Strategic Planning Initiative Begins

President Monaco launches study of Tufts’ long-term aspirations and challenges
President Anthony Monaco and Provost David Harris talk about the strategic planning initiative. Video: Steffan Hacker
October 1, 2012

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Tufts is launching a strategic planning process that will identify priorities and create a road map for where the university aspires to be in 10 years.

“This is an opportunity for us, as a community, to envision a trajectory for Tufts—where it needs to be, and should be, in a decade’s time,” said President Anthony P. Monaco, who has asked Provost David R. Harris to lead the initiative. “Strategic planning will allow us to take advantage of the opportunities available to us and to address those challenges that could impede our progress,” he said. The goal is to finalize the strategic plan by the fall of 2013.

“The process of creating a strategic plan allows you to learn more about yourself as an institution,” said Monaco. “We will engage with the community—faculty, students, staff, alumni, trustees, advisors and friends—to come up with a direction we believe is important and meaningful for Tufts. We will tap into our sizable intellectual capital and deep institutional knowledge to develop this blueprint for Tufts.

“More broadly,” Monaco continued, “strategic planning is an opportunity for us to think about Tufts’ mission, its role in the world and our values and priorities. Engaging with the Tufts community to talk about the future is probably the most essential element. The final strategic plan document is obviously important, but I think the process of getting there is equally important.”

Monaco and Harris sat down with Tufts Now to talk about the role of strategic planning in advancing Tufts and what they envision will emerge from the process.

Tufts Now: What is the purpose of strategic planning?

Provost Harris: This process will explore what the Tufts community sees as our core opportunities, our core challenges and the barriers to our success. A strategic plan serves as a guidepost, a beacon if you will, so that we all have a clear idea of where we want to be. A strategic plan will enable us to make decisions that are aligned with shared goals instead of what any one of us might think is an appropriate direction for Tufts.

President Monaco: If the strategic planning process indicates that it’s important for Tufts to increase its impact on society, for example, then it will be up to the leadership and faculty at each of our schools to consider how they can contribute to that objective.

Who will guide this process on a day-to-day basis?

Monaco: I’ve asked David Harris, our new provost, to lead the initiative. He will meet with faculty, students and staff to establish the working groups that will be needed to produce the plan. Parts of the strategic plan will tell us what resources and technologies will be required to get us to where we want to be, so we’ll identify administrators with expertise in those areas to take the lead there.

Harris: To ensure that we develop a solid, thoughtful plan, we need broad access and broad engagement. Otherwise, you won’t find out what Tufts should do—you’ll find out what one or two individuals want this institution to do.

President Anthony Monaco and Provost David Harris. Photo: Alonso Nichols

Why is it important to do this now?

Harris: It’s the right time to do a strategic plan because we have a relatively new administration, a president who is in his second year and a provost who is in his fourth month. It is important for Tony and me to hear from the community in a systematic way about the opportunities and challenges that face us as an institution and for the community to hear from us about how we will synthesize their input and develop aspirational goals for Tufts University.

We’re in an environment with a tremendous amount of uncertainty. There are important and appropriate national debates around issues in higher education, such as affordability and diversity. We need to consider how evolving technology affects teaching at Tufts and examine how interdisciplinarity is impacting teaching and research. A strategic plan will help us address these and other critical issues.

Why have you named the initiative “Tufts: The Next 10 Years”?

Harris: We named it that because it reflects the idea that we are always looking 10 years out, and regularly asking whether we are on the path to achieving our long-term university-wide goals. Strategic planning is not something we do once and then move on to other issues. Tufts: The Next 10 Years will be an ongoing university activity.

What other areas will the strategic plan address?

Monaco: Many strategic plans focus on core values, and so will ours. The plan will contain sections on teaching and learning, research and scholarship and Tufts’ impact on society. We will look at our civic engagement mission and our role in economic and regional development through applications of our research.

Then there are what I call distinctive or challenging areas for the future, things like digital technology for residential education, online learning, entrepreneurship and innovation, interdisciplinary and other modes of research and the student experience. We need to think about the direction we are going to take as an institution to make us stronger in these areas.

How will a strategic plan help the university to make better decisions?

Harris: Resource allocation decisions are made every day at Tufts. Without a strategic plan in place, though, it’s sometimes difficult to know how to respond to a request for funding. You may have good judgment about what makes sense, but a strategic plan provides agreed-upon priorities that can guide our decisions about resources and help us maximize our use of those resources. The plan will certainly help in an environment of constrained resources. It will allow us to act in a way that’s consistent with our long-term goals.

How was the groundwork laid for the strategic planning initiative?

Monaco: During my first year, I spent a lot of time listening, going out and meeting faculty, alumni, students and staff to understand their perspectives on Tufts. Out of that came issues I thought were important, which were essential to laying the groundwork for a strategic plan. One was diversity: recruiting and retaining students, faculty and staff of diverse backgrounds and creating an environment of inclusion on our three campuses. Another was campus sustainability, being good stewards of the environment. And finally was thinking how, as an institution, we can have a larger impact in the world, in particular how collaborative research, teaching and learning across all our schools can be focused on solving some of society’s greatest challenges.

How long will it take to finalize a strategic plan?

Harris: There’s a challenge here. On the one hand, we want the strategic plan done as quickly as possible, because the absence of a plan means that we are making decisions without the benefit of a shared vision for advancing Tufts. On the other hand, we want to proceed slowly enough so that everyone has an opportunity to be heard. A meaningful strategic planning process requires all of us to consult with one another, to debate one another, to engage one another about where we want to go.

That said, we’re aiming to have a document that the Tufts community can react to in early 2013. We expect to complete the strategic plan by next fall.

But that will not end the process. A strategic plan is a living document. Once a year we will revisit the plan, systematically asking what is working, what isn’t, what new challenges have arisen and how we can more effectively pursue our goals.

How can the larger Tufts community get involved and stay informed?

Monaco: Once the plan gets to a certain draft level, we will put it online so everyone in the Tufts community can tell us what they think. We will also be engaging with our trustees and alumni and listening to their perspectives. We want everyone in the Tufts community to have their say.

Harris: We’re looking at multiple ways of engaging individuals. We’ll use traditional ways, such as email. And we’ve launched a Strategic Plan website, which will include updates, reports and recommended articles to help the community participate more fully in this conversation. The website offers ways to provide feedback, both on readings and on the planning process itself.

I’ll also be out on the campuses, hosting town hall meetings and small group sessions. I’ll have open office hours. My goal is that eventually people will say, “Enough, stop asking me for my input.” Then we’ll know we’ve been successful.

Why should the community get involved?

Harris: I think the answer is simple. We are trying to develop a shared understanding of how we will address the key issues that face Tufts University. Now is the time to get engaged, to provide that input. It’s important for everyone’s voice to be heard so that their perspectives can be reflected in the strategic plan.

Taylor McNeil can be reached at taylor.mcneil@tufts.edu