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Leadership Summit Looks to the Future

By Erika Mantz, Media Relations
September 3, 2008

Faculty and staff kicked off the new academic year last week with a conversation about the future of UNH led by Provost Bruce Mallory.

“There is a convergence of factors that make it timely and crucial that we take time to ask ourselves hard questions, reflect on what we know about ourselves and about the world around us, and articulate our aspirations for the future,” Mallory told the close to 200 department chairs, deans, vice presidents, Faculty Senate leadership, business managers, center directors, programs leaders and senior staff across the university’s academic, research, student life, residential, facilities, HR, IT and finance offices who participated in the half-day leadership summit.

In addition to planning for the next capital campaign, the creation of a Blue Ribbon Panel on Intercollegiate Athletics that will focus on the financial stability of UNH’s varsity programs, searches for several senior leadership positions, and the Faculty Senate’s expected consideration to implement the Discovery Program as well as review promotion and tenure standards, Mallory noted that the Blue Ribbon Panel on the Future of Research at UNH is close to concluding its work. In addition, the university is beginning a year of strategic planning for the next five years.

“Certainly our current financial challenges set a context for the planning that will take place, but I believe that our questions will be what can we do given our resources, talents and goals, rather than what we cannot do,” Mallory said.

Amitava Bhattacharjee, co-chair with Jan Nisbet of the research panel, shared a brief update noting that a major question needs to be answered as UNH plans for the future: are we a four-year liberal arts college or a research university? He said that many recommendations will be made in the committee’s comprehensive report in October, but noted in particular that Responsibility Centered Management needs to provide incentives for teaching graduate classes, research faculty must have a lighter teaching load, and the quality of life and stipends for graduate students must be increased.

He pointed out that approximately 40 percent of tenure track faculty members write funding proposals, while 100 percent of research faculty does. The top 20 faculty receive 65 percent of the awards, and seven of those are research faculty.

Marco Dorfsman, incoming chair of the Faculty Senate, shared with the group that approval and implementation of the Discovery Program, which was put on hold during contract negotiations, will be a top priority this semester. He also said that the senate would be looking at promotion and tenure standards, student evaluations and grade inflation.

David Proulx, assistant vice president for financial planning and budgeting, provided a brief overview of the university’s financial situation, and pointed out that the university remains last in the nation for state support and is in a structural deficit: the rate of growth of revenue doesn’t keep up with increasing costs, in particular energy costs and health insurance.

“We are more and more reliant on tuition to survive financially.” Proulx also said that the hiring freeze will be reevaluated by position “in the next few months” and that in September the Board of Trustees will be presented with proposed budgets for FY 10 and 11 requiring “significant increases” in state funding.

Mallory continued the summit with discussion of the strategic plan, what he called a five-year plan more inclusive of the whole university that would include an update to the Academic Plan as well. The Academic Plan is at the end of its fifth year this fall.

After small group discussions to generate ideas for guiding the strategic planning process, Mallory introduced Robert Zemsky, an international expert on higher education strategic planning from the University of Pennsylvania’s Learning Alliance, who will help the university develop a strategic plan by June of 2009.

Zemsky quickly won over the crowd with its recognition of what strategic planning often is: a waster of time and money. “It’s not an exercise in creating a do list for someone else to do. It’s about strategy building, a strategy for moving forward not just a list of things that are wrong.”

“UNH needs a do not do list,” he said. “Strategic planning is about strategy. It’s the job of the administration to fix things.”

For example, UNH needs to talk about but not continue to cry about its dismal state funding, noting that it’s not likely to change any time soon, but instead pick five or six major strategic moves it is capable of and focus on those.

In closing, Mallory said he wanted the leadership summit to provide updates and announce the strategic plan, but also bring together people who may have never met. “This was a great venue for cross-department and cross-role conversation about the university. These are the folks who everyday are confronted with critical decisions about how to provide the best possible educational experience to the almost 15,000 undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in our Durham and Manchester campuses, and it’s important for everyone to be a part of shaping the future of UNH.”

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