty senate, the Academic Planning Committee, and ASUN, and responded to in writing by the Chancellor, SVCAA, and VCIANR.
In fall 2005, we engaged in a second phase of the initiative. The Academic Planning Committee was charged with reviewing the initial planning documents to locate common themes, and new guidelines were distributed to academic units to direct the second phase. Plans from academic units were again collected, presented in hearings, and evaluated in writing by the Chancellor, SVCAA, and VCIANR. Concurrent with this effort was a 2 percent budget reduction process, which eliminated our ability to distribute new resources. And, simultaneously, a similar planning process, entitled "Investing in Nebraska's Future: a Strategic Planning Framework-Accountability Measures," was taking place, under the direction of President Milliken and our Board of Regents, at the University of Nebraska system level. Recognizing the multiple issues impinging on our planning process, we requested and were approved to do a "special emphasis" self-study focusing on academic strategic planning for UNL's decennial accreditation in November 2006.
We have now completed the third cycle of strategic planning. College plans, in this third iteration, are more strategic, and common themes are beginning to emerge, in part, from the opportunities that academic leaders have had to talk with one another about their planning.
Input from chairs, heads and deans at this juncture points to a unified request: they want a guide-a compass, if you will-that clarifies our direction by pulling together our common planning priorities in a single document that represents the goals of the university. This idea was also endorsed by the external accreditation review team that submitted its report in February 2007. Additionally, that team suggested that now was the time to align academic strategic planning with planning in other units at UNL, such as Student Affairs, Business and Finance, and Research:
- Integrating university-wide planning and providing opportunities for units to share goals and outcomes throughout the process to encourage and permit alignment is an important aspect of the evolving planning process. (Advancement Section/Report of a Comprehensive Evaluation Visit, Page 5, 12-06-06)
The external team also recommended that UNL identify and share high-level institutional priorities for excellence in instruction, research and outreach for both academic and non-academic units. These guidelines would provide a basis for both unit and overall institutional planning and determine ways to measure our progress on each of these priorities:
- Include in the planning process the presentation of both implementing and sustaining the process over time, and of the impact on other areas within the institution. Sharing these as (the) planning process progresses will help ensure that the horizontal linkages between academic units and non-academic units are recognized and addressed before the end of the process. (Advancement Section/Report of a Comprehensive Evaluation Visit, Page 7, 12-06-06)
The team further noted that our process, by design, is iterative and only in its third year so a summative evaluation of it now may be premature. However, the report noted also that UNL is beginning to "own" planning and the campus community believes that planning will better inform future institutional decisions on priorities and resources.
The accreditation review of academic strategic planning and the observations of our academic leaders both suggest that our plan now should be to better communicate UNL's overarching priorities and goals so that, through common agreement, we can better focus and energize planning across the entire campus.
REVISED Dec. 3, 2008