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Strategic Plan 2005-2010

Comments on Strategic Plan draft, Oct. 21

These comments refer to the second draft of the Strategic Plan for 2005-2010. The plan was released Oct. 11.


Generally pleased; a few suggestions

I believe that the draft plan reflects a lot of good work. In general, I am pleased with it. I have studied the draft and have some observations, knowing that the committee has probably had some of the same thoughts and has done its best. I am sending my comments directly to the strategic planning committee and through the ISU Foundation as requested. The following are respectfully raised for consideration:

Mission: I wish that there could be a stronger word than "share" in the second bullet. I don't have a recommendation.

Culture: Second bullet. with honesty, integrity and insistence on rigor

The Land Grant Ideal: The first sentence does not convey enough about the expectation for experimentation or research. The word teach in this sentence does not capture the full intent of the act.

Core Values: When the statement about the Land Grant Ideal doesn't raise the issue of experimentation, investigation, or research, this leads to a first bullet about the land-grant ideal that also does not convey the expectation for creating knowledge as listed in the first bullet of the Mission statement. Somehow, there needs to be more about the innovation, creativity, and rigor of our system that the entire World has come to hold in such high esteem.

Vision: I would also encourage that there be something more about rigor in the vision statement.

Priorities for 2005-2010: I encourage the committee to try to more clearly convey the intent that what we do will enhance student success throughout their lives. As written, the word beyond is a little too ambiguous.

Goals for priority 1: The use of the word specializations in bullet four is ambiguous. Why not use the word disciplines? Some may argue that what we need is more interdisciplinary work and that we need to break down discipline barriers. I agree. But, the work specializations does not do that.

Measures for priority 2: Measures 1 and 2 focus too much on the number of items and do not convey enough about the quality and rigor of what has been produced. I hope that you will try to help change the culture, both within and outside of the University, that counting numbers of presentations and papers without any wording whatsoever about the quality is acceptable. I would extend this concern to bullet four. There is not nearly enough conveyed about the importance of sustaining (grant renewals), obtaining funding from competitive rigorous sources where the quality of the past work and projected work to be done has been evaluated.

Goals for priority 3: If possible, it would be good to encourage collaborations in order to meet this priority. Also, if possible, it would be good to find the right words to convey that the university does exercise oversight in this area so that inappropriate consulting, or diversion of research time/state resources away from the fundamental objective of serving the public interest does not occur.

Measures for priority 3 and 4: It would be good to have something about the number of external advisory boards or individuals involved in helping us translate these discoveries.

Priority 5: Goals. I believe that there should be wording to the effect that it is our goal to have the university not only as a great place to learn and work, but that it be a place of continuously enhancing intellectual and academic rigor. How else do we sustain our competitive edge in the world economy? If US industries are to continue to assist the population in its expectation that we will be world leaders, we need to ensure that the quality of life is improving through the educational process. This requires that we are indeed continuously enhancing the intellectual and academic rigor of our universities.


Perhaps include measures of class size

To the committee:

This is an excellent draft, much improved over draft #1.

Congratulations on your successful efforts on this difficult task!

At this point, my only suggestion for tweaking it concerns the possible inclusion of some measures of class size in conjunction with the first priority. One could use student to instructional faculty ratios, or average class size, or some similar metric. Perhaps there also ought be a goal added, one that explicitly states a target average class size, or a target student to faculty ratio.

Just a thought....


Preserve architecturally important barns

I like the plan--especially hanging on to the Land Grant ideals, promoting diversity, and increasing understanding in the world.

I do hope that, under the "positive environment goals" at the end, preserving the architecturally and historically important horse barn and dairy barns will be included. Iowa State was founded by the legislature as a "land grant college and model farm". I hope we do not forget the farm! The barns have always been a symbol of the land grant ideal.


Students need basic understanding of finance

I believe the Strategic Plan has come a long way.

However, I would like to suggest an addition.

Since every individual needs to understand basic business, I strongly believe every college curriculum should include at least one or two semesters each of Cost Accounting and Finance. Regardless of what each individual ISU graduate ends up doing, a basic understanding of finance is important -- even if it is just handling a checking account.

This issue is also going to be even more important in the future as Social Security payments become less dependable.


Consider alternatives to numbers on measures

I just had a few comments on this second draft. I'm pleased to see the improved additions include the humanities and social sciences.

However, on p. 2 under Measures I'm concerned about only listing "Number" of books, "Number" of refereed performances and "Number" of citations. I would like to see "quality" added to those first two statements. As we have discussed in P&T meetings, not all citations, especially for library science journals, can be measured in sources such as Web of Science. There may be other areas also when some wording other than just "number" would be appropriate but these struck a nerve with me.


Give the priorities names for easier reference

I think that the rewrite of the Strategic Plan is a marked improvement. One suggestion: Name rather than numbering the priorities. I know there is resistance to numbering them for good reasons, but right now it is hard to know what people are talking about, so this suggestion:

  • Education Priority: Strengthen undergraduate...
  • Excellence Priority: Increase the number of graduate...
  • Applications Priority: Translate discoveries...
  • Openness Priority: Partner...
  • Diversity Priority: Ensure that the...

By the way, I am not wedded to the titles of these and surely the committee can do better, but they are a place to start. I think that this would make it easier to discuss these in a public forum.


Too many numbers in the measures

Looking and reading much better! A number of issues I raised earlier seem to have been addressed, if not as forcefully as I might have hoped (e.g., providing yet more presence regarding professional programs, the humanities arts and social sciences). There is one 'Small Item', and a 'Basic Concern' I would like to raise.


First bulleted item under Mission: Two additional areas are recognized at ISU as central to excellent scholarship, both of which generate new knowledge: extension and professional practice. Suggested change: "Create knowledge through excellent scholarship in teaching, research, creative endeavors, extension and professional practice." This would create a natural link to the immediately following bullets regarding sharing and applying knowledge.


The "Measures" are almost all numerical: numbers of this, numbers of that, $ value of external funding per faculty member, etc. At least three additional factors need to be taken into account in some manner. E.g., among the measures for the second listed priority:

  1. The quality of a book, article, etc. (perhaps as identified by the press, journal prestige, national or international in scope, etc.).
  2. The impact of a book or article:
    1. every book does not win a Pulitzer, nor does every work of basic science lead to a Nobel prize, nor does every patent lead to a fundamental change in industrial production, but even one instance of such a level of performance and impact must surely be accounted for in some manner beyond the numbers game;
    2. Citations may speak to impact, but not all disciplines track citations as assiduously as others do; 2c: then there are factors such as reviews of work, awards, etc. that may speak to impact.
  3. relative standing in the respective fields:
    1. $25,000 grant in one field may be a top prize, highly fought after, yet a hefty $200,000 by comparison to the $25K in another may pale by comparison to multi-year NSF grants that are common to the field;
    2. What has net assignable square footage have to do with quality except by comparison to similar disciplines in other institutions?

On the other hand, there are some 'Measures' that have no measure. E.g., "Enrollment of Iowa high school and community college graduates," at the first listed priority. Are we to infer: An increase in absolute number of enrollees? Higher entering ACT scores and GPA's? Greater proportional share compared to SUI or UNI?

By the numbers standards, Kant might have been out on the street without a job since after getting an appointment and delivering his Dissertation he had some 'down time' for all of the 1770's! No publishing; too long between big ideas. What could he have been doing for a whole decade: THINKING! and TALKING! and LECTURING! and HOLDING DINNERS! Which we know to be the heart of academic matters. Then a little thing like the Critique of Pure Reason popped out and changed philosophy forever.

This of course is not to say that 'doing nothing measurable' is acceptable by any means! Only that there are measures and measures.

The president suggested that I and others propose specific language. I have done so regarding the 'Small Item'. But my 'Basic Concern' challenges the numbers game and leads to a comprehensive review of the pervasiveness of numbers as virtually 'the' measure of merit as opposed to the explicit inclusion of characteristics such as quality, impact and competitive standing relative to respective disciplines. Surely we must be about more than externally funded research. Such a review and development of multifaceted measures merits deliberation by the full committee.

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Send your comments on the first draft of the plan to strategicplan by Oct 29.