Part 1: Introduction
Suffolk University finds itself at a momentous time in its history. It has a mandate to transform the way it conducts its daily business in the service of its students, its alumni, and the people of Boston and New England while bringing distinctiveness to its founding mission of access and opportunity. Why “mandate”? The reasons are many:
- We are committed to building on the University’s history and traditions by revitalizing its heart and soul as a relevant, student-centered institution of access and opportunity.
- We are committed to maintaining the distinctive identities of the University’s three academic units while simultaneously promoting a deepened sense of the University as a whole. We seek the enhancement of this sense of common purpose not only in the academic units, but also across student and administrative support units. We seek a Suffolk in which the whole is clearly greater than the sum of its parts.
- A rapidly changing and highly competitive external environment presents challenges to all colleges and universities at this time. Suffolk’s historic dependence on student tuition makes these challenges even more salient for us.
- The University needs to assert clearly its distinctive niches in the marketplace and to take advantage of those niches through appropriate academic and support programs. Clear, strong focus and discipline are essential to success in these endeavors.
- The University must clearly identify priorities to allow it to allocate/reallocate resources wisely.
- All decisions at all levels must be informed by data that are perceived to have integrity and that are widely available to the Suffolk community.
Part 2: Planning Process Principles
- All activities of the University (teaching, research, service, and administrative support) must be included in this planning process.
It is essential that the planning process engage in serious deliberation about how the fundamental activities of the University can be strengthened and realigned to meet the needs of students today and five years from now. For the academic core, how can we provide academic excellence that is distinctive and supports the University’s mission? What means of pedagogy should we provide our students? For academic and administrative support services, how can we ensure that we are providing students, faculty, staff, alumni, and donors with timely and seamless service and accurate information?
- While the history of the University must be clearly understood, today’s local as well as global realities must be taken into account.
The U.S. employment market, coupled with rising student indebtedness, are worrisome. Will American students continue to believe that a college degree is worth the investment and provides added value? World financial and psycho-social conditions are ever changing and difficult to predict and will inevitably buffet higher education here and abroad. For example, what impact will continued social unrest in Africa and the Middle East have on our student recruitment efforts? What impact will a deteriorating European economy have on our ability to recruit students from Europe and encourage our students to study abroad?
- The planning process must look at the University from a wholistic perspective.
The University is not simply an accretion of different academic and administrative units. The very siloed culture of our University needs to be transformed.
- We all must recognize and embrace the reality that our students are the reason that Suffolk University exists. It is our duty to provide them both leadership and service.
The mix of academic and professional degree programs and the demography of our student body must be studied. Is the University serving its student body maximally through its academic programs? Are the University’s academic support, student affairs programs and administrative offices serving the needs of all undergraduate and graduate students? What should we undertake to ensure student success?
- As an institutional citizen of Boston, Suffolk University must define the role and relationship it wants to continue to evolve with the city while enabling students, faculty, and staff to partake of its many cultural, ethnic, and historic riches.
The city of Boston is a treasure. Have we, as an urban university, revisited the role we should be playing in Boston and New England? What opportunities are there for our students to engage in meaningful internships, capstone experiences, and cooperative learning? Is our presence in Boston sufficiently reflected in our curriculum? Are we taking full advantage of Boston as a case study for courses in history, literature, the humanities, business, technology, science, and the law?
- Respect for others, the capacity to listen, the ability to voice dissident thought, to be heard but not chastised are among the values that the strategic planning process must embrace.
What are the core values that should guide us and direct our every thought, word, and deed throughout the University? How do we hold people responsible and accountable for living within a newly established set of core values? How do we develop a University culture that embraces and celebrates those core values? How will we know when we have succeeded in our efforts?
- All elements of the planning process must be collaborative and transparent.
If the plan produced as a result of this process is to be fully embraced by all the involved constituents, it is essential that the process we follow be one in which the University’s students, faculty, and staff are fully engaged. The valuable perspectives they have to offer, as well as the perspectives of external constituencies critical to the University, must be reflected in the plan that results.
- The planning process must be completed in a timely fashion and must culminate in concrete actions designed to accomplish identified strategic initiatives/goals.
Time is of the essence. As we develop this plan, we must balance the principle of full consultation with all constituencies with our objective to undertake specific activities over the next five years. We must consult broadly, but we also must act decisively. We believe that a strict schedule and the planning work steps that are enumerated next will allow us to achieve this balance.
Part 3: Planning Process Work Steps
One of the great pitfalls of strategic planning is the failure to link plans to specific actions. This can happen because planning is not taken seriously, and plans are simply developed for the sake of saying they exist. But it can also happen because the environment in which the organization exists faces change so rapidly that plans can quickly become obsolete. In structuring our planning process, we hope to avoid both these pitfalls by specifying precise roles for those involved.
Overview of the Strategic Planning Process
To date we have:
- Appointed a Strategic Planning Committee and co-chairs for that Committee.
They are Danielle Manning, acting vice president and treasurer, and Professor Sheila Simsarian Webber, chair of the Management and Entrepreneurship Department. The committee has 13 additional members representing faculty, staff, and students.
- Hired a consultant to facilitate the planning process.
We have engaged the services of the Pappas Consulting Group, which will help the Strategic Planning Committee to do its job. Planning consultants can be particularly helpful in providing professional advice to the Committee on the conduct of its work; in serving as an independent (and perhaps more objective) participant in the process; and in keeping the entire process on schedule. We have found that outside consultants can be especially valuable in eliciting strong views from both internal and external constituents, some of whom might be reluctant to express those views before a University-wide committee.
- Provided clear charges to both the Planning Committee and to the consultant.
A successful planning process is one with clear goals and objectives for the process itself. It is essential that all those involved, especially the Planning Committee and the consultant, have a clear sense of the work steps they need to undertake.
We expect that the Planning Committee will address the enduring, five-year-long issues that confront the University and craft mission, vision, and values statements. We expect it to identify the six to seven major themes that emerge from the Strategic Planning Reference Document, the consultant’s interviews and focus groups with students, faculty, staff, and alumni, as well as an electronic SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) survey distributed to all members of the Suffolk University community. We will ask the committee to identify strategic initiatives/goals and action steps/objectives associated with each of the identified themes and to set priorities.
Upon completion of the committee’s report, the president will assume responsibility for developing an implementation plan that is fully consistent with the strategic direction provided by the Strategic Planning Committee. Rather than preparing a single implementation plan, the president will prepare implementation plans at the start of each of the years covered by the Strategic Plan.
Putting the implementation phase on an annual cycle achieves several important objectives. First, it will enable the University to recognize and react to rapid changes in the external environment. Second, annual implementation plans have the potential for making the entire process more open and more easily evaluated. Annual plans are, in effect, performance targets. We can more easily be held accountable for our efforts if we specify what we hope to achieve at the start of each year using a finite set of metrics. Third, as the board holds a president accountable, it is completely appropriate to charge the president with implementing the strategic directions enumerated by the Strategic Planning Committee.
Ultimately, it is the president who has the ongoing responsibility of overseeing all of Suffolk’s activities, and the responsibility for ensuring that the University is both academically excellent and fiscally sound.