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Blueprint for a bold future: USF unveils its 10-year vision

Mark Parker

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University of South Florida President Steven Currall unveiled the university’s ambitious strategic plan at the Board of Trustees Strategic Initiatives Committee Workshop Wednesday.

Titled “A Blueprint for a Bold Future,” the proposal is wide in scope as it outlines goals through 2031.

In December, Currall appointed a 19-member Strategic Planning Advisory Task Force. Beneath the shadow of a global health crisis and social unrest, they were given six key objectives:

  • Solicit feedback from faculty, staff, and students – including mandatory consultations with leadership from all three campuses, as well as Tampa Bay regional stakeholders.
  • Develop a formal vision and strategy.
  • Articulate the university’s core commitments and values.
  • Assess existing strengths and current gaps.
  • Describe the university’s opportunities, sources of differentiation and sustainable advantage, and contemporary societal dynamics.
  • Articulate an aspirational strategy for the entire institution.

Mike Carrere, Chairman of the Strategic Initiatives Committee, made it clear from the onset that this was the first version of the plan, however. He also said they will periodically revisit the meaning and implications of the vision moving forward.

“We think we have a lot of appropriate flexibility built into the plan as well,” Carrere said. “And I’m just so proud about the spirit of collaboration and partnership and involvement that we’ve had on this journey.”

Brian Ten Eyck, University Leadership Liaison for the committee, noted that they built on the work that was done through the process of consolidation and accreditation, as well as previous strategic initiatives and accountability plans.

“We felt like we were beginning this strategic renewal with a fairly strong sense of institutional identity, as well as a strong sense of the aspirations that this newly consolidated university has,” said Ten Eyck.

One key aspect of that identity is as a leading research facility that is also located in a major metropolitan area.

Ten Eyck explained that out of approximately 4,300 institutes of higher education in the United States, USF is one of only 165 that conduct at least $100 million in research annually. Considering other factors, the space that the university occupies becomes even smaller.   

“When you think about the 165, how many of those are public research universities? Of those, how many sit in an urban or metropolitan setting? That number starts to dwindle and we’re talking about handfuls to dozens,” said Ten Eyck.

Will Weatherford, Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees, gave his approval of the draft and its holistic approach to show how far the university has come through both historical perspective and data. He also feels it gives a good sense of direction to where the university is headed – specifically as an urban research center.

“I really enjoyed the focus on the natural tailwinds behind the urban universities,” said Weatherford. “There’s not a lot of research based universities that are the caliber of ours that are in an urban market that is growing as fast as ours. People are already wanting to be here, and we’re very well positioned to utilize that to our advantage.”

While the plan is somewhat general in nature, the seven specific signature initiatives the university outlines are:

  • Global and National Security
  • Environmental, Oceanographic, and Sustainable Sciences
  • Health, Society, and Biomedical Science
  • Social Justice and Human Rights
  • Design, Arts, and Performance
  • Analytics and Data Science
  • Biology 2.0

“Because of our direction as an urban research institute, and because of what we’ve accomplished historically, and because of what we can bring to bear on a large scale, these are the areas that we think we can really move the meter on,” said Carrere.

Carrere also said that while this is not an annual plan, he believes that clear objectives should be set in order to judge progress on implementing the initiatives.

“I do believe that we need to attach some specific goals and some measurements, and some accountability on these signature initiatives so that we can see if in fact we are moving the meter in these directions,” said Carrere.

Social justice and human rights are listed as both an institutional core commitment and a strategic initiative, an area that Carrere singled out as one the university needs to be clear in how it is addressing those goals.  

“I’m just trying to look at ways that we can touch more things and accomplish more things that help the role that we are trying to play as an urban institute,” he said.

Trustee Charles Tokarz explained the key differences between social justice and human rights as a core commitment and as a strategic initiative.

“Human rights, anti-racism, and dignity as a core commitment is about treating each other with respect and giving each other every opportunity to express themselves and acting as decent people,” said Tokarz.

“The strategic initiative… it’s about research, it’s about generating knowledge of our society and trying to rationalize and bring together in one initiative all of these separate research programs that are focusing on that.”

While this meeting focused on the USF system as a whole, a related topic on the St. Petersburg campus that has been receiving a lot of attention is declining enrollment – especially among African-Americans. This was discussed at the USF Board of Trustees Academics and Campus Environment Committee meeting on Tuesday.

According to data as of May 10, USFSP has dramatically seen its freshmen enrollment increase year over year, especially with people of color. The overall number of deposits for the 2021 summer/fall semesters is up 87.9%, from 423 to 795. Then number of Black students has increased from 18 to 48, a 166.7% increase, and the number of Hispanic students rose from 87 to 173, a gain of 174%.

“It seems we will not just beat but exceed our goal of enrolling a pretty significant number and an enhanced diversity of freshmen on the St. Petersburg campus,” said USF Provost Ralph Wilcox. “My sense is that we’re off to a good start, and now it is time to build off that and systemize what we are doing. There’s still work to be done.”

Currall explained that he appreciated the process that went into creating this vision. Specifically, taking the many voices of the various university stakeholders and distilling them into a single document that is meant as a flexible guide.

“I’m so pleased with the way the community has handled this process, and it really has exemplified our principles of community and how we deliberate, how we engage with each other as we think about the future of the university,” he said. “I’m just so grateful and thankful that everybody has coalesced around this.”

 

 

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