Comments on Strategic Plan draft, Sept. 8
These comments refer to Aug. 30, 2004, first draft the Strategic Plan for 2005-2010. The draft is very much a work in progress. Still to come in future drafts are strategies and action plans to achieve goals, and measures that will be used to assess success of those efforts.
Non-science, tech fields important contributors
Your committee has done a commendable job with this task--that's clear in what you have produced. Good luck in putting this all together!
Patent focus may inhibit collaboration
My appreciation is extended to those on the committee that have spent their time and efforts to compile this initial draft of the University's strategic plan. For the most part I think that it is on the mark and reflects emerging roles for ISU in today's changing society.
One concern I do have however, relates to goals of the third priority: "Achieve preeminence in translating new discoveries into viable technologies, products, and services with a focus on fueling Iowa's economy and building a sustainable future". If the University is successful in the second goal, as well as the first by establishing various experiential learning opportunities for undergraduates, I feel that goals associated with this third priority will follow. To focus on the role of a university to develop business off-shoots and patentable products I think is treading on thin ice. By coupling research with potential business enterprises we lose credibility with the public as researchers may be viewed as having bias towards investigating lucrative areas for profit, and there being a conflict of interest. I am afraid that soon part of the tenure document will have a box to fill in "How many patents obtained while at ISU". The mission of universities should be to educate, challenge, and expose students to experiences that will enable them to think for themselves, critically assess information, integrate knowledge from various areas, and formulate decisions and opinions based on fact and self reflection. Empowering students in this way will enable them to be the thinkers, inventors, and entrepreneurs of the future.
With patents being a focus of the University research, it may inhibit collaborative efforts not only among colleagues at ISU, but also with other institutions. It will limit who has access to certain knowledge/tools/practices, hampering advances in the respective field, as well as squelching discovery and innovation by restricting information into the hands of a few instead of empowering many. The open-minded, unbiased research done at universities is coming under attack as more of the research is being funded by industries. With money as the bottom line and not simply the advancement and attainment of knowledge, independent research will suffer due to corporate influence. I urge the committee to revisit the third priority and its goals, realizing how it will change the approach, focus, and style of research at ISU. Unless the University is prepared to fund their researchers, investigators have to generate monies from outside sources to carry out their research. We may therefore, no longer be a University of independent discovery, but rather a University coupled with industry to support advancement of their budget's bottom line.
Protect independence of scientific-technical research
Strategic plans are surely difficult to construct. They need to be specific enough to provide actual guidance, while remain sufficiently open-ended to accommodate changing situations. Much of the first draft of the 2005-10 strategic plan attains this balance. But goals considered in the course of discussing the third priority listed in the document raise a number of troubling issues. It is undoubtedly part of the University's mission to "focus on fueling Iowa's economy and building a sustainable future." The first goal listed under this heading is to "lead the nation in the number of new patents awarded, [and] licenses issued." The unquestioned assumption appears to be that the extension of intellectual property rights necessarily tends to further the public good. This assumption should be questioned:
Correlate mission and priorities
I am excited to see ISU embark on a new strategic plan. I believe that the current leadership is strongly committed to operating from the framework of this plan and therefore, this plan is very important to Iowa State University. I am very happy to see the emphasis on developing a plan which is truly "strategic" in nature and one which is concise.
Below are a few comments from my brief review of the draft. I understand the depth of work the committee has put into this plan and appreciate their work. The terseness of my comments should not be meant to convey negativity:
Keeping graduates in Iowa a good goal
The part about the new plan that I think is the most important is the University wanting to take part in making Iowa more appealing for students to want to work in. There are so many students right now that just want to get out of Iowa, that I think it will take more than just Governor Vilsack to try and get students to stay in Iowa. I am glad that the university is taking part to try to get its graduates to stay here.
Little reference to community engagement, service
To Strategic Planning Committee, I have read through the first draft of the 2005-2010 Strategic Plan and am disappointed to see relatively little reference to ISU's mandate for community engagement and service, both in the US and globally. This is a critical component of a land grant university in that it not only reinforces student learning about real world issues and situations, but it also helps to build much needed public support for university programs. I also noted that there seemed to be little emphasis on enhancing our students' and faculty members' knowledge of other countries and cultures through such activities as collaborative scholarly and learning activities as well as citizenship.
Arts, humanities vital part of mission
While most of the document seems straightforward and well-conceived, one emphasis under the second "priority: goals" heading seems incongruent with something mentioned in the Core Values section.
The Core Values state:
I believe these examples would be more complete if they also included 1-3 collaborations in the LAS college as well, showing this administration's dedication to the arts and humanities as a vital part of the mission of this university.
Faculty and Chair
Quality of life priority should focus on engagement
These comments pertain to the last priority (on quality of life) in the plan. This priority needs to focus solely on ISU's land-grant engagement mission. The second and third bullets that pertain to the quality of life on campus should be moved to the sections on learning, which is what they are about, under the first priority for our undergraduates so as not to dilute the priority to "enhance the quality of life throughout Iowa". Add a bullet that mentions the important role of Extension, as well as engagement through professional practice and outreach.
Research in priorities, goals diffused
My interpretation is
Add "world-leading land-grant university"
Why no mention of Extension?
I have a couple of general concerns about the draft strategic plan that you have requested comment about.
Second priority should focus on research
I like the plan so far very well. The only suggestion is to re-word the second priority so that it clearly labels research as the important topic in that priority. As it is currently worded ("undergraduate, graduate, and research programs") one can easily read it as being targeted at educational programs and, oh by the way, research program. I also think the "Increase the number" at the beginning is not a priority, but rather a goal. It doesn't seem to follow a parallel construction with the other priorities that say things like "strengthen."
Environmental quality should be included
In alignment with the goals to "enrich Iowa's communities and resources, and improve the health and well-being of its people", and more generally to "make the world a better place," Iowa State's goals and efforts concerning environmental quality improvement should be explicitly stated. I think it is a critical component of Iowa State's mission is to work toward sustainable land use, conservation of natural resources, and solving environmental quality problems, from local to global scales. I think it is important to directly state this in the strategic plan.
Reference ethics in sciences, other disciplines
I would like to see some specific reference in the strategic plan to ethical practice in science and other disciplines. Although the statement under Core Values of "responsibility and accountability in all our actions" can imply an ethical consideration, it does not speak directly to this issue that I believe will be increasingly important in the lives of many people in the future. Unethical practices in science, business and other disciplines undermine our faith in these disciplines and contribute to the deterioration of our society. An important role of any university should be to educate individuals who will be help further build and improve our society through their excellence, their vision and their ethical practices
Faculty have become minority at ISU
As usual in these kinds of matters, the devil is in the details.
There are several issues at ISU that make these goals harder to achieve. Firstly, the driving force behind any improvement must be excellent faculty, ones willing to take some risks and to still be able to survive in a climate of non-risk takers. Those who do not take risks often end up in administration (starting out as chairs), and there is a very good reason for this: taking risks means some failures, even if you are very good. One failure and you may not be promoted to higher rank.
Secondly, faculty have become a minority at ISU. There are more people in more offices at ISU that do not teach, do not do creative work of any kind. I believe one new assistant professor is far more valuable than one more office with one more glossy brochure. If ISU is really committed to these goals, slowly hiring good faculty is the only route to achieve them, and that means cutting down on non-faculty hires, cutting down on the number of support personnel.
The usual problems of bias in hiring are probably unsolvable, but to me these problems are the key weaknesses at ISU.
Of course, I agree with the "core values", everyone does, but it is the implementation that matters. How will that be addressed?
Wow! My hat's off to the committee for a job well-done.
My only critical comment is so minor that it is hardly worth an e-mail. In the last section, "Founding Ideas," I would replace "ideas" with "principles" throughout this section (including the section title).
See, I told you it was minor.
Some friendly suggestions
Thank you for assembling the Strategic Plan, a difficult undertaking, as I worked on one at my former institution for three years. Some friendly suggestions:
Humanities are give short shrift
Most of my concerns about the strategic plan were discussed at the faculty senate meeting on September 7. I would like to submit the most important in writing.
I will start by complimenting those who crafted the draft. There are some very nice statements clearly articulating priorities and goals.
I am concerned about the lack of attention to arts and culture. The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is, I believe, the largest college on campus and yet the humanities are given short shrift in the document. While ISU should be concerned with Iowa's economy and future, the arts and humanities can contribute to the economy and to a sustainable cultural life in the state.
The definition/concept of scholarship, as I understand it, includes research, creative activities, teaching, extension, and professional practice.
Thanks for noting these comments.
I have been reading over the new strategic plan for the years 2005-2010 and I have a few concerns regarding this plan. I feel that the university has not acknowledged the increasing budget cuts and how that affects the students. I am in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, which is preparing to combine with the College of Education, and not once in the plan is this huge change touched on. I would like to see the university try to ensure students that this change will not hurt anyone's education and that it will be a positive thing. Not only are the two colleges being combined because of budget cuts, other programs and classes are too. I would like to see something in the plan that gives students reassurance and alternatives to these program cuts.
Our cabinet had a chance to discuss the strategic plan at our cabinet meeting, yesterday. In general, people were quite pleased with the plan; however, we had a few items that seemed to be noticeable to almost everyone, even before we began discussing the plan as a group. We did not discuss exact ways to fix the issues, but here are areas where we found needed changes:
Materials science a real strength
I read your first draft of the 2005-2010 Strategic Plan with great interest and I would like to offer the following comments and suugestions: - I applaud the succinctness of the plan. Too often these sort of documents are prohibitively long to read and, in the end, serve no real purpose. - I also applaud the identification of materials sciences as a priority research area. Departments in the Colleges of Engineering (e.g., MSE and CE) and Liberal Arts and Sciences (Chem and Physics/Astron), together with the Ames Laboratory and the CNDE form a very substantial and highly reputable materials sciences core. There should be no doubt in stating that the area of materials sciences represents a real strength of this university.
In the "Aspiration" section, it is stated in the last sentence that "...collaborators work together...". Isn't that redundant? By definition collaborators work together. Also, the wording "...find new ways.." is vague to me. I suggest the following modification: "... collaborators engage to advance science and technology that will ultimately improve Iowa and the world."
Somewhat related to the suggested modification given above, the Plan seems to place more emphasis on "technology" than on "science". Words like scientific advancement and basic research are conspicuously absent. I have deep reservations to touting a university as a technology center. Commercial entities do development, universities should focus on education and research (i.e., the R in R&D). Of course it is fine if a particular research effort has a practical relevance, but technical implementation should not be the driver of that effort. This is because it can be counter to a complete learning experience.
To that end, stating as a goal that we will "lead the nation in number of patents awarded" can, in my strong opinion, be a significant diversion from achieving (academic/scientific) excellence. A patent does not necessarily equate to good science.
Following from the above, I believe that the second priority starting with "Achieve preeminence in translating new discoveries...", should read, "Achieve preeminence in translating scientific advancement...". Also, I do not like the phrasing "science with practice" in the "Core Values" section. I would prefer "scientific advancement" or something like that. In summary, I feel that the first draft is a great start, but please do consider giving science/research an equal or higher (preferred!) billing to technology.
Send your comments on the first draft of the plan to strategicplan by Sept. 17.