By Daniel C. Houston
Baylor officials released on Dec. 12 the first public draft of the university’s next strategic plan, which will carry the university beyond the Baylor 2012 vision while reaffirming many of the expiring plan’s goals for university development.
The strategic plan will continue the Baylor 2012 commitment to “position Baylor as a preeminent research university” and foster a distinctive Christian identity, according to the draft. Although the draft lists six broad goals that will guide university policy in the future, it does not dictate specific actions to achieve those goals.
Dr. Elizabeth Davis, executive vice president and provost, said the university will release new metric benchmarks consistent with its strategic goals as part of next year’s annual report, which will be made public and presented to the board of regents in July 2013.
“There will be aggressive metrics that we go for,” Davis said. “However, we also know we need the flexibility if there are major shifts in the state of higher education or the state of the economy. The goal is not to tie our hands; the goal is to provide us with the greatest level of opportunity to adapt to the state of higher education and the state of the world.”
In addition to Baylor’s commitment to continue developing as a research institution, the proposed strategic plan prioritizes excellence in the classroom, addressing community problems through research and service partnerships, increasing alumni engagement, increasing funding for student scholarships, and building new donor-funded facilities.
“The six aspirational statements in my mind are ends,” Davis said. “We want to do things with this [ultimate] end in mind: to create a transformational environment for our students.”
Davis presented the draft Thursday at the spring faculty meeting and opened up the floor for faculty feedback. Questions raised included concerns about student safety on and off campus, promotion of special undergraduate programs like the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core and accepting religious diversity among students on campus.
One audience member, philosophy professor Dr. Lenore Wright, praised the draft’s emphasis on alumni involvement and outreach, but expressed a desire that the relationship between the university and the independent Baylor Alumni Association, which has been rocky in years past, be improved as part of the strategic plan.
“I think that the relationship between Baylor and the alumni association is still, to some degree, unresolved,” Wright said. “So I’d like to see us in this new strategic plan work in concert to somehow resolve that relationship.”
President Ken Starr, who joined Davis on the stage at the meeting to answer questions about the plan, responded to Wright by acknowledging there have been issues with that relationship in the past, but did not disclose how his administration intends to address them.
“With respect to the specific institutional arrangements,” Starr said, “we’ve made it very clear that we will treat, as a university, the Baylor Alumni Association, which is an independent association, with courtesy, respect and hospitality. There are issues — and this is not the forum for addressing those issues — but the issues include the question, frankly, of resources.”
Stressing the importance of raising money for student scholarships, Starr said he hoped the conversations associated with the strategic planning process “will be conducive to further create [an] atmosphere of harmony for all 155,000 of our alumni around the world.”
BAA executive vice president Jeff Kilgore praised the plan in an interview Jan. 11, saying “it takes a very challenging but realistic approach to the future of the university.” He also said he was pleased with the priority the plan places on classroom instruction, the quality of which, he warned, could fall if too many resources are diverted to research efforts.
“I think a research focus is obviously a very noble focus for our academic vision,” Kilgore said, “as long as you continue to be able to fund it. That’s the difficulty … It’s just got the immediate challenge of, how do you pay for it without affecting the strong undergraduate educational identity that you already have in place?”
Now that the draft has been made public, the planning process will allow for a period of community feedback that will last through March. During this time, members of the Baylor community will be able to offer suggestions — including a name for the plan — online at www.baylor.edu/strategicplan.
Student Government plans to host a town hall meeting in February with key administrators in order to explain the draft and receive questions and feedback from students who choose to attend, although the date had not been set nor the panelists determined as of Jan. 17.
Houston senior Zach Rogers, student body president, gave the administration high marks for both the content of the draft and the process by which community input was gathered and taken into account prior to the plan’s formulation.
“I think the result is just an incredible strategic plan,” Rogers said. “I’ve looked at the plan several times and I can’t see anything that I can add to it or take away from it.”
Rogers said the university’s funding for the Baylor Research and Innovation Collaborative, which he believes is “going to be one of the largest incubators for business in the world,” will improve Baylor’s standing as a research university. He also stressed the importance of a “holistic education” that embraces Baylor’s Christian commitments.
The final draft will be released in May and will replace Baylor 2012 as the university’s official strategic plan in June.