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Divergence to Convergence

ALBANY, N.Y. (April 21, 2017) — The campus community got its first look at core elements of the University’s emerging strategic plan at the Spring Faculty Meeting on Thursday, when Darrell P. Wheeler, interim provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs, presented drafts of a vision and mission statement and outlined the three major “strategic imperatives” that could unfold over the next three years:

  • Fostering a culture of excellence
  • Innovating UAlbany programs
  • Strengthening research

“These are things faculty can really get behind,” said Cynthia Fox, associate professor of Languages, Literatures & Cultures and past chair of the University Senate. Fox is a member of the 16-person Strategic Planning Committee.

Each of these goals will be supported by nine “initiatives.” Teams are working now to develop “expedition maps” to guide the actions necessary to achieve each. Wheeler said that details are still taking shape and more information will be shared in the weeks ahead.

The meeting was the first step in what Leanne Wirkkula, vice president for planning, policy and compliance and co-chair with Wheeler of the Strategic Planning Committee, called “a campus dialog on what is emerging as our strategic framework.” University Senate Chair James Collins moderated the forum.

Interim President James R. Stellar opened the event by inviting anyone who had been involved in the planning process this academic year to stand up. About two-thirds of the 100 or so faculty and staff members in attendance rose to their feet.

Stellar praised the widespread participation and said that he thinks UAlbany is “an institution on the move.” He added that maintaining the momentum requires a plan that has broad support. “If you don’t think the plan came from you, if you don’t have a certain ownership, then the plan is nothing. Culture eats plans for lunch.”

The planning process employed a “design thinking” model, which began in the fall semester with what Wirkkula described as “a divergent process, really thinking big and trying to get as many ideas as possible out there.” Then, in the spring, began, she said, “a convergent phase, where we tried to distill the ideas down to the most powerful, the most strategic. We are now at the tail end of convergence.”

Along the way, Wirkkula said, certain “powerful and salient” themes began to emerge from planning sessions that involved some 400 people over the course of the academic year. These themes include a widespread passion for the University’s mission as a public research university, “a very palpable sense that we prize academic excellence and we aspire to cultivate an organizational culture that supports excellence,” and the sense that “it’s really about the people — all of us coming together, moving out of our silos, really reaching out and moving forward together.”

Fox said she was initially skeptical about a process that would include a “Concert of Ideas” and “expedition mapping,” but that over the course of the year “it has come together in ways I could not have imagined.

“We are asking ourselves where are we now, where do we want to be, how do we get there, and what are the impediments and what will help us,” said Fox. “It seemed repetitious, but we were always bringing in new people and new ideas. It’s come together in ways that I think are really, really positive for the University.”

Wheeler and Wirkkula said they plan to host forums on all three campuses on Wednesday, May 3, to share additional details of the emerging plan and listen for “what resonates” with the campus community. Watch for a campus-wide email which will provide locations and times.

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A comprehensive public research university, the University at Albany offers more than
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