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January 31 , 2005
Strategic Planning focus turns to developing signature themes
BY Michael Terrazas
Last year the Strategic Planning Steering Committee identified internationalization as a signature theme that could define and guide activities across the University. Now the committee has proposed nine more, as it hopes to arrive by semester's end at a final slate of themes to be highlighted in Emory's strategic plan.
Listed at right, the 10 themes were assembled from school-planning ideas and suggestions made by individuals and groups across campus. They are concepts, the committee decided, that not only best capture the University's existing strengths but also present opportunities for Emory to turn talent and resources into world-class leadership in education, research and service.
"The themes were arrived at by looking for obvious, but also not so obvious connections among the scholarly interests of the units of the university," said Lanny Liebeskind, Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Organic Chemistry and a steering committee member.
The bedrock of the strategic plan will remain the school and unit plans that continue to develop, but the signature themes will serve as ways to unite scholarly activity across the University. From February on into April, each theme will be stretched, folded and turned inside out by faculty, staff, students, trustees and alumni to see which best fit Emory's strategic direction. Ten committees, each composed of at least 30 members and dedicated to a single theme, will meet several times and hold open discussions at which the public can comment.
Part of the committees' task will be to create definitions of the themes. Preliminary sketches are available on the strategic planning website ( www.admin.emory.edu/StrategicPlan/ , click on "Task Forces"), but they serve merely as jumping-off points for deliberation. Some ideas may be changed completely or combined with others in the end.
"These themes are meant to be suggestive and to connect to important parts of Emory's traditions as well as to our plans for future," said incoming University Secretary Rosemary Magee, also on the steering committee. "For example, health, religion, internationalism--all of these are strengths for us; we also are a place that values citizenship and creativity. What will be interesting is to discover the ways in which these themes may connect to one another (race and health; citizenship and internationalization; etc.). Through this discussion we will find ways to distill and discover important aspects of this community."
In March, the steering committee will hold a town hall meeting to get input into the deliberations. By April 15, each theme committee will produce a report that will be posted on the website for further public comment.
Though ultimately a small group of cross-cutting themes will be highlighted in the strategic plan, "that doesn't mean the other ideas will be stuffed away in mothballs," President Jim Wagner told Faculty Council, Jan. 18. And though he acknowledged that hard program decisions might someday be necessary, a week later Wagner told University Senate that fund-raising strategies during the approaching campaign would not neglect real Emory strengths that may not be featured in the strategic plan.
"I'd rather see us outgrow our clothes than cast off too much," the president said.
"There's an argument to be made for all of these areas--why we should do it," said Provost Earl Lewis, who along with Executive Vice President for Health Affairs Michael Johns co-chairs the steering committee. "The harder question to answer is, why shouldn't we do it?"
"These areas are not mutually exclusive of each other, nor of other areas of excellence across the University," Johns said. "We must also have a great college and schools of law, business, medicine, etc. The idea is to ask: Are these areas where we could come together and be more distinctive? Where we could aspire to be the best and go beyond what anyone else is doing?"
Lewis and Wagner are engaged in a series of appearances before various campus groups to sell the strategic plan, Wagner told the Senate, and urge people's participation in the process. As an incentive, he said the administration has identified a pool of "seed funds" that will help get important programs and initiatives off the ground once the plan is complete. In future years this funding will be greatly augmented by returns from the comprehensive campaign, but in the meantime Wagner said some $10 million could be available in fiscal year 2006 and as much as $20 million in subsequent years.
Indeed, the president dubbed 2005 as "the year of the strategic plan" to the Senate, inviting the body to participate and share in the administration's enthusiasm for and commitment to building a plan that can carry Emory into its next phase of ascendancy. Though even the "final" plan will be a living document that adjusts as Emory's resources and opportunities change, Wagner said, the strategic plan is due to be finished in June. But, he added, if discussions are intense and another month or two is needed to produce the best work possible, the steering committee will take the extra time.
"It's more important to have a great product," he said, "than a timely product."