The University Record, September 25, 1995

President calls for new strategy: ‘Vision 2017’

By Jane R. Elgass

Declaring that the status quo is no longer acceptable, President James J. Duderstadt called on faculty last week to accept a new vision for the University and to join in efforts to provide the U-M with the capacity to change itself as it faces the challenges of the rapidly approaching 21st century.

Duderstadt addressed Senate Assembly at its first meeting of the year and as the inaugural speaker in a fall series titled “Changing in a World of Change: The University and Its Publics.”

In setting the context for his remarks, the president noted that while “change” may be the watch-word of the day, he chooses other words for the U-M: “opportunity,” “excitement,” “leadership.”

Higher education faces a litany of concerns, the president noted, including rapidly escalating costs in a time of constrained resources, erosion of the public trust and deterioration of relationships with important constituencies.

“However, I believe our institutions will be affected even more profoundly,” Duderstadt said, “by the powerful changes driving transformations in our society,” including the ethnic and cultural diversity of the citizenry, increased global interdependence and the importance of knowledge as a determinant of economic prosperity, national security and social well-being.

Citing the many elements of the University’s mission that have made it a very complex institution—he described the modern university as “a loosely-coupled adaptive system”— the president noted that “we have developed a transactional culture, in which everything is up for negotiation.”

“Indeed, the real driving force behind the evolution of the modern university is provided by the entrepreneurial faculty, seeking to achieve their goals and their dreams.”

The modern university, however, “faces quite serious challenges”:

  • Contention that the core mission of learning, particularly at the undergraduate level, has been diluted by entrepreneurial activities.

  • Creation of institutions so complex that few understand what they are.

  • The difficulty of allowing obsolete activities to disappear.

  • The inability of the very best and creative people to determine the direction of the institution because they are encumbered by processes, policis, procedures and practices of the past.

    “To respond to the challenges and opportunities of the future, I—and most university leaders—believe that the modern university must engage in a far more strategic process of change,” Duderstadt said.

    A decade ago, the University began to engage in a strategic process of change that led to the development of a compelling mission and vision.

    Key to the accomplishment of that, the president noted, was implementation of a planning process “that was not only capable of adapting to changing conditions, but to some degree also capable of modifying the environment in which the University would find itself in the decades ahead.”

    During that time, the president explained, the University adopted Vision 2000: “The University of Michigan should position itself to become the leading university of the 21st century, through the quality and leadership of its programs and the achievements of its students, faculty and staff.”

    That vision determined the University’s agenda for the past several years, one that included:

  • Financial and organizational restructuring.

  • Achieving leadership as a research university.

  • Educational transformation.

  • A focus on campus life.

  • Rebuilding the physical plant.

  • Embracing the age of knowledge.

  • Strengthening the bonds with external constituencies.

    As a result, the president said, the

    U-M today “is better, stronger, more diverse and more exciting than ever.” One could argue, he said, that the U-M “is not only the leading public university in America, but that it is challenged by only a handful of distinguished private universities in the quality, breadth, capacity and impact of its many programs and activities.”

    However, that very success, Duderstadt feels, is now the University’s greatest challenge. “We have built a university for the 20th century, but that century is rapidly coming to an end.

    “It is now time for the University to consider a bolder vision—a strategic intent—aimed at achieving excellence and leadership during a period of great change.”

    Vision 2017, which references the

    U-M’s 200th anniversary, “is aimed at providing Michigan with the capacity to re-invent the very nature of the university, to transform itself into an institution better capable of serving a new world in a new century,” the president said.

    The new approach, he said, seeks to move us from a positioning strategy “to one of transforming.”

    “It seeks to build the capacity, the energy, the excitement and the commitment necessary for the University to explore entirely new paradigms of teaching, research and service. It seeks to remove the constraints that prevent the University from responding to the needs of a rapidly changing society, to remove the unnecessary processes and administrative structures, to question existing premises and arrangements, and to challenge, excite and embolden members of the University community to embark on a great adventure.”

    The goals to move the University to that vision are simple:

  • People: To attract, retain, support and empower exceptional students, faculty and staff.

  • Resources: To provide these people with the resources and environment necessary to push to the limits of their abilities and their dreams.

  • Culture: To build a University culture and spirit that values adventure, excitement and risk-taking; leadership; excellence; diversity; and caring, concern and community.

  • The Capacity for Change: To develop the flexibility, the ability to focus resources necessary to serve a changing society and a changing world.

    Achieving the goals will be effected through organization of a series of strategic initiatives, some already in place and each designed as a self-contained effort with a clearly defined rationale and specific objectives.

    These include:

  • A recommitment to undergraduate education of the highest quality.

  • Human resource development.

  • The diverse university, including articulating the case for diversity, the Michigan Mandate, the Michigan Agenda for Women and the World University.

  • Intellectual transformation: Developing more flexible structures for teaching and research, lowering disciplinary boundaries and creating integrative facilities such as the Integrated Technology Instructional Center and Gateway Campus.

  • Faculty: Establishing the definition and role of the faculty, broadening faculty appointments, creating alternative faculty appointments and reward structures.

  • Serving a changing society through such things at the evolution of the U-M health system, enterprise zones, research applied to state and national needs, involvement in K-12 education.

  • Building private support.

  • Adopting new methods of resource allocation and management such as value centered management and M-Quality.

  • Completing the rebuilding of the University’s physical plant.

    Duderstadt said that there is a sense among leaders of higher education that the 1990s are a time of very significant change to which the University must respond. “The status quo is no longer an option,” he said.

    “We cannot rest on our laurels,” but instead must “re-invent the University to serve a new world in a new century.”

    Our challenge, he said “is to work together to provide an environment in which such change is regarded not as threatening, but rather as an exhilarating opportunity to engage in the primary activity of a university—learning—in all its many forms, to better serve our world.”