In First Council Meeting, Kornbluth Discusses Start of Strategic Planning Process

Eight years following Duke's last strategic plan, Provost Sally Kornbluth is restarting the process, built upon faculty participation. Photo: Duke University Photography
Eight years following Duke's last strategic plan, Provost Sally Kornbluth is restarting the process, built upon faculty participation. Photo: Duke University Photography

In 2006, Duke's last academic strategic plan, Making a Difference, presented a vision that defined the university's major initiatives in collaboration across the disciplines, international growth and knowledge in the service of society. Making a Difference gave Duke a reputation where plans on paper are implemented into real change.

Eight years later, new Duke Provost Sally Kornbluth is ready to restart the strategic planning process to assess university strengths, set priorities and ensure Duke is on top of rapid change in the higher education environment. Thursday she presented to the Academic Council the preliminary groundwork for the planning process based on widespread faculty engagement.

"I hope to involve as many different groups of faculty as possible from across the university in both the planning process and the formulation of the plan itself," Kornbluth said. "I'm going to have as many faculty dinners as possible. I almost would like to be rather random about it.  There's a danger in going to usual suspects – it can become a bit of an echo chamber, and what we are looking to do is bring in new ideas."

In her first appearance before the council as provost, Kornbluth cited three key points underpinning the process:

  • Faculty engagement would be crucial to "generate and vet ideas" that would drive the plan.
  • The process would involve academic units but would touch on questions of how academics interacted with athletics, student life, admissions and other non-academic units.
  • The plan would produce specific and measureable goals, but it won't restrict faculty and administrators in the manner of meeting those goals.  The plan will not be an inflexible "manual or contract," she said.

The current academic year will be a year of pre-planning where faculty and administrators will generate the themes and an organizational structure for the process, Kornbluth said.

The details of the planning process will come out of that discussion, but Kornbluth sketched out several potential models of faculty engagement in collaboration with administrators. 

All of the models have at the core a steering committee. Kornbluth said during the fall semester, the steering committee will collect preliminary information on priorities and ideas from faculty in a variety of ways, from formal meetings with faculty governance bodies to small dinners with faculty members. 

For the spring semester, the steering committee will propose specific themes and organization and circulate them among the faculty for feedback. By the end of the academic year, Kornbluth said she expects special themes to be identified and an organization, including thematic subcommittees, will be in place so that the formal process can begin in 2015-16.

The themes of the plan will come out of the planning process, but Kornbluth suggested some broad, potential questions for the steering committee.  New initiatives in interdisciplinary, international and translational studies that came out of "Making a Difference" were successful, but challenges remain in supporting these initiatives and building on them while still enhancing traditional strengths in disciplinary studies.

Other potential questions include:

  • How can we further move students out of their comfort zones, engaging with each other and their academic work in ways that prize depth and connection over badges and achievements?
  • How can we further enhance opportunities for students to engage in profound and authentic research experiences from the humanities and social sciences to the sciences?
  • How do we enhance opportunities for undergraduates to deepen the quality of their Duke experience, ensuring that curricular and co-curricular programming better enable students to integrate what they are learning?  (How, for instance, can study abroad link more tightly with students’ pre- and post-travel academic work and experiences and that of their peers?)
  • How can we further move students out of their comfort zones, engaging with each other and their academic work in ways that prize depth and connection over badges and achievements?
  • How can we further enhance opportunities for students to engage in profound and authentic research experiences from the humanities and social sciences to the sciences?
  • How do we maximize opportunities for graduate and professional students?
  • How do we extend Duke’s global reach while ensuring mutual benefits for all partners, such as Duke and DKU?
  • How do we employ online educational tools to enhance teaching on Duke’s campus and to increase engagement with partners globally? 

As important as are the goals in the final strategic plan, Kornbluth said there is value in the process itself.  The discussions helps the university set priorities in a time of limited resources and ensure "our choices are consistent with the values of the university."

"We hope the process will draw out and articulate new and creative approaches, directions, and solutions to problems the university faces," Kornbluth said.