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Lange updates initiatives

Provost Peter Lange reported to the Board of Trustees last weekend that the University has made substantial progress toward the goals expressed in the strategic plan, Building on Excellence.

His presentation focused on five core areas - faculty, strategic initiatives, facilities, undergraduates and technology - and addressed how the plan has affected and challenged each area.

"In each area, we showed how the pieces interacted with each other and interacted with the other goals," Lange said.

The goal in the review of the strategic plan was threefold, President Nan Keohane wrote in an e-mail. Administrators sought to bring the Board up to date on all the accomplishments of the past two and a half years, discuss a possible tweaking of financial projections given the weak economy and give the Trustees a sense of how the University would approach the remaining tasks in the last years of the plan.

Faculty received considerable attention in Lange's presentation, which portrayed Building on Excellence as having a positive effect.

"[The plan has] helped to shape our search plans and has been a major impetus on recruitment," said Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences William Chafe.

Indeed, 158 "strategic hires"- individuals sought in part to help boost strategic initiatives - were made from 1999 to 2002. Five new external department chairs and four external program directors were hired, and several key faculty members were retained.

Lange cited faculty recruitment and retainment, as well as continued efforts toward strategic initiative hires, as critical challenges for the University's progress.

However, he also emphasized a solid foundation. "You can't hire only in strategic areas," he said, adding that departments must be able to hire scholars that improve the breadth and quality of teaching.

Among the strategic initiatives, some - like the John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary and International Studies and the Center for Biologically Inspired Materials and Material Systems - have made great strides, Lange said. Others are in earlier stages, which Lange credited to their more recent creation and the fact that many have yet to hire leaders.

"Making these interdisciplinary projects work is really a craft," he said. "There's no template."

The report also focused on undergraduate academics, admissions and student life. Lange said the latter two are inexorably interrelated.

"We won't have real success in admissions unless we have changes in campus life, and we won't have changes in campus life unless we have success in admissions," he said. He hopes that the intellectual climate on campus will "shift" without squeezing out social aspects of campus life.

The distribution of SAT scores - a key indicator of the admissions profile - has been improving under Building on Excellence, with the scores for the Class of 2007 higher than years past.

Despite the solid progress depicted in the report, Lange said many challenges remain for the execution of Building on Excellence, including developing labor- and resource-intensive cross-school programs and moving centrally-funded programs under the jurisdiction of individual schools, as well as possible obstacles created by the troubling economic environment.

"There are areas where we could have done more innovative planning up front," Lange admitted, either by planning earlier or getting more creative input from faculty.

The implementation of the strategic plan has received generally favorable feedback from administrators, who said it has enabled more focused work in the nine core areas for which it prescribes a course of action.

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