Nov. 5, 2002

Strategic Plan Takes Shape

Selective Academic Excellence Committee Establishes a Strategic Framework, Announces Writing Program, Areas for Investment

By Thomas Kohout

Work is well underway on the development of the academic excellence component of the comprehensive strategic initiative launched at the start of the 2001–02 academic year.

The initiative, which will establish a three-to-five-year plan to guide GW well into the 21st century, stems from an address by President Trachtenberg before the Board of Trustees June 2001 retreat, during which he outlined the University’s need to “retain our momentum and continue our move into the ranks of the top-tier institutions.”

One year later, a framework for the academic plan, including a model for academic excellence, was presented to the Board of Trustees by Vice President for Academic Affairs Donald R. Lehman. The structure outlined ways to bolster GW baccalaureate programs through enhanced student engagement and a reemphasis on writing. Lehman acknowledges that the University’s current reputation was built in part on strong master’s- and doctoral-level programs, particularly through law and medicine. So additional emphasis will be placed on graduate studies in the form of selective investment in academically excellent doctoral programs, a critical review of the existing programs, and increased support for graduate students.

An important piece of the plan is the development of a targeted writing program featuring an intensive freshman writing seminar and two-credit writing workshops taken in conjunction with classes that have been designated as “writing development” courses. The goal, according to the strategic planning committee report, “is to enable students to express both general and discipline-specific information in written form that is coherent, engaging, and readily comprehended by both lay and professional audiences.”

A writing program task force, co-chaired by Lehman and Columbian College of Arts and Sciences Dean William Frawley, began meeting to build the writing programs following the Board of Trustees meetings in October.

Shortly after the announcement of the strategic initiative, Lehman engaged the faculty to develop proposals to recommend academic areas for additional investment to enhance their growth toward excellence.

When speaking about the importance of getting the faculty invested in the development of the new strategic plan, Lehman only needed two words to describe it — “absolutely critical.”

“What it did for us was educate the community about what the plan was all about,” says Lehman. “It got their commitment to the plan, and it literally got them involved in the plan because they were helping to set the directions within the departments and schools, and many helped develop proposals for consideration.”

A rigorous selection process was established to pare down the many proposals. In the end 24 proposals reached the academic excellence committee. Seven were selected on the basis of their “academic assets, their use of the resources of the Washington metropolitan area, and their involvement with, or contribution to, undergraduate education.” The committee selected: “GW Initiative for Excellence in Transportation Safety and Security”; “Public Policy and Public Service at GW: Building on Our Strengths to Achieve Greater National Distinction and Prominence”; “The Sigur Center for Asian Studies”; “GW Institute for Biomedical Engineering”; “Department of Political Science: Proposal for Investment and Development to Promote Academic Excellence”; “Excellence in History: A Challenging Undergraduate Curriculum”; and Distinguished Graduate Program “Human Evolution at GW.”

A second task force was formed to review the doctoral programs, and it will consider nine criteria: faculty resources and the quality of scholarship; student quality; clear mission; demand for the program; employment opportunities upon graduation; success of the students in the program; special resources required; cost of the program; and national rankings. Lehman is co-chairing the committee with Associate Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies Carol Sigelman. Together, with assistance from the deans, they named to the task force people who have significant experience with doctoral education and have a history of strong research and scholarship. The committee is charged with reviewing all of the existing doctoral programs against the criteria for the doctoral programs plus the criteria used to select the academic excellence areas.

“We’ll start by looking at the data from Institutional Research,” says Lehman. “What we will end up with is a rank-ordered list of doctoral programs. It will be similar to the competition for the areas of investment and development.”

Assessment of the plan throughout its development is vital and, according to Lehman, it will be an ongoing process. Several benchmarks have been established including: retention of undergraduate and graduate students; increased student satisfaction; evolution of greater senior faculty interaction with freshman students; observable improvement in undergraduate writing; and national recognition of academic programs — through faculty fellowships, grant competitions, and student fellowships.

“We are going to be constantly measuring what we are achieving,” says Lehman. “We’re going to measure outcomes and assess the objectives, so at the end of each academic year we’ll have an assessment of our progress.”


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