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Auburn University has begun the process of creating a new strategic plan to replace the current plan, which expires this year. 

While the previous plan crafted in 2013 was led by the provost, the new plan will be spearheaded by faculty.

"As I thought about a strategic plan for the future, when people like (provost) Bill (Hardgrave) and I start them, they become very top-down and it stifles ideas and creativity," said university president Steven Leath during a recent Board of Trustees work session. "We decided to have a faculty-led strategic plan, and I asked two of our most prominent faculty ... to lead a strategic plan that is highly inclusive of faculty, alumni, citizens, have listening sessions across the state to fully engage the trustees and develop a strategic plan that goes from how we’re going to position these 500 faculty we’re going to hire, to facilities to infrastructure."

Leath tapped Beth Guertal, professor in the Department of Crop Soil and Environmental Sciences, and Bruce Tatarchuk, professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering, to lead the process of developing the strategic plan, which will take place over the coming months and be finalized by the board in February. 

"The idea is that we create a fairly lean and flexible document that will show vision and where we want this university to go in the next round of strategic plan," said Guertal. "Our vision here is maybe to get something a little on the leaner side, but that still encompasses all of the input from the wide variety of Auburn alumni, students, as well as stakeholders who may not have a direct association with Auburn."

Engaging stakeholders that don't have a direct association to Auburn was part of a homework assignment given to Board of Trustee members. 

"In looking at strategic plans that have been faculty-led or institutional-led in the past, it’s kind of an exercise where you circle your wagons or your family. Oftentimes, the muskets are pointed inward, and if you spend too much time drinking your own Kool-Aid, you don’t get the diversity, particularly in the strategic plan that you’re seeking," said Tatarchuk, who tasked trustees with suggesting "three to six names of key influencers who are important in us partnering and achieving our land-grant mission, but who aren’t normally in the Auburn family."

Tatarchuk suggested that trustees could start with plant managers in their district with the goal of creating partnerships, as well as engaging recruiters like the Department of Commerce. 

"There’s some wonderful entities across the state that look for industrial recruiting and partnership recruiting, and that’s another important one for you all to start to think about," said Tatarchuk.

He also asked trustees to take part in listening sessions that will be held across the state from August to October with stakeholder groups, faculty, staff, students, alumni and economic development partners. 

The end goal will be to have a plan that provides actionable, distinguishable and attainable strategic goals that can be measured, assessed and implemented, Tatarchuk said. 

"It’s a complicated marketplace out there, so product differentiation is important," he said. "A lot of times with plans, you get an evergreen list of a lot of nice platitudes, but they’re not specific, actionable items that you can measure and assess relative to your ROIs. And finally, we have to prioritize some of those. If we try to do everything, the probability of not achieving those will go up."

The faculty-led group, which includes assistant professors, Student Government Association representatives, department heads and deans, will meet about every two weeks this summer to come up with goals and strategies, said Guertal.

"To start with this idea of being a little flexible and lean, our planning team is a much smaller group of people, and again with this idea of centering with a kind of faculty and bottom-up participation," she said. 

After the listening sessions are held from August to October, the group will work on a draft of the strategic plan. The goal is to have the finished plan before the BOT in February.

BOT President Pro Tempore Michael DeMaioribus voiced his concern that some ideas could reach maturity during the process without input from the board between meetings. Leath said that the university will work on ways to keep trustees informed and that they will be given updates at board meetings. He also mentioned enrollment numbers will likely be addressed during this process.

"As these things start to develop, certain questions are going to bubble up, one of which will be undergraduate size," Leath said. "That’s going to be presented in front of the board at some point. Whether you want to weight in or not, you’ll have the opportunity."

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