By Stephen Utz
There is a sense of urgency to institute the strategic plan, University of Richmond President Ed Ayers said in May.
The strategic plan outlines five areas that the university wants to improve. They include increasing affordability, diversity, increasing community involvement and creating a cohesive environment between schools and linking student life with all of these, Ayers said.
The five-point plan he released early in March is still in its draft stages. How each principle will be addressed is still being determined. The university released a draft of the plan and is creating working groups composed of administrators, faculty and students to create a specific plan to accomplish the five principles, Ayers said.
The working groups will meet all summer through conference calls to develop strategies to achieve the goals that they have set out to reach, he said. It is their job to define the metrics of success for each goal, he said.
A new draft will be presented at the beginning of classes in August and the final plan should be announced in October, he said. This is a five-year plan that will be coupled with a new capital campaign that will be implemented in a year or two, he said.
Other schools have recently instituted strategic plans that are similar to the University of Richmond's. "We didn't look at other plans," Ayers said. Diversity and affordability are issues that all colleges are facing, he said. Other schools' plans were not looked at because the University of Richmond is a unique institution with specific needs to address, he said.
As Ayers traveled the country, welcoming alumni and donors, he kept asking one simple question, he said. "What do we want the University of Richmond to be known for?"
The responses repeated the same objectives, he said. An emphasis on diversity and affordability was important to donors and alumni, he said.
The rising cost of college is a problem, he said.
The university is reviewing its financial-aid policies to make sure it has the best policy for its students, Ayers said in an interview with news writing students. The tuition increases must end, he said.
The strategic plan will address the issue of diversity. "The University will be a diverse community, strengthened intellectually and socially by the range of knowledge, opinion, belief, and political perspective as well as background (race, ethnicity, gender, age, religious, economic,
geographic) of its members," according to the strategic plan.
The lack of diversity on campus has been a predominant stereotype about the University of Richmond.
Students have described Richmond as a homogeneous place with one race dominating all others. African-Americans make up 10 percent of the campus population, Ayers said. That is consistent with the average throughout the rest of the country, excluding the historically black colleges and universities, he said.
The most common stereotype about the population demographic is that the university is made up of rich, white, Northerners. Ayers said that was not the case, but students believe that was the truth so the stereotype has persisted. "People are willing to believe the worst about themselves," he said.
Even though Richmond's population is consistent with the rest of the country, there is room for improvement, Ayers said.
Another area of importance to Ayers is increasing the connectivity between the schools on the campus, he said. "How do we maintain contact with the liberal arts?" he said.
"The University will have an academic enterprise that will be connected, innovative, rigorous, and personal with the intent to foster faculty growth and ensure student success," the plan said.
Business majors should be able to take other classes that interest them, Ayers said. They should not be secluded in the business school without access to the school of arts and sciences, he said.
Faculty will be in charge of the curriculum that will bring the schools together, he said. The curriculum should be challenging for both the students and the professors, professor David Leary said. "In the end, you want something that everyone can agree on," he said.
The draft of the strategic plan also calls for increased community involvement by the university. The university will "shape, both educationally and experientially, its students and as a means to contribute its skills, energy, and goodwill to the identified needs of the larger community," according to the plan.
The university already contributes to Build It and other programs in the community, Ayers said. Students build a house for a family as part of the Build It program. He noted in his Inaugural Address that students are very active in community service.
The strategic plan will determine what the university will do to increase its community involvement for students, faculty and administrative staff. "What aspects of community engagement will ensure that our students develop an ethic of service that is transportable to any community worldwide?" according to the plan.
Each point of the strategic plan is intertwined with the others, if one progresses the others will also be successful, Ayers said.
The success of the plan will create an identity for the University of Richmond, he said. "No school has been on as rapid an ascent," he said. The school has not had time to forge a new identity as it has thrived, he said.
"It's within our power to define what we want to be known for," he said.
The increased cohesion between schools will make the university unique, he said. That will create and identity as a strong liberal arts school combined with a graduate program that is exposed to undergrads.
"Our peers have to recognize that Richmond is a leader," he said.
Schools similar to Richmond have released plans that have goals that are comparable to Richmond's. Wake Forest University and Furman University are trying to increase affordability and diversity. Wake Forest is trying to link the liberal arts with the professional world in a similar way to Richmond.
"We have a tremendous opportunity to build more productive connections between and among arts and sciences and professional schools in law, medicine, business and divinity," Wake Forest President Nathan Hatch said in his state of the university speech recently.
Students like the proposals set forth by the draft. "I'm optimistic and hopeful that with the new leadership of Dr. Ayers and his staff that we are ready to move the university forward, and also focus out attention on student life and how they perceive the university as undergrads" sophomore Brendan Schlauch, a Richmond College senator, said.
Mike Murray, a sophomore senator, was cautiously optimistic. "I like the increased voice that the students' have, but I want to make sure the administration follows through and listens to students throughout the process," he said.
Other students have hope that the strategic plan will create a new identity for the university. " It should be a well-respected, liberal arts school that students like to attend, a place where prospective students want to be, and alumni want to give to," sophomore Josh Huffines said.
The school may need to do a better job of educating everyone about the strategic plan. "I haven't heard about anything, and I feel that generally I am an educated student about what goes on," freshman Justin Nguyen said.
Improving student life is one of the principles of the plan. "I love that it is a 24-hour strategic plan that focuses on life in and out of the classroom," Steve Bisese, vice president for student development, said. The school has begun to integrate itself with the Living and Learning Communities, which allow different students to come together to discuss topics outside of class, he said. The Living and Learning Communities are programs that are centered on a class that everyone involved in the program must take, and then they must do projects together outside of class as well. There are many different programs offered, including Civic Engagement, Campaign 2008, and language across the curriculum program that have brought students together, he said.
Richmond is at a crossroads, Ayers said. Ayers is excited about the prospects for the future, and is ready to forge an identity for the school, he said.