category: President's Blog

November 2019: Launching a New Strategic Plan

November 2019 President's Blog Image

Gardner-Webb University is now due for its next five-year plan.  GWU 2020-2025 will map out our institutional priorities and help guide resource allocations across a range of essential areas.  Too frequently, complex organizations such as universities can get so mired in the daily minutiae that they fail to take time to think big…to aspire…to dream.  We are going to make sure that GWU does not fall into that trap; instead, this month we will launch an intentional and inclusive process that will transform vision into action.  I am excited about engaging with you to chart a path for our shared success, and I invite your participation at each step along the way.

I have been part of strategic planning exercises at multiple universities.  Experience teaches that good planning requires constructive, forward-thinking input from all stakeholders—faculty, staff, students, alumni, and community friends.  Good planning demands that we resist the “kitchen sink” approach to forging our way; indeed, the best institutional plans are not those into which everyone tosses all of their pet projects, large and small.  The best plans are those that sharpen institutional identity, set forth a clear statement of values, and then identify a limited number of ambitious but achievable objectives that will facilitate forward progress.  The best plans are bold, distinctive, and authentic. 

A good university strategic plan should probably be no more than five pages in length, and it should most likely set out to focus on 3-5 big objectives.  Within each of those objectives, there will be a limited number of specific goals to pursue.  Each goal must be measurable, and a strong plan will be one that clearly articulates the metrics to be used in charting our institutional progress.

A good university strategic plan is one that distinguishes itself from other forms of planning, especially those associated with a capital campaign.  GWU 2020-2025 could, for example, focus on the quality and currency of our academic offerings, on initiatives to facilitate enrollment growth and student retention, on efforts to impact our community and region, or on new ways to live out our Pro Deo et Humanitate motto.  What signature degree programs do we want to have in place by the end of the planning period?  Into which high-impact learning practices do we wish to invest?  How do we best leverage our location?  These are among the kind of questions that can animate our conversations in the coming months.  We will save a range of other dreams (e.g., housing upgrades, new athletic facilities, academic infrastructure) for our next capital campaign…which, too, is on the near horizon.

To get us started on the path to a new plan, we have charged a University Strategic Planning Committee with collecting input and information from internal and external constituents.  Members of the committee include:

William Downs, President

Chuck Burch, Vice President for Athletic

Sarah Currie, Vice President of Student Development and Dean of Students

Woody Fish, Vice President for Advancement and External Affairs

Mike Hardin, Vice President for Administration and Finance

Tracy Jessup, Vice President for Christian Life and Service

Ben Leslie, Provost and Executive Vice President

Richard McDevitt, Vice President for Marketing

Kristen Setzer, Vice President for Enrollment Management

Jeff Tubbs, Vice President for Planning and Institutional Effectiveness

Natalie Bishop, Associate Dean of the Library and University Archivist (faculty representative)

Cary Poole, Associate Vice President for Title IX Compliance and ADA Coordinator (staff representative)

Mindy Duckworth (graduate student representative)

Jillian Sward (undergraduate student representative) 

Stephanie Sterns, Executive Assistant to the President

Starting today, a survey is being distributed to the entire university inviting ideas for our future.  I hope that each of you will take some time to complete the survey.  In tandem with the online survey, we will be convening a series of open town halls.  Each town hall will give members of the university community an opportunity to discuss institutional priorities.  In the Spring semester, we will invite feedback and dialogue on drafts of the University Plan as they emerge.

Once GWU 2020-2025 has been finalized and approved by the Board of Trustees, we will charge a set of local units with drafting their own five-year strategic plans.  Each unit plan should complement the core themes of the University Plan while addressing the relevant local actions necessary for implementation.  The University Strategic Planning Committee will review and approve the unit plans that are drafted by the following 13 areas:

  • Advancement
  • Athletics
  • Student Development
  • Christian Life
  • College of Arts and Sciences
  • School of Performing and Visual Arts
  • School of Psychology and Counseling
  • College of Health Sciences
  • College of Business
  • College of Education
  • Degree Completion Programs
  • School of Graduate Studies
  • School of Divinity

A good strategic plan mobilizes organizational members to think anew about their shared future.  I find this exciting.  Planning for the future liberates us from the bunker mentality that too often sets in after years of fiscal stress.  Granted, any plan will have to be a living document, adjusting as new opportunities arise over time.  That said, the time is now right for us to dream big…you just never know what we might accomplish together!

Thanks, as always, for all you do for GWU.

Pro Deo et Humanitate,

Dr. William M. Downs

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