Welcome to the beginning of another exciting year at PSU! While I will spend most of this letter focusing on strategic planning, I first wanted to touch on a couple of other items.
First, enrollment continues to hold steady, with an increase in out-of-state students, which is a hallmark of our quality and attractiveness. Final numbers will be available at the end of fourth week, and we will share them at that time.
Also, new and returning science students will now have access to the completed Collaborative Life Sciences Building in the South Waterfront. If you haven't had a chance to tour this remarkable building, I urge you to do so. It is no exaggeration to say this new facility is a game-changer for our biology and chemistry programs.
Now to strategic planning. During the 2014-15 academic year we will move forward on a new strategic planning initiative aimed at ensuring PSU remains competitive and vital in the years to come.
This is a project I will lead, based on guidance from our new independent Board of Trustees--but it will not be top down. I am asking faculty, students and staff to share your experiences, ideas and insights. Our goal is for this process to be inclusive and transparent, and the Board will depend heavily on your input as we decide what kind of university we want and need PSU to be.
Following are excerpts from the text of my Convocation speech September 23, which outline the goals for the strategic planning process, and the importance of working together to achieve them.
Strategic planning is an exercise in discovering how we can succeed together. "Let Knowledge Serve the City" truly unites us--it is our North Star. Where we may well have differences--not necessarily between faculty and students and administration, but between any number of groups and units--is about how best to achieve that goal.
How much do we invest in research support, or teaching, or student advisors, or our buildings? How much in the humanities, sciences, engineering, or any of the professional schools? How much in fundraising, telling our story publicly, protecting ourselves? We know we have to do all of these--but to what extent, now, or later?
We need a new, university-wide discussion about these issues. No plan will resolve all these questions, but we need a shared understanding of where we are going.
Our current Strategic Plan has provided important direction these past six years, but the world is changing fast. Higher education, here in Oregon and nationally, is in a period of upheaval. There is a spirited national debate under way over the value of a college degree. Are college costs too high, is debt too burdensome, and are job prospects too low to justify spending four, six or eight years at a university? The numbers bear out that a college education is still a great investment, but that assumes you finish with a degree. We have to be sure we help our students achieve that.
Universities also face increased pressure to put more emphasis on job readiness as opposed to education for lifelong learning and citizenship. Where do we see ourselves on that continuum? And how do we help students make informed choices?
Online education, while not the panacea some people thought a few years ago, continues to grow. How do we respond? For which students, and delivered in what way, does it provide the opportunity to get an education they simply wouldn't have otherwise?
Competition for students and enrollment is as fierce as I've ever seen it. How do we make sure we appeal to the students we can serve best? And how do we retain PSU's broader role as an agent of culture for Portland and Oregon, as a crucial part of the state's economic development engine, as a catalyst for building community?
These are some of the questions that we, as faculty, staff, students and administration, must answer.
Last spring we gathered more than 80 faculty, staff, administrators, students, and board members, and we brainstormed how we want this planning to go. One of the exercises we did was to imagine a headline we'd like to read about PSU in a national publication five years from now.
Some examples of the results: From The Economist: "Oregon achieves 40-40-20 with PSU leading the way." From the New York Times: "PSU: The gold standard for urban universities." And, my personal favorite, from The Wall Street Journal: "Buffet and Gates Endow PSU $1 billion." That would certainly make our job easier!
Without focusing on the specifics of those headlines, the point is we need to be aspirational, while staying grounded. Let's give ourselves permission to dream bigger as we lay out the floor plan for PSU's next evolution. That's where you come in. Success will be measured to a great extent by how much faculty, staff, students, and other community members get involved.
You will have ample opportunity to participate in the discussions and decisions throughout the strategic planning process. We will be holding town-hall-style meetings and smaller focus groups as well as conducting opinion surveys. Perhaps the most immediate way to join the conversation and find out more details about the process is on the PSU web site--the president's page to be specific at http://www.pdx.edu/president/.
Our goal is to complete the new strategic plan by fall of 2015, and we will integrate it with other planning efforts such as the Academic Program Prioritization.
As you can tell, we have a busy, demanding year ahead of us. But I'm looking forward to it because I believe this is the sort of challenge that brings us together as a campus--and I'm excited to get started.
Here's to a great 2014-2015 academic year!