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UND launches strategic planning process with first meeting

Grand Forks Taxi. Jesse Trelstad/ Grand Forks Herald

The first step in what will be a monthslong process aimed at charting UND's future took place Thursday.

What that future looks like will be explored by a committee through a strategic planning process, with initial discussions focusing on areas that could shape the school's strengths and provide criteria for measuring its success.

Leading the effort is a 47-person Strategic Planning Committee that met for the first time Thursday. The meeting, described as a "conversation starter," was meant to spark discussions among members about the direction the university should take.

The committee represents a variety of viewpoints with its members pulled from the president's cabinet, deans from the university's schools, students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members.

University leaders did some legwork before the meeting to give the committee a starting point for discussion.

"Rather than spend two hours asking what is it we should be known for, we took a different approach, which is, here are some thoughts, now let's react to that," said Peter Johnson, a spokesman for the university and a member of the committee.

Areas of focus

Acting as a separate steering committee, the president's cabinet presented three areas of focus and about a dozen metrics for the group to discuss and react to Thursday.

The three areas of focus were rural health, energy and unmanned aircraft systems, and the metrics discussed included items such as research performance, excellence in teaching, employment in the field of study and the economic impact of the university, among others.

"By no means are these final," said Barry Horwitz, a Boston-based strategy and business plan consultant brought in by the university. "These are just conversation starters."

When the strategic planning process is finished, the committee will identify the strengths of the university, build on those strengths and define a clear vision of how UND should set itself up for the future.

The proposed areas of focus and metrics will, in all likelihood, be changed, modified, added and subtracted throughout the entire strategic planning process.

"This is just a starting point to jump-start conversation," Johnson said.

The group spent most of the two-hour meeting questioning and deliberating what was presented. Some said rural health should be expanded to include other rural occupations, such as education and social work, while others wondered why a program such as American Indian studies wasn't included as an area of focus.

Nothing final

The three areas of focus are what UND President Mark Kennedy told the group he wants to be "the best in the world at," and can have applications across disciplines. For instance, with unmanned systems, UND could offer classes in the law school that analyze laws regulating the technology, or in the business school that look at how drones could make some companies and industries more efficient.

Those leading the discussion, including Kennedy, reiterated to the committee that nothing has been finalized and the items presented were just a launching point.

"There are no answers yet, and there aren't going to be answers for a very long time," Kennedy told the committee. "That's what collaborative governance is all about, taking time to wrestle with things and understanding everybody's point of view."

Kennedy tapped Laurie Betting, interim vice president for student affairs, and Dana Harsell, chairman of the University Senate, to serve as co-chairs for defining and leading the strategic process.

Eventually, committee members will bring what they discuss in their meetings to the campus and larger community through a range of venues to get feedback and guidance to help shape the strategic plan.

The group will have a preliminary outline by December and a complete plan by May 2017. A website on the plan will launch in early September.

At the beginning of his presidency, Kennedy said his two overarching goals were to have about five metrics for what it means for UND to be the premier university in the region and roughly three areas where the school will drive research.

Before taking office July 1, Kennedy said he wanted to spend his first 90 days listening to university stakeholders, so he could better understand the school, and then move into strategic planning so he can make the case why the state should invest in UND, as well as how the school should direct the resources it gets from the state during the next legislative session.

Wade Rupard

Wade Rupard is a reporter for The Grand Forks Herald. Rupard is a 2014 graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism and is originally from Normal, Ill. 

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