Published June 19, 2014
To become a top-tier AAU public research university, UB will create a new and distinctive academic direction, prepare its students to become effective leaders in tomorrow’s world and strengthen its economic engagement in the region, Provost Charles F. Zukoski told those gathered on Wednesday and Thursday for Realizing UB 2020 open forums.
“We have been challenged as a university through a period of crushing budget cuts but have been given an opportunity that can give rise to transformation, and the mechanism driving that transformation is captured in the process of Realizing UB 2020,” Zukoski said.
In his State of the University Address in November, President Satish K. Tripathi said UB was poised to begin the “next evolution of UB 2020” and asked Zukoski to help him lead Realizing UB 2020, an initiative that will produce a statement of institutional direction.
The five-month process has no predetermined magnetic north. The Realizing UB 2020 compass needle is being pushed by participation and feedback from the entire university community in a campuswide conversation, taking place in forums like the sessions this week in Harriman Hall and the Center for the Arts, that are capturing all of the discussions that have been held over the past few years.
The forums provide members of the university community with a chance to make further suggestions concerning UB’s direction. Information generated during the forums will be sent to a campus advisory committee and a faculty liaison committee, each charged with ensuring the information gets out to the UB community so that faculty, staff and students have an opportunity to review the ideas and offer feedback.
“We want to have a distinctive academic direction that integrates all of the standard activities of the university in our curriculum, in our research. And that our aspiration is to be a thought and education leader around the world,” Zukoski said. “This is fundamentally about making choices—which paths the university will take, where it will invest and how it plans on measuring success. As an academic institution, our academic strategy will lay out the course we’re taking—everything else supports that strategy, while pointing to the goals we’re trying to reach.”
The concept begins with the outlined goals and subsequent strategies to achieve those goals. With those in place, each proposal that arises from the Realizing UB 2020 process will be closely scrutinized.
“I’m going to ask how well it matches the goal,” Zukoski said.
The strategy choices will build and exert strengths to improve the human condition.
“This is one of the key elements that I want to emphasize,” he said. “For UB to achieve its goals, our whole mission should be about improving the human condition. We should educate our leaders to improve the human condition; we should educate our students to conduct scholarship that improves the human condition.”
That ideal is driving the concept of themes—areas that UB will identify and invest in, Zukoski said. The themes are frameworks to enhance impact by integrating curriculum, research and engagement. Possible themes include health, environment, creativity and justice.
“The philosophy in building this document was that we were going to make proposals and seek feedback,” Zukoski said. “If themes were going to be important…we proposed these four as large questions that capture the strength of UB.”
Although the themes are represented by a single word, there is much more going on behind them. Health, for example, is more than how UB’s medical school delivers health care. It also includes laws and insurance, and could address the economics, ethics, engineering and history of health care as well. The theme will cut across the strengths of the entire institution.
“When discussing the environment, that theme speaks not to the fact that we’re facing an energy crisis; it points to an environmental crisis,” Zukoski said. “The sustainability of our culture is part of that problem, from the food that we eat and the water that we drink. These are environmental questions.”
The themes are now out there to be debated. Zukoski said these are important to look at. If they’re going to be changed, the theme must play into UB’s strengths, while also addressing a problem that is facing all of humanity.
The other key element to the academic strategy is establishing the distinctive traits of the UB graduate. The traits are important because they will begin to drive the curriculum and any changes that might be made to programs.
Zukoski urged faculty, staff and students to share their ideas now, before the comment period closes in late February. The support structures required to implement those strategies will come out a short time later and be available for campus review until mid-March.The implementation strategy, meantime, is initially due toward the beginning of March with feedback scheduled through the end of that mo
Zukoski says all of this input will be brought together and discussed this semester.
“We’ll sort through all of the information and contributions, and publish our final statement of institutional direction in mid-May,” he said.
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