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Strategically Speaking

August 1, 1997

Nick Marinello

Even while a search committee continues to accept nominations of candidates for the presidency of Tulane [see July issue of Inside Tulane], the university is engaged in a planning process to map out its future directions.

Led by Martha Gilliland, Tulane's new provost, a group composed of key university administrators and deans from all schools and colleges has begun to develop a three-year strategic plan. The project was launched during a three-day retreat in June.

"For me, one of the purposes of the retreat was to get a chance to get to know the players," said Gilliland. "I don't think that one is effective without personal relationships with the people with whom you work."

According to Gilliland, a second purpose of the retreat was "to begin to develop and align around a strategic intent." Gilliland said the group drew upon material collected from several focus groups she conducted with faculty and staff during March and June, as well as the framework document drafted through a planning process directed by President Eamon Kelly, who was not at the retreat.

"The entire university will have an opportunity to provide additional input beginning in the fall," said Gilliland. According to Gilliland, a "strategic intent" includes three parts: an overarching statement, themes derived from that statement and methods by which the achievement of the intention can be measured. The planning group referred to these measures as "conditions of satisfaction," said Gilliland. "We must define how we will know how we have accomplished our goals," she said.

The initial version of the strategic intent states: "Tulane is an international urban community of learners living and transmitting our core values of community, commitment to excellence, academic freedom, integrity, mutual respect and diversity in an environment that is creative, nurturing, intellectually exciting, risk-taking and transformative."

According to Gilliland, the four themes in that statement include, "what it means to be an international university, to be a model urban university, to live our core values and to be creating and working in a learning environment." Gilliland said she was aware that planning efforts are frequently viewed as producing little by way of results.

"In my experience," she said, "planning efforts fail for one or both of two reasons: People are inadequately involved in producing the plan and plans do not include conditions of satisfaction. You can't expect results if you don't come to grips with how you will know you have them. In the absence of something concrete, plans founder as soon as the going gets tough."

The conditions of satisfaction, said Gilliland, will be prepared to measure results in the fall of 2000. Gilliland said the group of academic leaders and administrators were also in agreement on several key points:

- Higher education is in the middle of a great deal of change.
- The ability to generate income is more challenging now than it was during the last two decades.
- The burst of technologic advances offers new opportunities but also puts new demands on universities.

"I think we are very much in front of the parade," said Gilliland, "but how do we stay there and even go further out front. Everyone at the retreat was in complete agreement that the status quo was not going to keep us out front."

The next steps in the planning process include a full airing of the work in progress followed by appropriate adjustments. The process will also include a series of specific projects, each of which can be supported by a cross-section of the university.

"We are going initially to identify three or four projects," Gilliland said. "We haven't put into place the mechanism for other projects to bubble up. In addition to universitywide projects, I would expect that each college and school will have projects they will want to take on."

Gilliland indicates that it will take a while for the planning to widen into large-scale involvement. "I want to get to a place where we can have a long involvement in talking about it. When we talk we create possibilities in people's minds. "We want to see who wants to join forces with us in this," she said.

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