King’s pursues new strategic plan

University renews its priorities during tumultuous time

This story has been updated since initially published.

University of King's College campus
The University of King’s College will attempt to define itself as an institution in its new strategic plan. Photo credit: Chris Putnam

The University of King’s College is beginning a discussion process that will determine its priorities for the next half decade or more.

The university, at the request of president George Cooper, launched a strategic planning process on Jan. 18. The new strategic plan — to be developed over the next five months in consultation with staff, students, faculty and alumni — will determine the overall direction the university will take over the next five to 10 years.

The process is being started now, says Cooper, partly as a precursor to a new capital campaign for the university. The campus’s New Academic Building was the result of the last campaign in 2000.

“The fact of the matter is, to have a successful capital campaign, you really have to have a strategic plan so everybody’s lined up behind the vision of the university,” Cooper says.

The goals set out in the plan will not be so general that they are “mushy and meaningless,” says Cooper, but not so specific that they’re “out of date in six months.” As well as its “vision,” the plan will determine the university’s teaching and spending priorities, and will have a significant influence on future budgets.

During the last two years, King’s has already adjusted its traditional focus on undergraduate education, launching master’s programs in journalism and creative non-fiction.

A collaborative process

The strategic planning process is intended to be a fully collaborative one in which all members of the university community strive to reach a general consensus. But in recent months, the staff, students and administration of the university haven’t always been united.

The planning process begins in the midst of a tumultuous year at King’s. The university’s longtime bursar Gerry Smith, who was brought up on sex charges in March of last year, was placed on paid leave and eventually fired for undisclosed reasons in November. Former president Anne Leavitt proved unpopular with students and staff and resigned over the summer, just 11 months into a four-year term. An audit made public early this month revealed widespread irregularities in the college’s spending and record-keeping.

Cooper says those events weren’t major factors in the decision to renew the college’s direction.

“If everything were swimming along very smoothly,” he says, “I think we would still want to do a strategic plan.”

Nor is the process specifically about “rebuilding consensus.” Even so, adds the president, he hopes that “the simple act of working together” and building a shared vision for the university will “bring about a sense of collective well-being.”

Nick Stark, president of King’s Students’ Union, sees the strategic plan as an opportunity to, among other things, define the university as one governed under a collaborative, collegial model instead of a top-down, corporate model.

Events during Leavitt’s tenure as university president — including the removal of student representation from two financial committees and the signing of a new food contract without consulting the student union — left many students feeling marginalized, Stark says. The administration’s decision to go against student opinion in approving a new athletic fee last semester renewed those feelings.

The KSU has “a lot of faith” in Cooper and his commitment to including students in the college’s decision-making process, says Stark. “At the same time, we want to make sure that what happened with Dr. Leavitt doesn’t happen again, and that there are some guarantees that students will be listened to.”

Neil Robertson, a faculty representative on the King’s board of governors and the strategic plan steering committee, says he considers these to be governance issues separate from the strategic plan. They’re already being addressed under a policy renewal process that’s been underway for months.

The King’s community has the unity it needs to proceed with the strategic plan, he says — in fact, the process is based on that assumption.

“My sense is that there’s fundamental confidence that we’re on the right track and people are trying to do the right things,” says Robertson.

The steering committee will consult with the King’s community until May 6 and present the final strategic plan to the board of governors on June 20.

View the University of King’s College 2013 Strategic Planning Primer here:

Update: Jan. 25, 2:15 pm: added document