Strategic plan: Beneficial or superficial?

The Observer

On Oct. 9, Case Western Reserve University released its draft of the new strategic plan for the next five years. The draft outlines some general directions the university plans to move towards in terms of academics, staff engagement and community outreach. The overall tone in the draft of the strategic plan is clear: turn CWRU into one of the big players in the national academic field.

In the new draft, CWRU strongly emphasizes interdisciplinary measures, like creating a program in data sciences for undergraduates. It is definitely a positive move, as disparate departments at CWRU often tend to stick to their own silos — to the detriment of the student body. The trend of kicking off huge projects with surrounding institutions has already started to point upward, as exemplified by the university’s recent collaboration deal with the Cleveland Clinic and donations to the CWRU/CMA arts Ph.D program.

All the talk about interdisciplinary projects is certainly a step forward, but it is difficult not to notice that the Weatherhead School of Management is not mentioned as a prominent component in the huge swath of interdisciplinary programs. In the entire draft, Weatherhead pops up a grand total of eight times. That is not a lot compared to the other schools and colleges, especially those specializing in STEM fields.

Speaking of STEM disciplines, it would be refreshing to see the university direct some of its focus on other areas as well. It is understandable that CWRU strives to encourage its students to pick the STEM path, but it shouldn’t happen at the expense of humanities or holistic liberal arts education. The university should not go back to being simply the Case Institute of Technology— which is why it should also give its humanities departments an opportunity to blossom beyond their current boundaries. The new Milton and Tamar Maltz Performing Arts Center at The Temple – Tifereth Israel, to be located on west campus, is a good example of the university making major plans for departments other than those in the STEM fields. But it is also a good example of the university moving the arts programs even further from the rest of the campus— both literally and figuratively. Harkening back to Western Reserve University, CWRU has impeccable arts and humanities departments, but in the long run they are not given the attention that they deserve. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that CWRU consists of both those historic institutions, rather than one or the other.

Another point of interest in the draft concerns staff engagement. It is noted in the draft, rightfully so, that CWRU must take action to accentuate the importance of its staff. However, the proposed solution to this issue only involves surveying the staff on their experiences at CWRU. The final version of the strategic plan should involve more concrete outreach plans than this. It would be beneficial to see what exactly the university is going to do to engage its staff beyond a simple survey. Perhaps it would be better to expand the staff representation in the faculty senate or other university forums, or to create an entirely new and more efficient means for staff to communicate with those who set the agenda.

Despite the issues with the draft, mentioned above, it does include a few highlights worth praising. One of them is the planned appointment of a vice provost for educational innovation, who “will work closely with faculty to ensure that pioneering programs meet the university’s standards for high quality.”

It is about time the university has a position to oversee the quality of education and teaching, and not just the accomplishments of individual educators, especially when it comes to brand new programs. Before a new program can actually work well, the faculty involved actually needs to know what they are supposed to do and how they can reap the best results from their respective programs.

Another merit of the draft is the emphasis on entrepreneurship programs like think[box], FUSION and Blackstone. It is delightful to see the university enhance the entrepreneurship of its students, staff and faculty by offering opportunities that encourage them to put their skills into action. However, CWRU must also make sure that it incorporates programs reaching out further into the vibrant startup community of Cleveland and Northeast Ohio. CWRU should be stretching out to programs like FlashStarts and Shaker Launchhouse to get out of the infamous University Circle bubble, and offering programs that emphasize the burgeoning local startup community.

It is also uplifting to see that CWRU is planning to form a partnership with a qualified child care provider close to the campus that would offer child care for the members of the CWRU community who also have to support a family. This will certainly increase the desirability of the university as a workplace, not to mention the fact that it simply is the right thing to do overall and demonstrates forward thinking on the part of campus planners. Hopefully, the plan will be realized sooner rather than later.

All in all, the strategic plan is shaping up to be largely positive for CWRU. The university is at a turning point, with the opportunity to cement its place as Ohio’s preeminent institution of higher learning. With a few slight revisions and a little more foresight, CWRU may just inch a little further into the limelight, for better or worse.

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