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Editorial: Why UND's strategic plan deserves attention

Put the words "Kim Kardashian" into your headline, and you're sure to get lots of clicks online.

Here are two words that have the opposite effect: "Strategic plan."

So, when UND's new strategic plan hit the news this week, we're guessing the click counters spun down until they clunked on zero.

And that's a shame. Because strategic plans can provide that rarest of visions: a glimpse into the future. Remember that the next time you read about UND President Mark Kennedy and his strategic plan.

And if you don't believe us, consider "A commitment to focus," a modest document produced in 1985 at the University of Minnesota.

"A commitment to focus" was the brainchild of Ken Keller, a U of M president whose tenure lasted only three years. And if you think "strategic plan" are the world's most boring headline words, try "a commitment to focus."

And yet, if you were a Minneapolis gambler in 1985, and you were betting on the university's future, "A commitment to focus" could have been your guide.

That's because Keller's white paper "would be the most significant document of the last 40 years at the U," said Tom Devine, a University of Minnesota regent, to Twin Cities Business in 2015.

"What he laid out was what the institution is today. It's an amazing achievement that the vision was so solid that four successive presidents maintained it."

That's the power of a strong strategic plan.

Former President Keller's document led to "a rethinking of undergraduate education at the U of M Twin Cities campus that was so thorough, the experience is almost unrecognizable to graduates over 40," the Twin Cities Business story reported.

Back in 1985, "the U welcomed almost any high school graduate with a pulse. Applications to the College of Liberal Arts were made on a postcard. ... (Plus), the U campus was 80 percent commuter, and only 15 percent of undergrads graduated in four years."

Keller felt "the U needed to up its undergraduate game by both shrinking its student body and making it more academically rigorous — a process that would raise admission standards by requiring a more academically prepared student body."

That's the vision that shaped the institution, because the presidents who followed bought into it and carried it out.

North Dakota is no stranger to such dramatic change. For example, North Dakota State University is a much different school than it was in 2000, and that's likely due in large part to the activist, 1999 to 2009 presidency of Joe Chapman.

Will Kennedy's impact on UND rival Chapman's on NDSU? We don't know.

But if historians in 2040 answer "yes" to that question, they'll surely look back on the UND Strategic Plan released this week as an early guide. That's the importance of the plan, and it's why UND supporters and alumni should give it a read.

-- Tom Dennis for the Herald

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