Academic information system vital to UB;
Provost's report calls it the 'number 1 priority' for the current academic year

News Services Associate Editor

The creation of an academic information system that will help UB assess its academic programs and measure its performance as an academic and research institution is cited by Provost Thomas E. Headrick as the "number one priority" for the current academic year in the second version of his ongoing academic planning report.

The report-published as an insert in this issue of the Reporter and available on UB Wings at http://wings.buffalo.edu/provost/planningreportII/-also stresses the importance of academic planning by individual units within the university.

In "Planning Report II," Headrick restates the objectives and main points of his previous planning report, responds to comments from the university community elicited by the earlier report and outlines decisions that already have been made, some that will be made, and issues that need further consideration.

Discussions ignore main message

He also says he believes the main message of his initial planning report "has been largely ignored in the public discussions."

Headrick has projected a 15 percent increase in operating resources over a 10-year span that can be used for academic purposes.

However, unless some changes are made in the current systems of decision-making and resource allocation, he notes, "our chance of frittering away opportunities is reasonably high."

The changes that are necessary involve academic unit planning, collaboration in planning and faculty appointments and development in disciplines that span departments and schools, support for faculty initiatives that require a mix of disciplinary perspectives, integration of planning and delivery of undergraduate education and pursuit of resources other than state tax dollars.

Headrick stresses that the entire UB community must work together to make these changes to ensure academic quality and excellence.

"In the future, our culture will have to support greater cooperation and collaboration among academic units, more teamwork among administrators and academic units, and more conscious concern for the whole university, as well as its several parts," he says.

Entrepreneurism needed

Moreover, the university will have to be more alert to new opportunities to generate revenue.

"Our culture and administrative structures," he says, "must encourage academic innovation and entrepreneurism because that is the context in which higher education will function and succeed in the 21st century."

In stressing the importance of an academic information system, Headrick acknowledges the weaknesses in external ratings such as those prepared by the National Research Council and U.S. News and World Report.

"For this university to function successfully, we need to develop a much more sophisticated system of academic measurement and accounting," he says. UB needs to build "an appropriate local system of academic information and performance measures in which the university community has confidence as accurate representations of our capabilities and performance, and which for the outside world will provide reliable bases for comparing our performance with that of other universities."

To that end, Headrick notes, he has reorganized his office to include a new Office of Academic Information and Planning, headed by Vice Provost Sean Sullivan.

The academic information system will augment the academic planning processes that are under way in the individual units.

Headrick says that some units are in the advanced stage of planning, with a "clear definition of future development and priorities, but with the need to establish performance measures and then make some decisions on implementation and finances in the context of the overall financial capacities of the unit and the university as a whole."

Others are "in progress," while several are "just beginning," he adds.

Headrick says his goal is to move those units in the advanced stage "to some closure" on performance measures, implementation strategy and finances as quickly as possible during this academic year, with the remaining units moving to the advanced stage or beyond by Fall 1998.

The report, which Headrick says is not a final plan but the next stage in the process "of shaping the future of this university and making some critical choices," outlines other decisions that have been made to move the university-wide planning process forward:

- Formation of a College of Arts and Sciences that would encompass the current faculties of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, Social Sciences and Arts and Letters. Two committees have been formed; one to search for a dean for the new college, another to lay the foundation for the college.

- Integration of student academic services, including undergraduate admissions, student records and registration, financial aid, student accounts and academic advising, under a single structure in the provost's office.

- Additional support, through the second phase of the Educational Technology Action Plan, for the academic units to expand uses of technology in teaching and learning. This additional support brings to $8 million the amount of new and reallocated funds invested to support educational technology during the past two years

- Creation of the University-Business Alliance. UB is in the final stages of setting up an organization that will support and expand the university's connection to industry. The alliance, which would bring together The Center for Industrial Effectiveness (TCIE), the Strategic Partnership for Industrial Resurgence (SPIR), the Greater Regional Industrial Technology (GRIT) Program and the Office of Technology Transfer, will provide easy access for local industries seeking university help and will arrange opportunities for faculty to work with industry on projects of mutual interest.

- Formation of a task force to address issues concerning interdisciplinary centers and institutes. These include developing guidelines for formation, support and dissolution of the structures, and defining relationships between departments and the interdisciplinary organizations with respect to appointment, tenure and promotion, allocation of faculty assignments and decisions concerning incentives and rewards.

Two proposals for institutes-one for Research and Education on Women and Gender and the other for Research and Education on Environment and Society-have received some start-up funding from the provost's office. Headrick also says that several proposals for centers-some with significant potential for external support-will be reviewed later in the academic year, once the task force has filed a report.

The issue of interdisciplinary institutes, centers and initiatives is one that raised widespread reactions from members of the university community last spring, Headrick notes.

The resistance generated in some parts of the university, he notes, "has been out of proportion to the positive impact they might have on the internal structure of the university or the academic work of any individual faculty member."

In addressing some of the concerns that have been raised, Headrick points out that the ideas for interdisciplinary structures mentioned in his initial planning report were based on proposals from faculty, and on areas where the common interests are shared by numerous departments and schools, such as the biological and chemical sciences.

On the subject of promotion and tenure, he says it would be "both sensible and fair" for junior colleagues to be evaluated by senior colleagues who are working with them on interdisciplinary endeavors. And departments and departmental colleagues certainly would retain a role in such decisions, he adds, since the process depends upon the "well-founded judgments of many participants."

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