Louis Hannegan, Managing Editor
The University of Dallas will soon begin the yearlong process of creating a new institutional strategic plan to replace the existing plan crafted in 2005 under then-president Francis Lazarus.
This process, guided by a committee of faculty and trustees co-chaired by Board Trustee Charles Tuse and Associate Provost Dr. Brian Murray, will begin in early April with focus groups and school-wide surveys for students, faculty and staff on various fundamental aspects of UD. The process will continue through the summer and next fall as faculty and staff task forces compile the data into a specific plan.
A final product is expected by December of this year.
An institutional strategic plan, Murray explained, is a document that defines the principles, priorities and goals that guide – or should guide – an organization such as UD in its allocation of resources and other decisions.
“What will be, five, 10 years from now? How can we ensure that we will be that? What resources are we going to need to assure that we can reach those goals?” University of Dallas President Thomas Keefe asked rhetorically in an interview on the topic, highlighting questions that a strategic plan seeks to answer.
“We can respond to issues as they arise, or we can be proactive and anticipate what issues we are going to have, and then we can have a plan to respond to them in a well-thought-out way that is embraced by the majority of the individuals involved.”
To answer these questions and achieve these ends, UD’s forthcoming strategic plan will have a three-part structure: a positioning statement; a directional, portfolio and organizing strategy; and strategic categories with goals, objectives and strategies within each.
“A positioning statement,” Murray explained, “is our articulation of who … we believe we are, relative to the universe of universities.”
The directional strategy will comprise broad statements regarding questions of growth, types of offerings, and how the university is generally organized, Murray said.
For the third tier, the categories to be considered are “academic excellence,” “operational excellence,” “the student and alumni experience,” “relationships and engagement” and “resource advancement and stewardship.”
For each of these categories, those participating in focus groups and surveys will be asked to define these terms, come up with goals in those areas and brainstorm strategies to achieve those goals.
Murray offered “relationships and engagement” – an ambiguous phrase without explanation – as an example.
“What the different groups would work on would be to define what are the important relationships for the university to have, and how do we propose to engage those parties, outside and inside the university,” Murray said.
“And that’s where the participation comes into play. It’s not for the committee to say what those important relationships are; it’s the outreach to students, faculty, staff, alumni – members of the community – to start defining and prioritizing relationships and to think about what are our goals for improving certain ones and how to engage certain audiences.”
While informed by the input of the UD community as a whole, this process always defers to the mission statement.
“The mission statement is the foundation, the starting point, the driver [of the strategic plan]. As we move through the process, we have to make sure that everything aligns and fits, and the basis for that is the mission statement,” Murray said. “As a not-for-profit, your reason for being is to manifest your mission.”
The student focus group will be asked to answer the question of what UD’s position is and should be.
For this question and all others, Keefe and Murray emphasized that this process may include changes, but is intended more to clarify things such as UD’s distinct qualities relative to other universities, a task with deep ramifications for UD’s identity and the decisions that will be based on this strategic plan.
If the plan is crafted well, all decisions at UD, from the biggest to the smallest, will be based on its principles, Murray said.
As the institutional strategic plan, this plan would inform other lower-level strategic plans for the different colleges, which will be revised in the fall, and the master plan for campus buildings.
“The colleges are going to start reviewing their strategic plans in the fall with information from the institutional one to help guide where they go – and where they don’t go,” Murray said.
“A master plan is one of the things that the strategic plan will inform. Once the university knows where it wants to go with its academics and operations, then you know what buildings and technology you need to make that happen,” Murray said.
Keefe offered some very concrete details.
“It is said that, in round numbers, we have $20 million in deferred maintenance on this campus. Carpenter Hall will probably last three more years on the outside. Lynch Auditorium should have been torn down by now. We have some dated classrooms. The library needs significant influx of resources. If I get someone to give us $50 million, how would we determine what to spend it on?
“We have about 700 acres here. What are we going to do with it? Are we going to keep all of it? Are we going to sell some of it? Are we going to lease some of it? What is the core campus and how are we going to develop that campus?” Keefe said, offering examples of the sorts of considerations a strategic plan seeks to guide.
“It is our hope that the strategic plan will really be a driver of our decisions, our resource allocations and our prioritizations as the university moves forward,” Murray said.
To ensure such a well-crafted plan, the committee will be inviting students, faculty, staff and alumni to participate in focus groups and surveys in the coming weeks.
“It’s a daunting task,” said Keefe – but a fun one, Murray added.
“Strategic planning, if done right, really should be a lot of fun. It’s a creative process,” Murray said. “I’m excited about it. I hope others will be, too.”