Iowa State University

Iowa State University

Strategic Plan 2005-2010

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

  • Under "mission." Final paragraph. Shouldn't it read "access FOR" instead of "access to"?
  • Aspiration. It would be nice if the "aspiration" statement could somehow indicate that those not in the science and technology fields will be important contributors. One possibility: "A can-do spirit will permeate campus as collaborators work together ACROSS ALL DISCIPLINES to find new ways to improve Iowa and the world."
  • First priority. Here you list fields in which we will partner with Iowa schools but did not list social sciences and humanities. Since many of our students get so little work outside of their home disciplines while at ISU, their high school training in a broad range of disciplines is even more important.
  • Fourth priority. It would be nice if you could use this section to talk about creating a workplace which is flexible and family friendly. This could be a part of the final bullet in this section.

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:

  • While the patent system does provide a spur to innovation in some respects, it hampers it in others. Innovative activities are discouraged whenever they might infringe on enforceable patent rights. The world's leading business publication, has pointed out that this danger is especially salient with complex technological systems that incorporate a number of sub-systems, suggesting that the proliferation of property rights in software may be hampering developments in the computer sector (The Economist, "Patently Absurd," June 23: 40-2).
  • While wealthier companies are generally able to purchase licensing rights, enter into cross-licensing agreements, and afford the court costs of intellectual property right disputes, smaller firms are at a disadvantage in all of these respects, and every extension of the intellectual property rights regime furthers this disadvantage. And yet these same smaller firms are often the source of significant innovation.
  • On the global scale, the extension of the intellectual property rights regime undercuts scientific-technological knowledge as a free good. And yet being able to appropriate scientific-technical knowledge as a free good was an absolutely crucial part of the process in which the United States and other wealthier countries themselves developed successfully (see Ha-Joong Chang, Pulling Up the Ladder? Policies and Institutions for Development in Historical Perspective, London: Anthem, 2002). In a world in which 95% of research and development is undertaken in the so-called 'first world', and 97% of all patents today are held by individuals and institutions located in the first world, and extension of the intellectual property rights regime will necessarily tend to reproduce the profound inequality that characterizes the global economy today (Thomas Friedman The Lexus and the Olive Tree 2000, 319).
  • When innovations developed with public monies at Iowa State are patented and commercialized, the people of Iowa must pay twice. First they pay to socialize the costs of research and development that the private sector does not wish to pay itself. And then they must in addition pay the monopoly prices that those who hold or license those patents are able to charge. For these and many other reasons we believe that Iowa State University ought not make the continuation of the present patent regime a central focus of its strategic plan. A public university of science and technology has a responsibility to critique the assumption that the public good is best furthered by the relentless privatization of ever-more publicly funded knowledge.
  • Other goals mentioned in the discussion of the third proposed priority raise a closely related issue. In principle, there is nothing objectionable with the goal of "translating knowledge into useful and marketable technologies, products, and services," or with the desire to "increase the number of faculty, staff, and students who engage in technology transfer and entrepreneurial activities." But in the present historical context unless these statements are qualified they are quite likely to be interpreted as a commitment to the further the "corporatization of academic research." There is ample evidence today to justify the claim that this agenda is also not in the public interest. The serious problems associated with excessive corporate influence on research include:
    • companies that downplay or delay the release of negative data;
    • companies that design studies to improve the odds that their products will outshine competitors. As a recent article in Business Week reported, One Yale University study notes that in 1980 32% of biomedical research and development in the U.S. was funded by industry. By 2000, the figure had soared to 62%. As the industry has tightened its grip on research, the traditional emphasis on independence and ethics in medical science seems to have eroded. The Yale study found that in industry-funded research the odds are 3.6 times higher that the results will buttress the sponsor's product than in studies by independent groups such as the NIH and various foundations. The reason: Drug companies can design trials in ways that give their products an edge." ("When Medicine and Money Don't Mix," June 28, 2004, 68-70). Sheldon Krimsky (Tufts University), author of Science in the Public Interest, has stated that "the threat to the objectivity of scientific research is reaching crisis proportions" (Rowman and Littlefield, 2003). A public university of science and technology ought to have a strategic plan that explicitly commits the university to protecting the independence of scientific-technical research from pernicious corporate influence, rather than one that abstracts entirely from what may well be the single most serious problem faced by research universities in the twenty-first century.

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:

  • If "Mission" is what we are supposed to be doing, and "Aspiration" is what we want to do, then this draft communicates that we want to do something a little different than what we're supposed to be doing. The reasoning for that comment is that the mission clearly defines research as the basis for what we are supposed to accomplish at ISU. Creating knowledge comes before one can share knowledge or even prepare our students to impact the world using knowledge. However, the stated aspiration prioritizes "education" first as what we want to do and applying our knowledge as the second priority -- the aspiration all but ignores the very act of creation of knowledge. In this sense, the draft communicates that we do not want to do what we ought to do. In fact, it communicates that we don't really understand ourselves very well, nor the responsibilities we have to our own existence.
  • Similarly, if "Mission" defines what we ought to do, then the priorities should follow clearly from that. Since the Mission implies that research is the basis for what we do, then research should be the highest priority. Otherwise, it communicates that we don't place priority on what we are supposed to do. It appears that "research" is buried in the priorities of the university.
  • It would seem to make sense to have a one-to-one correlation between the three-part mission and the priorities. A question that can easily be asked is, "Why place as priority something that is NOT part of our mission?" If we consider something priority that is not part of the mission, then where did the priority originate? And, does it communicate to the world (and to our employees and students) that we arbitrarily assign priorities based an internal agenda of some group within the university? At the very least, it would make sense, if more than three priorities are developed, to have each priority clearly correlate with the mission.
  • The comment about diversity as part of the "Mission" seems out of place. Clearly diversity is important to the university in achieving it's goal, but this appears to convey that "diversity" is the end and not the means. The "mission" is the endgame.
  • The fourth priority seems out of place in comparison to the first three.

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:

  • the integration of science, technology, arts, and humanities yet under Priority 2, the examples of interdisciplinary studies are exclusively linked to the Sciences as shown here:
    • Leverage the university's areas of strength and the emerging needs of the state and nation to achieve preeminence in interdisciplinary research areas such as biosciences, materials sciences, and information sciences.

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

  1. I must congratulate the strategic planning committee for putting out very crisp items.
  2. One issue that some how gets diffused is research in priorities and goals. The priorities are
    1. Priority: Strengthen the undergraduate experience to enhance student success at and beyond Iowa State University.
    2. Priority: Increase the number of undergraduate, graduate, and research programs known as the very best in their field, particularly in areas where the university's strengths address critical needs and opportunities.
    3. 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.
    4. Priority: Enhance the quality of life on campus and throughout Iowa.

My interpretation is

  • Item A is on UG experience;
  • Item B is supposed to be on fundamental discoveries; Item C is on translating discoveries (ours and may be others?) into practice; and Item D is on broader impact.
  • But some how item B also reads as education programs. If "Increase the number of undergraduate, graduate, and research..." is replaced by "Increase the number of research and graduate ....."
  • And the corresponding second goal should list undergraduate last in this goal list

Add "world-leading land-grant university"

  1. I don't like the word create in the mission statement. Man discovers knowledge, God creates. Change create knowledge to discovers knowledge.
  2. We are the premier Land Grant University in the Nation. It needs to be up front and center and not left to the end. You need to add "World leading Land Grant University" to the Aspirations.

Why no mention of Extension?

I have a couple of general concerns about the draft strategic plan that you have requested comment about.

  1. WHY WHY WHY is there NO mention of extension as a function of this land grant university included?? To begin with, outreach and extension are not synonymous. Extension is one unit of the University that systematically assesses the needs of citizens and other real world stakeholders, shares knowledge with them, and then is accountable to the whole process through assessing outcomes that result from the University mission, and adjusting programs to better address the concerns expressed by our constituency. I see the failure to even mention extension as an egregious oversight in the document. Sure, there are references to "distance education" (which, although sometimes a small component of extension IS NOT extension) and there are mentions of "creative endeavors"--whatever that means--there is no focus on how we share knowledge to make Iowa and the world a better place.
  2. under the 4th priority listed, it says Enhance the quality of life on campus and throughout Iowa. Then you go on to mention strengthening use of knowledge to enrich the state's communities and resources and improve the health and well-being of Iowans (see point 1). Why is there a mention of the city of Ames that welcomes people from diverse backgrounds? In matters where the University has direct and functional responsibility (student and faculty/staff guidance and relationships), fine. But the city of Ames is its own entity; one that happens to be where the ISU central campus is physically located. Why just Ames and not, for example, Storm Lake? Or Hamburg or Ossian for that matter? The message as written seems well meaning, but misses the point, whatever the point might be. As the first state to accept the provisions of the Morrill Land Grand Act of 1862, I would think we would take great pride in our accomplishments in meeting the challenge of the founding ideas, and should focus on those ideas--ideas that still exist even 142 years later--as they fit in with the social and technologic changes in today's society. Also, it is nice to say our core values are excellence and responsibility and accountability in all our actions, but what is the alternative? We support mediocrity and irresponsibility? Oh yes.. and how do we handle the opportunity for all to pursue a college education? Nice thought, but there are extra-university resource limitations out of our control that are far more at play than what we do here.

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?


Job well-done

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:

  1. Under "Mission" "Create knowledge" and "Share knowledge" are too close in concept. Combine them: Create and share knowledge through excellent research, scholarship, and creative endeavors and through outstanding learning-centered undergraduate, graduate, professional, and distance education programs.
  2. Under "Priorities and Goals" (second priority statement, first goal): The Committee mentions "biosciences, materials sciences, and information sciences." The bio and materials sciences are large, diverse disciplines; however, "information science" is a very narrowly defined discipline. Please change this to "communication sciences," capturing many programs.
  3. Under "Priorities and Goals" (third priority statement, last goal): Celebrate and promote accomplishments that improve and sustain Iowa's economy.
  4. Under "Priorities and Goals" (fourth priority): Revise it to read: "Enhance the quality of life and learning on campus and throughout Iowa Then add a statement about the humanities and behavioral and social sciences: Integrate the humanities and behavioral and social sciences to instill life-long learning in the practice of science and the application of technology. Thank you for considering these 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.


Reassure students

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.


Mention Extension

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:

  1. Within the 2nd priority, bullet one: add the phrase, ...and the behavioral components that impact these disciplines. Or ...and their supporting disciplines.
  2. The word Extension (with a big E) should be mentioned in the plan - and there should be mention of our outreach activities and engagement through professional practice and outreach, in general. This could be accomplished by re-doing priority 4. Priority 4 should have the phrase "on campus and" removed, so it would be worded: "Enhance the quality of life throughout Iowa and the world." Then we would need to re-do the bullets. For example; the first bullet could read as currently stated. The second and third bullets about the quality of life on campus should be moved to the 1st priority - the sections on learning and the UG experience, because that is what those two bullets are about. Then, an additional bullet (or more) should be added to the 4th priority to say something like: "Strengthen the university's research base that creates knowledge to improve the health and well-being of people." An additional bullet or two could expand this concept.

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.

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Send your comments on the first draft of the plan to strategicplan by Sept. 17.