Engaging the Future

Draft Report of the Task Force on Strategic Planning

June 22, 2006

11. A Planning Process Designed to Promote Choice


The fiscal year 2006-07 is the final year in Western's first multi-year academic and budget plan, launched in 2003-04. The use of a multi-year framework with annual updates affords the University and its Faculties, Schools and Departments the opportunity to contemplate bolder and more transformative changes than would be possible in a series of discrete annual budget cycles.

"Identification and strategic investment in areas of established quality and potential promise are fundamental to the academic planning process."

A new planning cycle will be initiated for the period 2007-08 through 2010-11, calling on academic and support units to identify priorities and opportunities within a more stable fiscal framework than has been the case in years. The Provincial government has established its financial plans for postsecondary education through 2009-10, and has announced a framework for setting tuition fees for the same period. As well as establishing the overall financial plan, the Provincial government has articulated its priorities within the plan: large-scale expansion of graduate education; enhanced funding for clinical education; and general improvement in per-student funding to bring Ontario's universities closer to the national average. In addition, the long-standing issue of unfunded student enrollment from past enrollment growth is to be fully resolved by 2007-08. At the Federal level, Canada's universities are seeking continued progress toward the full funding of the indirect costs of research, sustained momentum in the funding of university-based research through all three granting councils, support for research infrastructure, and significant expansion of fellowship support for graduate students.

Identification and strategic investment in areas of established quality and potential promise are fundamental to the academic planning process.In most cases, this is most appropriately done at the Department, School and Faculty level, with a very clear definition of academic strengths and priorities. As in the past, the new planning cycle will provide encouragement and incentives for the development of distinctive programs of teaching and research, and will seek evidence that we are well positioned to compete successfully in the proposed areas. Selective and strategic faculty and student recruitment targets will be an essential quality of any plan, including consideration of space requirements, within the context of the principles enunciated in Western's Long-Range Space Plan. There also remains an expectation that units will explore opportunities to reduce or eliminate some areas of activity that are of much lower priority in order to invest more heavily in areas of greater strength or potential.

Within this context of relative longer-term stability, sufficient flexibility should be retained at both the unit and institutional levels to permit vigorous responses to initiatives that present themselves with very limited time-lines. Such "nimbleness" in our appointments process, in the establishment of new programs, and in our response to technological developments will allow Western to capitalize on significant opportunities for academic advancement.

The individual ideas and efforts of faculty, staff and students are the roots of Western's success. From these roots, we also draw the energy for broader initiatives that span the academy. Faculties, Schools and Departments must shape their academic plans in ways that enable development of meaningful interactions across units and disciplines, and support the additional work that this activity entails. Increasingly, the pursuit of scholarship leads to new areas, which transcend traditional disciplinary boundaries. Our planning process must accommodate such interaction among units while still respecting the appropriate discipline-based academic and administrative structures. One of Western's great attributes is the enormous breadth of our program offerings and faculty expertise. We should take advantage of this strength by actively encouraging and supporting collaborative ventures that engage faculty members from different disciplinary groups.

Western draws great strength from its decentralized governance in which significant autonomy is provided to Faculties in budgeting and in setting academic priorities. At the same time, our University should embrace, from time to time, opportunities and directions that are larger than any one Faculty, and whose governance needs to cut across existing administrative structures to be successful. Western must foster an environment in which the development of such projects and programs is encouraged, both in principle and in practice. The pathways to success for pan-University initiatives should be open and clearly marked for those who would like to take them, whether one is proposing an undergraduate program that draws courses and modules from several Faculties, or contemplating a graduate program or facility housing faculty, staff and students from several parts of the university.

In the spirit of Making Choices, we should also recognize areas of scholarship and education in which Western can be the very best in the world, and act boldly to secure that position. We must make a special effort to identify, support and then regularly evaluate such 'signature' programs, recognizing their critical role in establishing Western's visibility and stature on the international stage.

As we plan our academic directions in terms of faculty, staff and students, and the teaching and research programs that they will populate, our aspirations must be carefully kept in balance and closely coupled with the space needed for success. Western's ambitious building and modernization plan for the period 2006-2013 offers an unparalleled opportunity for significant reflection and change. We can expand along traditional lines, as we have done in the past. But we have the opportunity to 'decompress' existing buildings to create meaningful community space. We can also create some facilities populated by interdisciplinary mixes of faculty, students and staff. The opportunities and challenges presented by the latter approach require our careful consideration, and effective administrative structures to support initiatives of this sort.

Our Commitments:

  1. A - Western is committed to a collaborative Planning Process that identifies priorities, links budget decisions to those priorities, and evaluates progress toward the objectives of individual units and the University as a whole. In developing our Academic and Operational Plans, we will ensure that:

11.1 - Faculty, students, and staff have been engaged and their views brought to bear upon the plan within a broadly consultative process.

11.2 - Plans are consistent with the priorities of this Strategic Plan, with investments in faculty, staff, and support resources that are strategic and selective.

11.3 - New initiatives involving collaboration among and across disciplines have been explored and encouraged, through appointments and sharing of resources.

11.4 - Special opportunities exist within the planning process for consortia to bring forward larger projects beyond the scope of individual Faculty or unit planning, with suitable mechanisms for the selection and governance of these pan-University initiatives that fairly recognize the interests of all.

11.5 - Outcomes are identified for the investments being sought. In proposing benchmarks and outcomes, measures should be used that are appropriate for the area.

  1. B - The University-level response to unit plans will involve the allocation of
    resources to allow progress toward agreed-upon objectives, by:

11.6 - Approving faculty appointments that strengthen areas of established or potential strength, or that stimulate interdisciplinary teaching and research.

11.7 - Allocating space in newly constructed or renovated areas that promotes and encourages interaction among faculty, staff and students.

11.8 - Investing resources, including faculty and staff, space and facilities, and library and computing support, in areas demonstrating flexibility, interdisciplinary and collaborative commitment, and innovation in scholarship.

11.9 - Making special allocations to sustain Western's prominence in areas of acknowledged international stature.

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