Road Map implementation launch
By Katie Ellis
The thank you gift to the hundreds of volunteers might have seemed a little corny to some, but the thank you was sincere as Binghamton University President Harvey Stenger opened the Road Map Implementation Launch to a crowd of about 350 on April 8 in the Mandela Room of the University Union.
"Today is a day to say thank you," he said. "As you came in, our road mappers gave you a little gift. I had said go out and find some old road signs, cut them into pieces and write on the back of each one. It's kind of corny, but it's low cost, lightweight and fits in your pocket and will remind you of the months you put into this project."
The University is at a critical time in its history, Stenger said, and as we grow, we must continue to make wise choices. "As the premier public, we must above all be accountable to our students, taxpayers and communities that look to us for education, innovation and inspiration.'
An unstinting commitment to excellence will guide us, Stenger said, as we strive to be the best in all of our endeavors, "building on our traditions and strengths, and applying them to the exciting challenges ahead."
Calling the Road Map strategic plan an ambitious one, Stenger said "every strategic plan has to have a mission and a vision. Our mission is simply what we are. Our vision is where we are headed. Simply put, we are very, very good, and we know we can become greater. It's a matter of putting the pieces together."
Reviewing the open, transparent and inclusive process that was followed to develop the Road Map, Stenger said everyone at the table needed a chance to contribute or the plan wouldn't be effective. "It was a complicated process, but I knew I wanted to make a process that was different," he said. "These 17 steps [in the process] were created by the people in this room. After each step, we decided what the next step would be."
Along the way, projects became super themed – what we call strategic priorities, he explained, before he reviewed the five strategic priorities in order of priority, along with the projects that were selected to move forward under each one.
1. The premier public university of the 21st century will engage in path-breaking graduate education, research, scholarship and creative activities that shape the world.
"Of course we do this," he said. "But we know we can do it better and therefore it became our first and highest priority. For example, the project 'Joining the Association of American Universities (AAU)'. That's almost as difficult as becoming the premier public of the 21st century, but it's one of the steps to becoming it. The others are investments that are within our control. It takes money and it takes effort."
2. The premier public university of the 21st century will provide a transformative learning community that prepares students for advanced education, careers and purposeful living.
"We are preparing our students," Stenger said. "Of these projects, the most important is the creation of a Center for Learning and Teaching, and we also know we have to foster a culture of undergraduate research and high-impact learning experiences, so we're investing money in those as well."
3. The premier public university of the 21st century will unite to foster a diverse and inclusive campus culture.
"Of all our goals, this is the one that I feel is the most important," Stenger said. "It's so important that my office has taken ownership of this goal − the only one my office has. We absolutely cannot be premier unless we are a campus where everyone feels welcome. We have what it takes, a diverse population and an increasingly diverse staff and faculty, but we need to be inclusive as well. Inclusivity fosters understanding and makes our campus stronger in all of our other undertakings."
Telling a story of two campus groups separated by a staircase, he said "We need to find a way for students to climb the staircase to inclusiveness and understanding. We won't be premier until we find ways to have people find commonalities that will unite them. We can do this. It won't be easy, but I need your help. In the next month, we will create a new office reporting directly to the president where we'll be focused on this issue. Without it, no university can claim they are premier."
4. The premier public university of the 21st century will enhance the University's economic, social and cultural impact through engagement from the local to the global level.
"The Global Center will be a nexus and important," Stenger said. "We will offer more services and experiences for students as we become more integrated into the global society."
5. The premier public university of the 21st century will optimize the acquisition and allocation of human, technological, financial and physical resources.
"We need money," Stenger said. "But once we get it, we need to spend it very carefully. Every penny we gain, we must spend appropriately and maximize our ability to receive and to allocate resources."
Calling the day a serious one, Stenger turned the podium over to Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Donald Nieman, who explained the hiring process the University is implementing.
"Our faculty will play a critical role in helping us achieve these Road Map goals," Nieman said. "With an increase of 25 percent in our tenure-track faculty due to NYSUNY 2020 − that's huge. It will allow us to reduce the student/faculty ratio and enable us to close the gap between Binghamton and other top public universities in the areas of research and graduate education – the biggest challenge we face in our quest to become the premier public university."
Nieman said Binghamton will be strategic in our hiring by investing in areas in which we already have significant strength so we can achieve an international reputation for excellence in selected areas of research and increase our stature are a major research university.
Binghamton has established five very broad themes to guide a majority of the hiring the campus will undertake as a result of NYSUNY 2020 legislation, Nieman said. Called Transdisciplinary Areas of Excellence, "the one thing that all of these topics have in common is that they address important, complex questions that can only be answered by drawing on perspectives and techniques of faculty from a multitude of disciplines."
Hiring will be done in groups or clusters so new faculty will be able to collaborate with each other and with existing faculty at Binghamton, he said. "For example, President Obama recently announced a major initiative to fund brain research. Binghamton has significant strength in brain research and if we grow our faculty right, we have the opportunity to become one of the best universities in the world in this area," Nieman said. "Think neuroscience, molecular biology, computer science, nursing, biomedical engineering and a pharmacy school, and we can become truly path-breaking and enhance our stature as a research university. The possibilities are almost limitless."
Binghamton will continue to hire outside of the transdisciplinary areas of excellence for the Graduate Growth Initiative and to meet student demand, Nieman added, but a lot of our hiring will be focused on the TAEs.
"As we hire, we also want to make sure that the investments that we're making are working out well, so will ask a variety of questions to ensure our hires are resulting in high-impact, highly effective scholarship. That's how we're going to measure the success of what we're doing.
"This is a new approach and it poses significant challenges for us," Nieman concluded, "but I'm confident we can overcome the challenges and take advantage of what is a rare opportunity and put us on the road to becoming the premier public university in the United States."
Nieman handed the show back to Stenger for the call to action.
"It's not over," Stenger said. "It's really just begun. I almost felt relief when imagined the ending of this presentation. But can we sit back and rest? There is so much to do and there are so many great ideas out there and we've only begun to fund them at about one-fifth of what we really need to get them started. We have many projects that didn't make the list and we'll continue to come up with new ideas along the way.
"Today is the first step of a very long journey and I hope that we get to as high as we possibly can during my time here as president."