Faculty representatives from the University’s Academic Strategic Plan Steering Committee engaged members of the Board of Trustees in what participants characterized as a lively and informative discussion and brainstorming session during the board’s recent winter retreat.

The brainstorming session was designed as a means of bringing Trustees and representatives from the Steering Committee together to share ideas and preliminary findings on key strategic areas relating to the academic experience. The discussions followed a session earlier in the day in which Interim Vice Chancellor and Provost Liz Liddy, who is chairing the Steering Committee, updated the Trustees on progress toward developing a plan that will help identify priorities for strategically enhancing the University’s academic mission that are consistent with its overall vision and mission.

Liddy says the response from Trustees was gratifying. “I think it really meant a lot to the Trustees and the participating faculty to have this chance to sit down together, talk about the process to date and share their ideas with one another,” she says. “What I heard over and over is how impressed the Trustees were with the thoughtful work that so many faculty, students and staff have already put into this effort and how much they appreciated the chance to add their own ideas on how we can enhance and build on the University’s academic strengths. It was incredibly worthwhile.”

The breakout sessions divided Trustees into seven discussion groups organized around the strategic focus areas of the Steering Committee’s seven working groups: Undergraduate Excellence, Strategically Focused Research and Doctoral Programs, Leadership in Veterans and Military Affairs, Enhancing Internationalization, Innovation and Institutional Renewal, Student and Faculty Centered Operations and Professional Programs Excellence.

Ralph Zito, professor and chair of the Department of Drama in the College of Visual and Performing Arts and one of the seven participating committee members, says the brainstorming session exceeded his expectations in terms of the level of engagement on both sides and the amount of productive information and ideas that emerged.

“These are people who have enormous expertise in strategic planning,” says Zito, who co-led the breakout group focusing on Undergraduate Excellence. “And to invite them into the process at this time was incredibly energizing to me. There was also a great deal of mutual respect. The entire strategic planning process has been broadly participatory from the get-go, with a good faith effort made to get input from all stakeholders. The Trustees are also a constituency, and I think they genuinely embraced what the Working Group reported out and the hard work that went into it, and they were grateful for the opportunity to add their ideas to it.”

Zito says some of the Trustees in his group later said it was the best retreat they had ever participated in.

Mehrzad Boroujerdi, professor and chair of political science, who co-led a breakout group discussion on Enhancing Internationalization, echoes Zito’s sentiments. “The Trustees in my group asked excellent questions about data, rationality and feasibility, and, in light of their considerable managerial experiences, they could intuitively understand the challenges and opportunities an academic strategic plan presents,” he says.

He says the experience also underscored for him the mutual goals that animate both faculty  and Trustees. “I have been teaching at Syracuse University for the last 22 years and had never interacted with the Board of Trustees before,” he says. “The retreat enabled me to glance into that ‘black box’ that is the board and simultaneously enabled the board members to chat candidly with us faculty. I was truly impressed by their unvarnished commitment to Syracuse University and their willingness to help us bring to fruition an undertaking that will impact the University for years to come.”

Board of Trustees Chairman Dick Thompson said that the enthusiasm from faculty and Trustees about the format and the collaborative nature of the discussions was very high. He hopes that there will be future opportunities for such meetings and that it can serve as a very effective communication tool.

In addition to Zito and Boroujerdi, participating members of the Academic Strategic Plan Steering Committee leading breakout sessions included M. Cristina Marchetti, the William R. Kenan Professor of Physics and associate director of the Syracuse Biomaterials Institute; J. Michael Haynie, vice chancellor for veteran and military affairs, executive director of the Institute for Veterans and Military Families and Barnes Professor of Entrepreneurship at the Whitman School of Management; Ian MacInnes, associate professor at the School of Information Studies; Colleen O’Connor Bench, assistant vice president in the Division of Student Affairs; and Jean-Francois Bedard, associate professor and chair of graduate programs at the School of Architecture.

Trustee facilitators for each of the groups were Jim Breuer and Judy Mower, David Edelstein, John Couri, Ken Goodman, Nick Donofrio, Ed Pettinella and Sharon Jacquet.

Chancellor Kent Syverud, Board Chairman Thompson, Trustee Steve Barnes, faculty representative Professor Shiu-Kai Chin and Interim Secretary and Angela S. Cooney Professor of Law Lisa Dolak rotated among the breakout groups during the discussion period.

The ideas that emerged from the sessions have been compiled and forwarded to the respective working groups for consideration as they work to formulate recommendations and strategies for their respective area.

Steering Committee Chair Liddy says plans are also in the works for a campus-wide event to update and invite feedback from faculty, staff and students on the working groups’ preliminary findings. That event is expected to occur within the next few weeks, and details, including time and place, will be announced as soon as they are set.

The working groups, which include a mix of faculty, staff and students, have been gathering data relating to their area through various means—including forums, surveys, interviews and focus groups—over the last several months. Their final recommendations will be forwarded to the full Steering Committee in the coming weeks for review and consideration for inclusion in the final report.

The Academic Strategic Plan is one of three components that comprise the Fast Forward Syracuse initiative. The other two components are Operational Excellence and the Campus Master Plan.