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Provost - Open Dore E-Newsletter [Vanderbilt University]

April 2015

Strategic Decisions for Strategic Impact

Dear faculty and staff colleagues,

As we near graduation, there is a bright light shining on the tremendous talent we have on campus – from the students celebrating well-earned degrees, to the faculty reflecting on a year filled with achievements in scholarship and promotions, to the staff knowing the immeasurable gratitude for their day-in, day-out service. All should be proud of our collective accomplishments and their impact on the world around us.

Vanderbilt is truly fortunate to have the resources and courage to invest in such talent. And, we are driven to innovate and to seek additional resources in order to be at the leading edge of the learning and discovery enterprise.

For example, we made a strategic decision to implement Opportunity Vanderbilt in 2008, an investment that has paid astounding. The growth in the quality of our undergraduate student body has been remarkable. Vanderbilt’s deliberate and strategic focus on excellence further led to marked improvements in the racial, economic and ethnic diversity of our applicant pool and matriculants. The diverse experiences of our talented students add great depth and richness to our community and set the stage for an unrivaled educational environment that is the envy of our peers who lack such programs.

Another example is our unique and continued investments in trans-institutional programs that will be $50M over the next five years, as well as our commitment to increasing the number of endowed faculty chairs. Across the entire university, we have 78% more endowed chairs today than in fiscal year 2009.

As we continue to make the best possible choices, what factors do we need to consider that might impact strategic decisions?

First, importantly, in 21st century America, the economics of higher education funding have changed. Though the U.S. economy might have strengthened over the past five years, universities can no longer count on the same levels of research funding from federal agencies or foundations, be it for natural and physical sciences research, for humanities studies, or for public policy and education work. Further, tuition increases will be constrained by continued and heightened concerns about the cost of higher education. Increasing government regulations place additional burdens on our resources.

Second, our key decisions will be designed to maximize impact and be aligned with our Academic Strategic plan. This process has had and will continue to have input and oversight from the faculty and staff. I support an open transparent process with broad feedback to ensure that a dialogue takes place about the ways in which our decisions advance our goals and objectives. The representative committees, the continuing town halls, and the strategic plan website are a few examples of this continuing agenda.

Investments are continually being made in our faculty and staff. Since fiscal year 2010, the total budget for faculty, wages and benefits grew 24%. In the same time period, we increased the non-contract/grant staff headcount 6.7%. In support of our faculty and staff, overall in the seven schools and colleges in Academic Affairs spending has increased every fiscal year since 2010. This will also be true for fiscal year 2016. As our schools and colleges chart their own strategic initiatives in partnership with the overall Academic Strategic Plan, we should consider how each new hire will advance our missions and enrich our diversity efforts. How will our new faculty, staff and students build our trans-institutional capabilities, advance the use of new education technologies or identify new approaches to healthcare solutions, while in turn strengthening our individual departments and schools/colleges?

With planning for the next year underway, I ask for everyone’s partnership in continuing to enrich collaborations across schools, colleges, and departments. We must challenge long-held assumptions and seize on opportunities to share resources and think of innovative ways of doing our work for the long term.

Our goal should be to develop new, creative and sustainable practices that support faculty, students and staff, and that continue the university on an upward trajectory that is deliberate and intentional. We are committed to making wise choices and investing strategically.

This month and next, I’ve been taking the Open Dore “on the road,” so to speak, meeting with various groups to have end of the academic year conversations with the Provost. I look forward to connecting with many of you in the upcoming meetings to gather your input. But of course, as always, please feel free to reach out to me directly.



Susan Wente


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