On Nov. 7, the Students’ Association held a Town Hall Meeting to discuss the University’s new College Strategic Plan. Dean of the College Richard Feldman and Dean of the College Faculty Peter Lennie detailed the plan, which originated in fall 2005.
The plan began with an evaluation of the University now.
“All serious plans start with an assessment of the current position,” Lennie said. He noted that among the University’s greatest strengths are research distinction in quantitative social sciences, sciences and engineering, the unique Rochester curriculum and the integration of arts and sciences with engineering.
Lennie cites that among the University’s greatest weaknesses is a small faculty size, which not only limits the range and depth of research and undergraduate programs, but also limits the University’s reputation among its peers, all of which have larger faculties. In addition, the assessment found a deficiency in programs, both professionally-based programs and programs focused on the world beyond the United States.
The greatest opportunities found for growth include partnerships with the Eastman School of Music, the George Eastman House and the School of Medicine and Dentistry. The University also wants to increase its international enrollment, which would further international awareness of the school.
There is a decline in the number of college-bound 18-year-olds in the state, and part of the Strategic Plan covers the importance of ensuring recruitment from New York as well as a larger geographic range.
Lennie took the stage to present the plan’s intentions for growth in faculty and students, as well as in programs.
“The need for strengthening and enlarging the faculty is essential because it permits core departments to become more competitive and creates opportunities for program development in key areas,” Lennie said. Over the next decade, the faculty will increase from 320 to 400 members. The Undergraduate enrollment will increase from 4,000 to 5,000 students and the number of Ph.D. students will increase from 900 to 1,100.
Internationally, the Strategic Plan will enable different types of programs, such as international relations, area studies, global studies and study abroad.
“These programs will capture problems that are fundamentally important in the 21st century,” Lennie said. “Only 20 percent of you study abroad now. Because of requirements, especially with science majors, it is hard to get students to study abroad. We want to remove those barriers and make studying abroad a visible priority.”
Programs that connect the humanities and arts to science and engineering are also in the works. Partnerships with Eastman and the George Eastman House are being made. Programs that focus on studying significant historical building projects, combining engineering, architecture, art and art history, are also part of the Strategic Plan.
Because of the school’s relatively small size as a research university, science and engineering partnerships will embrace life sciences, such as computational and physical biology, genomics and systems biology and nanoscience with relation to medicine. Alternative energy is also a focus.
“Energy conservation and management is a big issue and will become a bigger issue in the future,” Lennie said. Photovoltaic devices, which use sunlight to create energy, and fuel cells, which create energy from hydrogen and oxygen using water, are being explored.
“Some people believe that the point of higher education is to prepare you for professional life. Right now, there is an unmet demand for programs that offer pre-professional training,” Lennie said. To fill this void, plans for business-related degrees, partnered with the Simon School of Business, and public health degrees, partnered with the School of Medicine and Dentistry, will be offered.
Feldman discussed the changes in academic life included in the Strategic Plan. Undergraduate research is a large part of this.
“We are looking to strengthen the engagement of undergraduates with the faculty through enlarged opportunities for research,” Feldman said. “We want to provide students with ways to get to research conferences and stabilize the funding of the Journal of Undergraduate Research. Another possibility is research scholarships for incoming freshmen, which would provide them with stipends over the summer so they could not spend the summer painting houses, but stay here.”
Advising policies will also change. Because of the lack of mandatory adviser meetings, many students are misinformed about their requirements, leading to lower retention rates.
“Here’s a striking fact: On average, three to four percent of students who make it to senior year don’t graduate. Most who don’t finish have a couple courses that are missing. Sometimes it’s that they didn’t finish a cluster or [the] freshman writing requirement or are only a course short because of a dropped course. That’s a shame. Our dropping and repeating policies are extremely liberal and, beyond freshman year, advising is independent. We think we shouldn’t make it quite that easy to fall behind,” Feldman said.
The school also wants to enroll more minority students and employ more minority faculty members. “It’s no secret that minority enrollment here is not quite what we’d like it to be, and we think we can do better at that,” Feldman said.
Two additional “concept pieces” were also introduced at the meeting. These include a Performing Arts Village, which would expand Todd Union and renovate Strong Auditorium, as well as upgrades to athletic facilities by renovating Fauver Stadium and creating new indoor athletic spaces.
“They are not part of the plan. They are things we’d like to do when we secure the resources to do them,” Lennie said.
Infrastructure changes, such as smart classrooms and new teaching spaces, are expected necessities due to growth in the University. This includes 600 undergraduate beds in addition to the Riverview Apartments and dining capacity for 600 additional undergraduates.
The Strategic Plan will continue to be discussed next semester at later Town Hall Meetings as new developments take shape.
Schneier is a member of the class of 2011.