Flying Further, the university’s strategic planning process, is underway
Cindy Leavitt and Dan Berman, co-chairs of the Strategic Planning Steering Committee, share how the group will create an agile, iterative process through which Temple will be better positioned to understand and adapt to the changing landscape of higher education.
Looking forward to 2034—the university’s 150th anniversary—there’s a lot to imagine when thinking about the Temple experience of tomorrow. As the higher education landscape continues to evolve, how will we adapt? How will we respond to the challenges and opportunities ahead?
These are the big questions that the recently launched strategic planning process is taking on. The process, which is governed by a committee structure, represents our long-term initiative to transform Temple’s future.
Here, co-chairs of the strategic planning process steering committee Vice President of Information Technology Services and Chief Information Officer Cindy Leavitt and Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies and Professor of Greek and Roman Classics Dan Berman discuss how the committees are organized, what the work looks like, how the community can get involved and more.
Temple Now: Can you tell us about the name of the strategic planning process? How did you come up with it?
Dan Berman: The name is Flying Further and it was chosen because it represents many of the values that are important to us as an institution—bringing people to new heights in their own achievement; allowing them to go to new places and understand new things; to bring people along, wherever they are, into exploration of new fields and horizons.
I think strategic planning is about looking forward. It’s about discussing, understanding and envisioning what kind of an institution we want to be in the future. And, to me, and I think to many of us who found the Flying Further theme to really be resonant, it's because it encapsulates that. We are flying. We are in motion. We are dynamic. We are moving, but we are not just that, we are going somewhere, right? And we’re bringing people with us.
Cindy Leavitt: We also believe that it emphasizes how much we’ve already done, the excellence that we have already achieved and we have this opportunity to extend it even further to more people, to our community, to Philadelphia and the world. We’re excited about that. To come up with the name itself, the strategic process planning steering committee talked with Strategic Marketing and Communications about what we were hoping to accomplish with this process and with a strategic plan for the university. We used things like word clouds and name associations, and talked through what the possibilities were. After doing that exercise with the marketing team, they used their expertise and came up with some themes and potential names for the group to discuss and vote on. We then talked it through with the executive planning team to make sure that we were aligned and that the name we gave this process spoke to what we were trying to do with it.
TN: How is Flying Further organized? Who’s involved and what are their roles?
DB: We have three committees to help us carry out this process. The first is the executive planning committee, which has eight members and is chaired by Provost JoAnne Epps. That group is charged with oversight of the process, and a coordinating role for the other committees. There are some senior Temple executives as well as two associate deans and university counsel on the executive planning committee. Cindy and I are on this committee, too, because we are co-chairs for the larger committee, the steering committee.
That group is 42 members. As I said, it’s chaired by Cindy, Temple’s CIO, and myself. And it draws, very broadly, on a diverse group of people from around the university. It includes faculty, staff, administrators and students from across the university, as well as alumni and community members. It’s essentially the workhorse committee.
The third group we have is the futures committee, which is made up of deans and vice presidents. They’re charged with functioning as a conduit group to transmit ideas across and between the deans of the schools and colleges and our strategic planning operation. They’ll also offer some guidance and support where necessary, from that level of leadership.
TN: If the steering committee is the “workhorse,” can you give us some specific examples of the work that group is doing?
CL: We determined very quickly that for us to get a very solid understanding, we’re going to have to do a lot more work and a lot more detailed analysis. So, we broke the steering committee into three subgroups. One is focused on externalities—what is happening outside of Temple, in the marketplace, all of the economic, political, social, environmental things that are impacting the university that are outside of our control. That group is chaired by Dan.
We have a subgroup working on internal capabilities—before we look to the future, we need to know where we are today and that’s what we’re focusing on. The internal capabilities group is looking at, “What are we good at and where are the areas where we need to improve, internally, at the university?” That group is being led by Tony Seeton, a professor of management at the Fox School of Business, whose expertise is strategic planning.
The final subgroup is values and culture. They’re looking at, “What do we say our core values are and how can we better live those values as we go forward?” I’m leading that subgroup.
TN: What does the timeline look like? What are the committees doing now and what can we expect in the future?
CL: There are effectively four steps that we are taking in this first iteration of the strategic plan. The first one is where we are now and where we will be for a couple more months, at least. It is the assessment and research phase. In this phase, we want to know who we are, what are we good at? What are our capabilities? We’re looking very deeply at ourselves and where we are today.
The second step is to look where we want to go in the future. And we are going to do that with two statements that those three subgroups will be brought together to develop. The first will be a purpose statement, which is, “Why are we doing what we do?” What we do know is that there’s a very strong mission at Temple, but we want to clearly articulate it because we want that to be a grounding foundation for us to push off of as we fly further.
The other statement that we’ll be working on is a vision statement, which will answer, “Where do we want to go? What do we want to be as we look toward the future?” The future that we’re looking at, the focal point is not five years out, it is 2034, the 150th anniversary of Temple. It’s far enough out that we are looking long-term as we make that vision statement.
The third phase, which we expect to start in the summer, will be trying to identify, “How do we get there? What are the things that we need to do, to get from where we are today to where we want to go?” We’ll identify strategic pillars, goals and tactics. After we identify that, then the final phase is an action plan. We’ll do the work so that we can start seeing the changes and moving in the direction that we want to go.
TN: How are you using research and data to inform this process?
DB: It’s an important focus for us, that all of the assertions or understandings or conclusions that we come to, or stages that we are in, on the way to conclusions, need to be driven by an understanding of the data and the metrics behind them. When engaging in a strategic planning process like this it is important to question assumptions. That goes all the way back to the mission statement and all the way up through the stages that Cindy described. We want to be absolutely sure that how we’re understanding our institution and the building blocks that we’re using to create the pillars that will be our focus for moving forward, are created out of real understanding of the operations, the capabilities, the strengths, the limitations of our institution.
It’s part of our process to understand, not only whether those assertions are able to be backed up, but what underpins them? Why do people believe in them? How we can build on those that we think are important to us and most useful in getting to the place that we want the institution to be.
TN: How can the Temple community get involved with Flying Further?
CL: The first opportunity will be a values survey that will go out just after we get back from the holiday break. We’ll be following up with opportunities for listening sessions and workshops as we go into the new year. We will be using technology since COVID is part of our new reality and will also be posing questions electronically and asking for feedback.
TN: What’s the goal? What outcomes are you working toward?
DB: We are working toward creating a strategic plan, an actual plan that we’ll be using as a way to define the institution’s path forward. But we’re also creating a process and a culture of a process. We want to create a culture on our campus and in our institution that this kind of strategic thinking, this kind of strategic planning is ongoing—it’s always happening, it’s iterative. Instituting an understanding of the importance of this kind of planning and thinking going forward is, I think, the most important goal we have for this activity.
TN: Why start this process now?
CL: It was recognized by the administration and by our Board of Trustees, that because of the changing dynamics in higher education, that we needed to be very intentional about what we were going to do in the future. We need to be very thoughtful and deliberate about how we are moving forward, and not just be reactive.
We did start earlier this year before the pandemic, but COVID just reinforced the rapid changes that are affecting us and that will continue to affect us.
An obvious question to ask is why wouldn’t we just wait for a new president before we started the strategic planning process? And the answer is that it is important for us to do this work, and it is an incredible opportunity for us to understand the university and to build momentum of where we want to go that will support a new president coming in. We’re working closely with the Board of Trustees to make sure that our process is in line with what they are doing with the presidential search to make sure that these processes are supporting each other.
TN: What are you most excited about as Flying Further moves forward?
DB: For me, it’s about the state of the university in our society and the importance of higher education in our culture. It’s really those big questions. We are living through a time when the understanding of what a university degree means to people in our society is changing, not necessarily in a bad way, but it’s certainly changing. The traditional idea that you go to college, get a liberal arts degree and come out and earn more money, and it’s that simple, and it’s good for everybody, is being questioned. Institutions need to understand that and need to be able to adapt. Temple is in an interesting spot in that we are both a selective school, but also an inclusive one, one that opens its doors to people in the city of Philadelphia. That’s part of our university's DNA.
Understanding the important role that we play in Philadelphia, in our state, in the country and in the cultural discourse around what it means to have a degree, is crucial for the success of institutions going forward. My own role as the vice provost for undergraduate studies informs my understanding of the crucial importance of having these discussions, and of grounding them in a real examination of where we are as a culture and where our university sits within that culture. To me, these are some of the most important questions that anybody on our campus could be and should be discussing.
CL: And like Dan, I’m so excited to be part of the strategic planning process because I think it’s absolutely critical to the future success of the university, but more importantly, to our ability to enhance the impact that we have on our students and on the community. Enhancing Temple’s impact requires thoughtful and deliberate action. And that’s what this process and a strategic plan offers us the ability to do.