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Themes, educational outcomes emerge as key elements in latest version of Realizing UB 2020

Provost Charles Zukoski presented the latest version of Realizing UB 2020 yesterday in Harriman Hall at the first of two open forum sessions. Photo: Douglas Levere


Published April 18, 2013


Watch highlights of the Open Forum where Provost Charles Zukoski presented the latest version of Realizing UB 2020.

Details on core educational outcomes and the concept of themes have emerged as key elements in achieving academic excellence in the latest version of Realizing UB 2020, an evolving document that upon completion next month will articulate UB’s strategic direction.

Provost Charles F. Zukoski presented the latest version of Realizing UB 2020 Wednesday and Thursday as part of two open forums—the first in Harriman Hall on the South Campus and the second in the Center for the Arts Screening Room on the North Campus.

President Satish K. Tripathi announced the initiative in his state of the university address last November. Since then, Zukoski has been leading the effort as part of an extraordinary campuswide conversation that has drawn 1,500 attendees to forums such as the Harriman session. The Realizing UB 2020 website has seen nearly 3,000 unique visitors, more than 24,000 page views and roughly 300 written messages.

Seven months of discussion have contributed to this new document.

“We heard initially that we had written something that was too long and complicated,” said Zukoski.  “The questions asked at the beginning of the process have been replaced by declarative statements that can be debated. This new document is shorter and delivers a more powerful message.”

Provost Charles Zukoski talks with Kristen Stapleton, associate professor of history. Photo: Douglas Levere

The core educational outcomes are expressed as eight overarching traits the university would like every student to acquire during his or her time at UB.

“They are important because they will drive the education we provide at the undergraduate, graduate and professional levels,” said Zukoski. “We want our students to have domain knowledge and critical thinking; an ability to collaborate in teams on complex problems; an appreciation of many cultures; an ability to navigate the world; excellent communication, information and digital literacy skills; resilience and perseverance; a desire to engage in community affairs; and pride in UB and life-long engagement.”

“But some of the traits are expressed in terms, such as appreciation, resilience, perseverance, that aren’t measurable,” pointed out one of the forum participants. “Could these be expressed as behavioral objectives instead so that we can assess performance?”

Zukoski asked for better terms, stressing that the document is still being refined.

“If there are a better ways to express the traits, I’d like to hear them,” responded Zukoski. “The words are there because those are traits we’d like students to have. If they can be turned into behavioral language, I’d like to hear about it.”

One UB student at the session claimed that many of his classmates, who will be affected greatly by the outcome of Realizing UB 2020, are simply not taking part in the process.

“I had two sessions so far with students,” said Zuksoki. “That’s where I picked up the issue of pride—that’s why it shows up. I’m working to put together another session with students to discuss the current document, but I need your ideas and ideas from all students. I want to know if the apparatus we have is capturing what they have to say or if the apparatus needs to be expanded.”

The theme concept permeates the latest draft of Realizing UB 2020.

Each theme is an investigation of a major global challenge or large area of scholarly inquiry that leverages the university’s strategic strengths and can be used as organizational principles that inform programs and influence how the university will hire faculty, educate students and engage the larger community.

“There has been a lot of acceptance on the idea of themes,” said Zukoski. “There was, however, a lot of feedback on what the themes should be. They have changed and those changes are reflected in the document.”

The themes of health, justice and the environment have been in the document from the start. Innovation and humanity, meantime, have been added and are open for discussion. Innovation leans toward the areas of technology and entrepreneurship, while humanity explores what it means to be human: experiences, behaviors, ideas and societal influences on the human condition.

Creativity has been dropped as a possibility.

“We heard that, as a theme, it didn’t speak to the needs of large areas of human endeavor in the development of culture,” said Zukoski. “Yes, everyone needs to be creative, but as a theme, it didn’t capture elements that we could build programs around.”

Although not absent from the current version of Realizing UB 2020, one audience member noted that athletics has a less-visible presence than it did in the first document.

“There is no walking away from athletics at the level it is right now,” explained Zukoski. “If we as a campus are to be proud about our university, then we must acknowledge that athletics is an amazing mechanism for generating that pride.”

Zukoski said there is still work to be done on the document and told the audience that every page is stamped “Draft.”

“The document is explaining what we have proposed as a university,” he said. “It has changed over time as a result of people embracing or rejecting those proposals.”

The deadline for feedback on the latest version of Realizing UB 2020 is May 6 and a final published statement of institutional direction is scheduled for May 15. The first step of the implementation phase will be a memo to deans, vice presidents and vice provosts asking for plans that align with the strategic intention of the document. Implementation strategies will be developed over the summer.

That wisdom of that timeline, with additional work taking place after the semester, was questioned by one participant since it would exclude many of the faculty.

“One of the challenges we face in higher education is the timeframe on which we operate,” Zukoski said. "The number of weeks we as a campus have do business is stunningly short. Higher education can’t work that way anymore. Things around us are changing too fast. We have to come up with ways of communicating, holding conversations and reaching decisions that are rapid," he said. "That’s something we have to think about. How do we begin to change, given the pressures that are acting upon us from the outside world? We need to be nimble and it’s one of things I’ve learned in the seven months we’ve been working on this process.”