September/October 08
Issue 16


this issue...

Guiding Strategies

Most Strategic Plans are Neither
Strategic nor Plans

"How-To" For Perspectives No. 16

What's New



Guiding Strategies

Campus and facility planning depend on other, more fundamental planning streams at schools, colleges and universities. The quality and thoroughness of these strategic, academic, student life and financial plans set the stage for an excellent physical planning effort.

In this issue, Arthur describes the critical and intertwined nature of solid strategic planning, and we continue our series of notes on the key analytical tools that support informed campus planning.

George Mathey

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  Most Strategic Plans are Neither Strategic nor Plans

Most college and university strategic plans are neither strategic nor plans. Part vision, part wishful thinking, these documents are more public relations than institutional planning guides.

Yet, good, comprehensive campus planning depends upon a valid and well done strategic plan - for, without it, campus planning is ad hoc.

Mission Versus Vision
Whereas a mission statement describes what the college or university does — its raison d'être, a vision statement describes what the institution wishes to become or do — a statement of aspirations.

The strategic plan should achieve the vision, realize aspirations, and describe the various academic, financial, and programmatic initiatives required to do so. The key, then, is the vision - usually missing and usually misunderstood.

One of the simplest vision statements is from Clemson University: Clemson will, in ten years, be one of the top 20 public research universities in the country. At the time of that statement, Clemson was ranked in the top 30 by US News and World Reports. The University certainly had other goals, but this statement had significant financial, facilities, and programmatic implications and helped structure the planning process.

Another example is: John Carroll University aspires to be a leader in science and mathematics education, known for pedagogical innovation, personal attention to students, and its positive impact on the surrounding community.

A paragraph or two is all that is needed. A multi-page vision statement will not be concise and will more than likely blur the boundaries between vision, strategic planning, and public relations.

The Strategic Plan
The strategic plan should have the following components and characteristics:
An institutional vision statement

  • Vision statement themesTheme goalsStrategies for realizing the goalsA time frame for achieving the goals - usually 10 to 15 yearsResources required - financial faculty and staffing, facilities, etc
  • Identification of who is responsible for managing the plan and who is responsible for each strategy

One way to structure the strategic plan is to define a series of themes or topic areas that further define and support the vision. So, for instance, one theme might focus on student attraction and retention. Another might focus on undergraduate research, and a third might address pedagogy.

Each theme should have a series of goals that respond to the vision statement. Having a goal that states that "we will be a leader in undergraduate education" is meaningless if it is not stated in a way that is measurable. Broad, poorly defined goals are a common problem with college and university plans.

Once the vision, themes, and goals have been articulated, the next step is the development of strategies to achieve the goals. Strategies are action oriented - they describe the various ways in which the institution intends to address a goal.

The person or office responsible for each strategy should be noted. One person from within the president's cabinet should be responsible for managing and realizing the strategic plan. A time frame and schedule should be established and needed resources identified.

Probably the most difficult aspect of the strategic planning process is prioritization. Not all of the strategies and initiatives can or should be realized at once. The institutional vision is for the next fifteen years. One approach is to decide what can and should be accomplished in the next five year blocks, with a check for progress every five years to adjust vision, goals, and strategies.

The strategic planning process is an important institutional management tool. Do it seriously and do it well. In a future article, I will discuss how to organize the process.

Arthur Lidsky



“How-To” For Perspectives No. 16
Assembling the Basic Planning Tools III

For the planning team truly interested in how a place works and in how its physical plant can be adjusted to work better, base maps, floor plans, and facility inventories (details in Perspectives issues 3 and 10), the following information is essential:

  • Institutional organization chart — It's tough to know the players and how they relate without a dramatis personae.
  • Summaries of space allocation by school and department. These help illustrate how much space each unit has to work with, where the space is located, and what the range of space types is.
  • Institutional staffing table — Information about the number of staff in each department for understanding the relative size and scale of units.
  • Teaching space utilization reports — Reports from the registrar's scheduling office indicating the intensity of classroom and teaching lab use for understanding and making recommendations for the teaching space inventory.
  • Faculty and staff office locations — For understanding the pattern of the distribution of staff across campus.

These tools help planners begin to understand the internal dimensions of a school, college or university and answer questions like:

  • How many classrooms do we have? How efficiently are they used?What are the range and average sizes of our faculty and staff offices? Where are the problem areas?Do our social science (athletics, student records, performing arts, admissions, humanities, student activities, physical sciences, residential life, etc.) departments have sufficient space? Who's really hurting?
  • How can we address the key needs to achieve our strategic goals in an integrated plan?

Using these tools as a basis for analysis and recommendation steers planning away from the anecdotal towards the objective, enhancing a plan's transparency and acceptance.

George Mathey


What’s New

Clemson University
On October 24, Clemson University hosted a colloquium, Community is a Contact Sport. Arthur Lidsky teamed with Kaye Crawford, President of the Town & Gown Association of Ontario, to lead the closing session which sought to answer the question “Where do we go from here?”

INSITE Consortium Conference
Arthur Lidsky spoke on Campus Benchmarking - Trials and Tribulations at the Annual INSITE Consortium Conference on October 31.


Head Mistresses Association of the East
Arthur Lidsky and Geoffrey Freeman lead a discussion about the intersection of pedagogy and facilities on November 12 at the Head Mistresses Association of the East annual conference in Princeton.



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