"Be ready to move!"
Chancellor Phyllis M. Wise made the call at the April 22 town hall meeting, laying out an ambitious and aggressive plan to set the campus on a firm academic and financial course over the next half-century.
Wise was joined by Ilesanmi Adesida, the provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, before an overflow crowd of 350 at the Beckman Institute auditorium. The campus leaders unveiled a long range plan demanding cooperation, innovation and academic farsightedness.
"The landscape of public higher education is changing rapidly," Wise said. "We have to be ready and able to move strategically even as we move rapidly."
The most immediately tangible part of the plan calls for the hiring of 500 faculty members in the next five to seven years, an effort the leaders said would bring faculty levels back to about 2,000 following a period of heavy turnover caused by early retirement and other factors.
Adesida said the hiring plan would "rebuild" campus faculty and that the strategy would include "cluster" hiring to target already established researchers with an interdisciplinary track record and help "quickly build critical mass in specific areas."
He said special attention would be given to strengthening not only science-related disciplines, but the humanities and arts as well, because having strength at all points along the education spectrum creates "broadly educated students" and new academic opportunities.
"I have seen that more broadly educated engineers are better ones," he said. "And I have seen how science and technology open new artistic horizons. This is how we bring in new energy, new perspectives, and this is how we ignite the scholarly creativity that is the hallmark of the best institutions."
He said two working groups are already being convened to propose new initiatives supported by the Office of the Provost and the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research.
The campus plan was formulated following a year-and-a-half of exercises initiated by Wise to assess strengths and goals, and to discover how they can be harnessed to serve future societal needs. In all, more than 4,000 people, on and off campus, were surveyed or participated in brainstorming sessions with the chancellor during the Visioning Future Excellence process.
"We really do want this to be a two-way conversation," she said, "Your advice, your guidance and your engagement in our planning process this year is being put into visible and strategic action."
The result of the campus soul-searching effort was captured in a word cloud that revealed six major themes of focus: energy and the environment; health and wellness; social equality and cultural understanding; education; information and technology; and economic development.
Incorporating those themes into the academic fabric is the goal of the new plan.
Adesida said the plan will reward ideas that further scholarship, discovery and innovation; offer transformational learning experiences; and provide societal impact.
The university has already begun to transform undergraduate research education through $70 million budgeted for classroom renovations and the creation of the Office of Undergraduate Research to develop undergraduate research opportunities.
Adesida said the plan offers additional support for grant writing and proposal construction, and that a service being developed for faculty members seeking assistance will be running by fall.
"We want faculty to concentrate on scholarship, not paperwork and processes," he said.
In addition, leaders are compiling an "expert's list" public database to help faculty members here - as well as those at peer institutions - find collaborators, are offering streamlined campus-level teaching support resources and are planning to create "virtual centers" for collaboration.
"We will be the pre-eminent public research university with a land-grant mission and a global impact," he said. "That is our goal. We want to be the best at what we choose to do. We have to continue to differentiate and distance ourselves from our peers."
Wise said all of the initiatives will die on the vine unless the campus participates fully in the open process.
"We are going to move rapidly but strategically," she said. "Everyone has to be at the table and everyone has to share this vision to be successful."