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Strategic Plan drives university to excellence

Binghamton University President Lois B. DeFleur and the divisional vice presidents communicated a vision for the campus at the annual University forum this week, focusing their presentations on the new strategic plan.

“Binghamton’s hallmark is academic excellence—particularly at the undergraduate level,” said DeFleur. “Our alumni as well as current undergraduates place a very high value on the education they receive here and the strategic plan recognizes this tradition.” Highlighting achievements of the past year, DeFleur noted that each division has something to be proud of: accolades for our comprehensive approach to international education, research activities that contribute to economic development, receipt of a $200,000 U.S. Justice Department Grant to develop programs to educate students about sexual assault and rape prevention, a banner year in fundraising and the completion of Mountainview College.

“These successes are especially meaning-ful given the changes in the higher education environment,” DeFleur said. “Currently, public higher education across the United States is confronting what some have described as a “perfect storm” of challenges—declining state funding, increasing demands for account-ability and access, and increasing competition for the best students, faculty and staff.”

Even as state funding decreases, there is a growing demand for higher education, she said. Binghamton faces many challenges as applications continue to rise. “Applications last year topped 23,000—a record—and this year, to date, we are ahead of this pace.”

With these challenges in mind, DeFleur reconvened the Strategic Planning Council. “As a pilot, I view the strategic plan much like flight plans and charts when I’m flying,” she said. “They provide directions to destinations, but you almost always encounter winds aloft that move you off course or slow you down, or inclement weather that tosses you about or causes you to alter your path somewhat. In the same way, the strategic plan offers us a destination, but we will inevitably encounter forces that may slow us down or cause us to vary our course.”

The plan identifies four key principles to foster a climate of flexibility and innovation—new investments in academic excellence, innovation, growth and diversification; continued enhancement of engagement and outreach locally, statewide and nationally; flexibility and adaptability coupled with development of new sources of funding and other resources; and respect and value for indi-viduals, their work and accomplishments.

“In particular,” DeFleur said, “it means that all of us must become more entrepreneurial, looking to develop new and diversified resources; we must learn to anticipate and take advantage of new opportunities as they appear; we must develop new partnerships—both on campus and with other universities and organizations; we must encourage creativity and innovation; and lastly—we must work harder to communicate to the community that what we do here— public education—has a real and lasting value to our community, to our state and to our nation. It is extraordinarily important that we be stronger in our advocacy.”

Across the board, the vice presidents focused on the need for flexibility and creativity in seeking new sources of funding to implement projects and move the University forward.

“The strategic plan is really about coming together, using our collective energy to move forward,” said Provost Mary Ann Swain. “We are going to have to take some risks and make some new mistakes, but I know we’re up to it.

“We need to say to ourselves that there is always more than one really good way to get to where we want to go,” Swain said. “One issue is that, unless we put a stake in the ground about what new programs and schools we want, we can’t get anyone to help. We need to be aggressive.”

The Division of Student Affairs plans to form collaborative partnerships and support a student-centered learning process, said Rodger Summers, vice president. “We will always keep students at the center of what we do,” he said. “We want our students to become part of the University and bond successfully here.” To accomplish this, the division plans to implement portals to collect and store data on students, expand the First Year Experience Program and work to highlight diversity through a variety of programs and activities.

New and expanding programs need expanded space on campus to function. Anthony Ferrara, vice president for administration reviewed a number of projects in the planning and construction stages, including the ITC facility. Renovations to the current building should be completed this year and the University is already looking at expanding the complex.

“We want to start this year on the design of the next building, the first new building,” he said. Other major capital initiatives will include work on the science buildings, the engineering building and the downtown education center.

With decreased state funding, the University needs to seek out grant funding to support key programs and initiatives, said Stephen Gilje, associate vice president for research. He said grant funding is available to programs across the board, if faculty and staff members are willing to pursue it.

“You have a choice,” Gilje said. “You can leave this room, go back to your office and curse the state for not providing enough funding, or be a master of your own destiny and write a grant proposal, be successful and get the funding. The choice is yours.”

In addition to grant funding, the University is looking at increasing donor support. In the past decade, Binghamton has seen an increase in support, moving from a $2 million level in 1994-95 to more than $17 million in 2003-04, said Tom Kelly, vice president for external affairs.

Cultivating those large gifts requires a commitment to build the relationship and ensure that the donor feels appreciated after the gift is made.

“It’s a long-term process, even a life-time process,” he said. “It’s a different process with many more disappointments than successes. But it’s a rewarding process when we can match the interest of the donor with the needs for the donor.”
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Last Updated: 10/14/08