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New Goals Reaffirm Commitment to Collaboration

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November 16, 2004

Northwestern, building on a plan that guided the University's investment of new funds from 1997 through 2003, has updated its "highest order of excellence" framework with new institutional goals, priorities and strategies.

The "Highest Order of Excellence" for 2005-2010 outlines a broad plan for leveraging strengths, addressing weaknesses, and developing teaching and research programs of distinction.

Several committees worked throughout last year to develop ideas and strategies for the new framework. The primary committee for defining an academic "vision," composed of 18 diverse and distinguished faculty members, met regularly with the Provost and other senior administrators to challenge conventional thinking and come to consensus.

Parallel work groups on student quality and recruitment, administrative infrastructure and internal communications assessed priorities and needs in their areas and submitted final reports that were reviewed by the Provost and the primary faculty committee. The final document is a synthesis of all these efforts.

"More than 200 members of the faculty, staff and student body helped us formulate these general directions," said Provost Lawrence B. Dumas. "We are eager to share them now with the rest of the campus community so that many more people can begin helping us work on implementation plans."

The updated "highest order" affirms and builds upon Northwestern's culture of collaboration and cooperation among disciplines, and among scholarly research, teaching and real-world practice.

"The Highest Order of Excellence outlines flexible ideas to move the University toward an overarching interdisciplinary vision," Dumas said. "We value a continuing spirit of collaborative, pioneering creative work and learning where the edges of academic disciplines overlap. We appreciate the creative tension between strong disciplinary and interdisciplinary pursuits, and we intend to maintain a sound balance between them." 

The updated Highest Order of Excellence is described in three parts -- Faculty and the Environment for Creative Work; Students and the Environment for Learning; and The Enabling Infrastructure -- and emphasizes the following broad goals:

• Sustainable mechanisms for innovation in scholarly research

• New visions for undergraduate learning

• Support for community-building efforts

• A flexible, service-oriented administrative culture

Faculty and the Environment for Creative Work

A key goal is to attract scholars to contribute to a tradition of collaboration and to retain faculty because the culture and diversity of connections made here cannot be replicated elsewhere. The University is committed to building and institutionalizing sustainable processes and investing in projects that have the potential to transform the work of faculty and, perhaps, the institution as a whole. Initiatives could range from the establishment of new centers or institutes to the reorganization or redesign of existing programs. The faculty-driven Program Review process will continue to be the chief venue for these evaluations. 

Strategies to accomplish these goals include:

• Increasingly link faculty recruitment to interdisciplinary strategic initiatives, including faculty whose work involves broad, multi-disciplinary areas and scholars who have formed, or will form, research teams.

• Create ongoing budget lines for seeding and launching new initiatives.

• Establish criteria and a decision-making structure for new investments and for elimination of practices/projects not aligned with an overall institutional strategy.

Students and the Environment for Learning

The University seeks to offer students more unifying experiences and ways of belonging to the University as a whole -- by providing a consistently high quality of classroom teaching and curricula as well as special opportunities for immersion in an intellectually or artistically challenging project.

Specific strategies could include:

• Formalizing a university-wide structure for supervised "immersion" experiences.

• Developing programs supporting a sophomore year "theme."

• Developing courses for introductions to modes of thought of broad academic categories.

• Encouraging more cross-department and school teaching and programming.

• Encouraging new designs in PhD student training.

• Encouraging undergraduate-graduate-faculty interactions and team-building.

• Refining admissions strategies to analyze criteria for admission and to more effectively recruit top-rated candidates.

The Enabling Infrastructure

New strategies for enabling faculty and student success include:

• Dedicating specialized staff to assist faculty with developing and implementing new initiatives.

• Positioning staff as a "capital asset" and developing new mechanisms for compensating, rewarding, developing and retaining exceptional performers.

• Piloting alternative administrative support models, such as groups of highly skilled specialist staff serving multiple units.

• Supporting efforts to create a stronger sense of community.

• Implementing recommendations from the Task Force on Internal Communications and reinforcing University-level brand identity in a decentralized environment. 

Dumas said that potential new revenues from patented research have raised expectations for spending and investment, but prudent stewardship dictates that those funds be used to promote long-term institutional stability and to provide continuing support for experimentation and innovation. 

"We expect that the revenues currently anticipated from commercialized research will be deployed to finish the existing program of facilities construction; to build endowments for research support, graduate financial aid, and facility renewal and replacement; and to invest selectively in 'transforming' strategies," he said. "We will continue to look to philanthropy, strategic internal resource allocation, and enlightened management practices to sustain momentum along our advancement path."

Dumas said the University looks forward to working with faculty, staff, students, alumni and trustees to fulfill shared ambitions and welcomes comments on the Highest Order of Excellence and proposals consistent with its intentions. 

The Highest Order of Excellence document can be viewed at: http://www.northwestern.edu/provost/highestorder. Background reports from the work groups on student quality and recruitment, administrative infrastructure and internal communications are also available there.

Feedback is welcome at:  nu-provost@northwestern.edu or mmccoy@northwestern.edu.

Topics: University News