Strategic Plan Chapter3.html

Achieving Distinction 2000:

A Strategic Plan For The University Of Iowa

Chapter 3: Aspiration and Goals

This chapter presents the aspiration and goals to which the plan is directed. A statement of aspiration is an important part of a strategic plan. A set of general goals, more specific objectives, and concomitant strategies could be quite sufficient to set an agenda for five years, which is the typical time dimension for strategic plans. However, an aspiration, as we define it, will help us look beyond the time span of the plan and suggest where the institution should be ten or even twenty years in the future. Aspirations and goals are both ends or purposes, the former referring herein to long-term, open-ended "ambitions" for the University, and the latter to those ends warranting special attention over the next five years. The goals are stepping stones to the aspiration.


A worthy aspiration should specify a target beyond what seems feasible or possible at the present time. It should symbolize a community's commitment to excellence, combat complacency, and encourage continual efforts to raise quality. In virtually all sectors of the institution, the aspiration should stimulate members of the University community to think more critically about the current quality of the institution's programs and more ambitiously about where these programs might be in the future.
With such considerations in mind, we have formulated an aspiration with two interrelated parts that address the overall strength of the University and the importance of developing exceptional quality in a select set of areas.
I. Raise the quality of the University to a level comparable to that of the best ten public institutions in the nation.
This part of the aspiration deals with the institution as a whole, refers to both teaching and research programs, and reaffirms the basic thrust of Building on Strength, the 1987 self-study of the University. We recognize that our aspiration to top-ten status inadvertently could focus too heavily on outside perception rather than on quality per se and that it is not possible to measure such quality precisely. However, "top ten" is a useful target for expressing a commitment to the highest standards of quality appropriate to a field and for acknowledging the competitiveness of higher education in this country. One difficult obstacle to achieving this aspiration may be the small size of the faculty at The University of Iowa. This is a surmountable problem if the student/faculty ratio at The University of Iowa is brought into line with top public institutions and if the University implements a general strategy of developing more focus and distinctiveness in its programs. It may not be possible to have as many programs and departments as other top public institutions, but University of Iowa programs still can be comparable in quality.
II. Identify and develop a leading position nationally in selected areas.
In the context of overall strength, a top public institution needs some highly distinguished areas to achieve and maintain its quality and reputation nationally. A university with a smaller than average faculty is likely to have the greatest success with such areas if they reflect or manifest some distinctive themes or foci of the institution as a whole. The starting point for developing specific areas of national leadership is a set of strong departments and programs around which can be built institutional-level themes or foci. Ideally, University foci or themes should cut across disciplines and reflect the mission and current strengths of the institution.
Overall, the aspiration is to reach a level of quality comparable to top-ten public institutions, with selected areas in which the University is a leading institution nationwide.
In working toward this aspiration, the approach should be to create the appropriate level of quality and let the reputation follow. However, given that certain University of Iowa programs are portrayed by outsiders as "one of the best-kept secrets of the nation," the University community needs to overcome its institutional modesty. This modesty has a decidedly positive side in that it maintains a focus on quality and prevents status or reputation seeking for its own sake. The negative side is that once quality is established, reputation does not necessarily follow automatically. We should carefully consider how external peers and competitors view University of Iowa programs and promote those that are strong, without becoming too imitative or undermining a program's distinctiveness.
The 1994 Strategic Planning Committee strongly reaffirms the commitment to the "top ten" aspiration and calls for more effort to make progress toward this long-term ambition. In particular, we believe that the University, through the actions of the Strategic Planning Steering Group, must allocate resources to implement the second component of the two-part aspiration. It is only by maintaining and promoting national leadership in some selected areas and disciplines that measurable progress toward the institutional aspiration can be made. Raising quality throughout all instructional and research programs, by application of the general strategy of focus, is the key to ranking among the highest level of public universities, but leadership and public recognition will be achieved first only in a limited number of programs. These areas of strength can then facilitate progress in other disciplines.

In conclusion, if the two-part aspiration were reached, a number of benefits would result.

These benefits exemplify the more concrete meaning of the aspiration and suggest ways of assessing our progress toward achieving it. Such assessment would need to include three basic standards of reference: (1) an absolute standard indicating how closely the quality of our programs approximates some ideal, (2) a comparative standard indicating how the quality compares to that of peers and competitors, and (3) a historical standard essentially comparing the program to itself over time.

General University Goals

This section specifies seven University-wide goals. These are stepping-stones toward the above aspiration. For each goal, we elaborate both its meaning and background. The rationale for most of the goals stems from recent reviews and analyses of the University, including the 1987 University self-study and the related external report of the North Central Association of Colleges and Universities. The general University goals are the same as in 1989 except that a new goal emphasizing research and scholarship has been added to make explicit what was an implicit component of Achieving Distinction.
Goal 1: Comprehensive strength in undergraduate programs.
The University should have a broad range of undergraduate programs and should not neglect areas that are central to undergraduate education. Undergraduate programs need not be all-inclusive, and provided a minimum standard of significant merit is achieved, they may vary in quality. The University should target and strengthen select undergraduate programs while phasing out weak programs that are not central to a strong liberal education.
Significant progress in undergraduate programs has been achieved over the past five years; the most severe deficiencies in the general education programs have been remedied. These accomplishments permit some reordering of objectives and concentration on raising the quality of programs in the majors. While we recognize the need to implement new general education requirements in cultural diversity and fine arts, shifting undergraduate instructional priorities to the major should aid students' progress toward completing their degrees in a timely manner and improve their preparation for modern society.
Goal 2: Premier graduate and professional programs in a significant number of areas.
The University should have a core of highly distinguished programs, based on professionally recognized standards. A wide range of programs is important to the University, and while strength at the graduate level can be selective and involve somewhat fewer areas than at the undergraduate level, it is important to recognize that at major research universities the quality of graduate programs has a significant impact on the quality of undergraduate programs. Excellent graduate programs attract and help retain higher quality faculty and play a critical role in creating the quality and reputations upon which some prospective undergraduate students decide among universities. With this in mind, the University should consider phasing out weak graduate programs that are not central.
This goal recognizes that, according to recent analyses of the University, few current graduate programs at the University have reached the highest levels of quality, although some may be on the verge of such quality. At this point, one of the major obstacles to enhancing the quality of our graduate programs is inadequate research, computer, and laboratory facilities (including technician support), as well as cost pressures and understaffing problems facing University libraries.
Goal 3: A faculty of national and international distinction.
The University should offer an environment that allows each faculty member to reach her or his potential as a teacher and scholar; it should compete for the very best junior faculty in the country each year and have a sizeable number of senior faculty who are leaders in their fields. Creating and maintaining a distinguished faculty is likely to be difficult in the competitive era of the next decade, and extraordinary efforts will be necessary to attract and retain faculty and supporting staff.
While this goal responds, in part, to the highly competitive era in higher education anticipated over the next decade, it also recognizes that the University currently has too few world-class scholars even when the small size of the faculty is taken into account. Retention of our emerging leaders in scholarship, improved opportunities for career development, and the best possible recruitment efforts, all receive high priority in this revised plan.
Goal 4: Distinguished research and scholarship.
The quality of a university is closely associated with the quality of research and scholarship it produces. Consequently, aspiring to an overall institutional quality comparable to top ten public universities requires that the research and scholarship conducted at The University of Iowa be recognized by peers in each discipline as among the finest in the field. Distinguished research and scholarship is so intertwined with the quality of undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs that the first Strategic Planning Committee saw no need to identify a specific goal for research and scholarship. While closely associated with faculty quality, premier research and scholarship also depends on student and staff contributions, facilities and infrastructure, and administrative support. In addition, there is a need to publicize to the general public the relationship between research and scholarship and the other missions of the University, including high quality instruction, service to the citizens of the state, and economic development.
Goal 5: A culturally diverse and inclusive University community.
The University should have a diverse community in order to prepare students for life in a multicultural, multiethnic, and multiracial national and international society. Diversity is an important dimension of an institution's quality, and its pursuit is an obligation to the larger society and also to previously excluded groups. A significant presence of minorities and women in each program is important to the aspiration of the University.
While the University has made significant gains in attracting women and minorities-faculty, staff, and students-in recent years, much more needs to be done, particularly with respect to retention. The absence of sufficient absolute numbers of minorities on campus is still noteworthy as is the severe underrepresentation of women in such fields as the sciences and engineering. National demographic trends, indicating that our society is becoming more diverse, also reinforce the importance of attracting more minorities to higher education. The revised order of objectives for this goal reflects a community-wide perception that the greatest need is a shift from administrative procedures and programs to a climate that respects and values diversity.
Goal 6: Strong ties between the University and external constituencies.
The University should have a strong, integrated program that informs external constituencies about its curriculum, listens to their concerns, and advances the aspiration of the institution. Most fundamentally, the University should have a strong educational presence in the state of Iowa and beyond. It needs to maintain a positive attitude toward external constituencies, strengthen ties with alumni, and meet the growing demands for lifelong learning. As a complement, the University should continue to enhance its cultural, health, and economic contributions to the state of Iowa.
Following the establishment in 1990 of a new position of Vice President for University Relations, the University has made significant progress in developing a more proactive stance toward external constituencies as called for in Achieving Distinction. Many of the general and specific concerns about relationships with the many publics served by the University remain, but the key ingredient appears to be improved communications by all units and offices of the University.
Goal 7: A high-quality academic and working environment.
Because modern institutions of higher education serve the "whole person," the University has an obligation to provide a safe, humane, healthy, and intellectually stimulating environment. It should increasingly blend and interweave the academic and social experiences of students, staff, and faculty. The physical setting should effectively serve academic programs; facilitate contact among students, staff, and faculty; and also be pleasing aesthetically. In sum, a collegial, friendly atmosphere with pleasant surroundings is a strength of The University of Iowa and one on which to build.
This goal seeks to foster recognition of the potential to make the quality of life an attraction to the University and also respond to the adverse effect of eroded physical facilities. It is also a reaction to growing problems of violence, rape, and coercion on college campuses nationwide. Some of these problems have occurred locally, and this goal reflects a belief that preventive measures are far better than simply responding to such problems when they occur.

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Last updated on July 17, 1995 by Campus Communications