The Collegian
Saturday, May 28, 2022

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Strategic plan implementation is 'moving pretty fast'

As he enters his second year as Richmond's president, Edward Ayers is ready to begin planning for the university's future.

Accordingly, after "thousands" of meetings with members of the university community, Ayers intends to finalize his strategic plan during the first months of the school year, and to have a concrete plan on file by January. The plan will be used to determine a course of action for the university over the coming years.

"I need to be patient because we need to have the entire university in on this strategic plan," Ayers said, although he admitted that he would like to develop the plan even more quickly. "We're still moving pretty fast. To have a strategic plan in place in 18 months time is a pretty radical thing. There's a lot more going on about this than people realize right now."

One of the most important things about developing the strategic plan, Ayers said, is to make sure it represents the interests and passions of the entire university community.

"I want to take advantage of the wisdom of 18-year-olds as well as people that have been here 40 years to help us decide what we should do," he said.

Ayers has been working on the strategic plan since he arrived on campus in fall 2007, and with the help of faculty members, staff, students and other stakeholders in the university, a draft of a five-point plan was released last spring. The strategic plan focuses on themes such as the university's past, academic excellence, access and affordability, diversity and the university's relationship with the greater Richmond community.

Last May, Ayers appointed a working group for each of the plan's five principles. These groups were drawn from each of the university's five schools and from units throughout campus. The groups met throughout the summer and will continue to work through the early fall to propose goals achieving the plan's objectives. They are expected to draft preliminary goals and steps, which will be used to create a draft for a strategic plan by mid-September. Members of the working groups could not share their progress as they are still in the process of developing their reports.

The president's office has created a Web site dedicated to the strategic plan that outlines the phases of developing the plan. The working groups' reports will be combined to form a draft of the strategic plan, which will be posted on the Web site for comment from the university community until November.

But the development of working groups is not the only step Ayers has taken toward finalizing a strategic plan. For example, he cited the university's new UR downtown campus as a step toward uniting the school and the community, one part of the strategic plan. He also used both his inaugural address last spring and his welcome to new students this fall to encourage diversity. He said he wanted students to think about diversity as an opportunity.

"We need to be as thoughtful about it as we can all along the way, not just yelling, 'Don't do this, Don't do that,' but to be more positive," he said of encouraging students of all backgrounds to interact with one another.

Ayers also said new hires, including a new provost, vice president of enrollment and head of advancement, were working to develop the strategic plan.

"Now we have a team in place," he said. "I don't know how we're going to achieve each of these goals, but what I do know is that we've got the people that can figure it out."

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Although the working groups and new staff members are working toward finalizing the strategic plan, Ayers still wants the rest of the university community's feedback. The workgroups will each host two open meetings this fall so they can hear suggestions before it is too late to make changes. Last spring, Ayers led meetings for students to make comments on the strategic plan, and although student representatives for the Board of Trustees said the meetings "didn't solicit a lot of attendance," Ayers is continuing to ask for their feedback.

"I have a lot of faith in the strategic plan, but the plan isn't just a shopping list of great things we're going to do," Ayers said, adding that so far it seems that the university community's goals have aligned with his. "These are decisions that we're making and this is saying, 'this is what we care about most' and I'm glad that up to this point nobody has said 'No, access is not one of the things I care about most. Nope, diversity is not one of the things I care about most. No, engaging with where we live is not one of the things I care about most.'"

Ayers said he was excited for the strategic plan to advance the university and define his presidency.

"This is what I've dedicated my life to--thinking about this," he said, noting his excitement about beginning the process. "Last year was about listening; this year is about planning and from here on out it's about doing."

Contact staff writer Emily Baltz at emily.baltz@richmond.edu

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