Vision Statement

Two strategic plans (the Challenge for Excellence and the 2020 Plan) have served us well since House Bill 1 was passed in 1997. By any measure, we are a changed university and we have created dynamic achievement in terms of: our educational excellence and the profile of both our entering and matriculating students; our increase in nationally recognized scholarship, creative activity, and externally funded research; and our significant contributions to the well-being of our community in a myriad of areas, including through the Signature Partnership and clinical care. Our philanthropy and stewardship have been extraordinary. Through the UofL Foundation, we’ve also supported start-up businesses, incubators, and over $1.3 billion in new construction on our campuses.

We are being nationally recognized for our work: 7th in the nation for improved graduation rate; 7th in the nation for narrowing the gap between minority and majority graduation; 4 th fastest growing university in terms of increased percent of NIH funding; 12th “best neighbor” for our contributions to making an impact on our local community; one of only 15 percent of universities nationally to achieve dual recognition from the Carnegie Foundation for engaged teaching and engaged faculty; a “top vet friendly” university; and silver recognition from STARS for our sustainability efforts; and a top 30 “feeder” school for prestigious graduate programs. There are many more examples of recognition, and even more when we add in the significant achievements of our schools and units and of our individual faculty who also have received awards, recognition and acclaim.

As you all know, these measures were included in the “2020 plan” that was built around a vision articulated in HB1 that, if accomplished, would lead to recognition of UofL as a “preeminent, nationally recognized metropolitan research university.” Much of our progress toward this goal would be measured qualitatively, but we also developed a set of metrics that would measure progress in specific areas. Up until now, we’ve moved forward exceptionally well and collectively have achieved our target metrics each year. That is a cause for great celebration, and well-deserved pride.

But moving forward becomes more difficult each year. The world has changed considerably since 1997 when HB1 was passed, and at its retreat last July, our Board of Trustees asked if, given all the changes, the 2020 plan metrics are still the best ones to use. That’s a good question, and we believe it is time to engage the campus community in an honest examination of where we are -- to look at the challenges and opportunities the current situation presents, and to assess the strengths and weaknesses that enable and obstruct our ability to move forward. Further, we need to have some honest dialogue about what “moving forward” means and ask ourselves where we want to be and how we want to get there. What are our academic, research and community priorities, and how might we best organize ourselves to achieve them? HB1 has not changed, and we remain committed to our goal of recognition as a preeminent, metropolitan research university. But the way we have defined and measured achievement can be modified, and we need to be open to consideration of other models and measures that might be better suited to our changed circumstances.

Why now? A compelling context for change

Everyone who writes about challenges and opportunities organizes this list a little differently, but, at their summer retreat, the board talked about budget, changed context for higher ed, new technologies and demographics, and the changing role of the modern university.


General Fund: Certainly the budget is one area where we are working in a very changed environment. The worst recession since WWII has resulted in 13 cuts to our general fund since 2002 – for a total of about $150 million less in our general fund and bringing us back to the base funding we had in the late 90s. State support for our university is now only our fifth highest source of funding, with tuition,clinical revenue, research grants and contracts, and foundation support all contributing larger dollar amounts to our overall budget. Our experience follows national trends, with state support per full-time public college student down 25 percent. If these trends continue, state support for higher education is heading for zero by the year 2059. The loss of general fund revenue has had a significant impact on core academic programs, including general education and the liberal arts, and the loss has also affected the overall operations of the university (such as physical plant and library), which are also highly dependent on this funding.

Health Sciences: Health affairs are a volatile area nationally and certainly have been locally. Much of this volatility is related to questions about how health care will change given healthcare reform, significant advances in personalized medicine, and the need for electronic health records. But already there have been impacts on our budgets from decisions that have been made. The failure to fully fund the quality and charity care trust, loss of Passport income, and uncertainty regarding health care insurance reform have reduced available funds. As the medical school and our physicians have worked to unite practice plans and negotiate better support from insurance companies, some of these changes have affected clinical income, further reducing funds available to the academic health center.

Research: The disappearance of earmarks, loss of stimulus funds, and reduced numbers of grants and dollar awards for grants from the NIH has us struggling to continue the phenomenal growth we’ve seen in the last decade. With cuts to the general fund budgets and loss of state support for programs such as “Bucks for Brains” we’ve been unable to secure adequate funding for startup packages for funded researchers and have been able to hire very few funded research faculty or scholars over the last couple of years. In some departments, we have not been able to replace prestigious research programs when key faculty have left, nor have we been able to enhance some emerging areas of excellence.

Lack of support for graduate students (whose funding comes largely from general funds and external grants) has slowed the matriculation of Ph.D. students, and ongoing cuts have hampered our library’s ability to continue all the journal subscriptions that are so essential to the dissemination of knowledge. Teaching loads that are still too high in some areas further hamper scholarly activity of our best faculty.

Endowment Income: Cuts to the general fund and research budgets have left us more dependent on endowment income -- for the first time last year, the dollars that come to the university from the UofL Foundation are greater than those coming to us from the state. Although we are extraordinarily grateful for this support, donor dollars are not the same as state dollars since donors often want to determine where their money will go. And with the weak economy, the interest income that endowments generate has also been lower, leaving some balances from newer endowments “underwater,” further reducing the amount of spendable income.

Tuition: As other sources of income have become scarcer, tuition has risen. Despite consistent findings that a college degree leads to greater personal happiness and fulfillment, as well as dramatically reduced rates of unemployment (those with a high school diploma are unemployed at about 9.4 percent, compared to an unemployment rate of 4.9 percent for those with college degrees) and weekly earnings of $1,665 for those with college degrees compared to $638 per week for those with only a high school diploma), critics have continued to question the worth of a degree, given the debt load many students accrue. And,so, as we are cutting budgets, the national and state-level conversations about “affordability” and “access” provide a backdrop that further challenges our economic viability, with some arguing that the tuition “bubble” will be the next one to burst and that continuing to try to balance our budgets by tuition increases is an unsustainable model.

At UofL, we’ve nearly doubled our scholarship budget to help bring in bright students, to cover all costs for our most economically impoverished students, and to shape the class to mirror the larger population in terms of talent and background. But, this means that about 30 cents of every tuition dollar we generate goes to scholarships, reducing the amount available to us to handle all the other increasing expenses. It also means that our least economically secure students graduate with considerably less debt than others, and our average student debt for all students at UofL is about $19,000.

Changed External Environment

It would not be an exaggeration to say that we are working in an entirely different environment than we knew a dozen years ago, or even five years ago when we developed the 2020 Plan.

The Integrity of the Academy has been questioned, and the headlines generated by Penn State’s national melt-down, UVA’s headlines over the performance of its president, our own issues with fraud, and too many other examples from other universities to cite here have led credence to the concerns.

Athletics compliance has been a concern not only at Penn State, but at the University of North Carolina, Ohio State, Tennessee, Southern California and at other big-name programs.

The value of a college degree has also been questioned, as books like “Academically Adrift” suggest that students learn very little during their college years – a critique that goes to the heart of what we do. The increase of “reverse transfers” where students either transfer to a community college or enroll for a second degree there to gain technical skills that will prepare them for jobs challenges the long- standing notion that a college degree leads to a better job. And the growth of online “certificate” programs creates the sense that it’s the knowledge that is important, not the degree. The fear is that for the first time, a college degree will not guarantee a good job, unless it is in one of a fairly limited number of technical areas (STEM areas especially). A key argument is that much of what we now do will be available outside of traditional university structures, and with global competition, changed student expectations and spiraling costs, universities will need to rethink what they do and how they do it if they are to survive. The critique goes further, suggesting that universities are “mature enterprises,” and as such are risk adverse, self-satisfied, unduly expensive and they must transform themselves to meet the challenges of a changed environment.

A bevy of new delivery models are challenging “traditional” models. Whether these will emerge as “complementary” or “disruptive” innovations remain to be seen, but right now we know that technology-based learning is capturing the headlines and is the fastest-growing segment of the educational landscape. The possibilities of technology go well beyond the debate between “on line” or “face-to-face” or “blended,” and allow us to entirely rethink the educational enterprise. This change is based both on technological advances that make changed learning models possible, as well as demographic changes in the college going population. So, those seeking college degrees are traditional 18 year olds, but also young professionals, mid-career and older displaced workers, retirees, those who “stopped out” of college and now want to complete degrees, and those who want knowledge but are not interested in obtaining a degree. That our students will be more diverse and more global is also widely acknowledged. Traditional colleges are adapting to these changed populations of students and new technologies by offering blended face-to-face and online programs; “2+2” programs primarily for those transferring with degrees from community colleges; three year degrees; shorter degree time with lower tuition; credit for prior learning; alternative schedules (night programs, six-week year-round courses); and, of course, by offering more degrees or courses on line.

These are some of the national trends that affect us, but as each of you think about your own area, there are certainly more. The compliance environment grows ever more regulatory and stringent; the needs of our own workers are changing; the borders of disciplines keep blurring: and the explosion of knowledge makes it difficult to keep up.

The Changing Role of the University

For hundreds of years now, we have defined our central function as the creation, dissemination and preservation of knowledge. We have done that through our teaching, our research, scholarship and creative activity and our system of governance that values service to the department, college, university, profession and community. All the metrics have been internal ones, largely self-defined. Although much of what we do and will do will remain the same, those who are arguing for a new role for universities assume that universities will have outcomes and impacts that can be externally, rather than internally, measured. So, have scholarship and creative activity made our communities more livable? Can our research be translated into products and services and jobs? Are we “engaged” and do we serve as a leader and partner in innovative systems? Has the quality of our place improved because of the work we do? Do our degrees lead to “jobs?” These metrics define the modern university as the hub of a knowledge community that is part of an innovation system, rather than an “ivory tower,” where information is valued for its own sake and not for what it can do.

This changing role can be seen in changed expectations and definitions. We are being asked to develop more “niche” programs and more integrated models of research that will have real impact on local and global problems. Faculty are seen as professional problem solvers in some fields (such as medicine, engineering, education), and there’s an expectation that our educational models will be more responsive to a changed population of college goers with changed expectations. The changing expectations will require that stewardship and engagement be at our center, and the 21 st century will be responsible for supporting innovation, community development, workforce partnerships and regional industry clusters.

So, the combination of budgetary, environmental and definitional changes suggests that this is a good time for our community to come together and have conversations around these issues, to add to them or change them as we see fit, and to realize that clicking our ruby slippers won’t take us home. We need frank discussion, openness to change, creativity and a willingness to engage with each other as we try to decide where we are, where we want to be, and then,later, how we want to get there.

Process: How will we do this?

As always with such endeavors, the outcome will only be as good as the inputs. We want the process to be open, transparent, and inclusive and to mirror the values of shared governance and honest dialogue.. Some of this will be challenging – the idea of change always is – but there are also exciting possibilities that we deserve the right to explore together.

We have been working with the national consulting firm, Excelcor, Inc., to guide us through this exercise.

Background: This process began at the Board of Trustees Retreat in July 2012, when the board spent some time looking at the changed environment for higher education and directed the president to use this academic year to conduct an environmental “scan” and to assess whether the 2020 Plan metrics were still the best ones to use to guide our activity. The board asked that we report back to them in July 2013. Dr. Ramsey launched this “21st century university” initiative during his State of the University Address on Sept. 12. On Oct. 19, the executive leadership team met to finalize the plan, and on Nov. 8 the President updated the Board of Trustees on the plan to move forward.

The process will include a steering committee, composed of members of the Boards of Trustees and Overseers, and members of the campus community, including administrators, faculty, staff and students. There will then be multiple “streams” of activity, some of which will include the campuses working as a committee of the whole; some of which will include specific constituency groups, such as the vice presidents, deans, and senates; and some of which will be delegated to specific sub groups. All of these streams of work will converge in late spring so that a comprehensive report can be prepared for presentation to the Board in July 2013.

A university for the 21st century

This initiative will involve the entire campus community.

Over the next month, we’ll be asking ourselves some key questions about our strengths, challenges, opportunities and threats. This will be done through multiple processes and opportunities for involvement. We’ll be formally asking the Board of Trustees; the Board of Overseers; the Faculty, Staff and Student senates; the deans, vice presidents and department chairs for facilitated input. We are also sending the questions out to everyone, so any individual who would like to send us their thoughts can participate in open forums where we will be asking for your assessments. Other constituency groups, such as the Faculty and Staff for Human Rights, CODRE and COSW, the Black Faculty/Staff Association, and the Latino concerns groups are encouraged to send a consolidated document, reflecting the collective wisdom and input of the representative groups. In short, let’s spend a little while talking about where we are, and assessing the environment we find ourselves in.

The input from those sessions will be integrated and compiled, and presented to the executive leadership team (President Ramsey, Executive Vice President David Dunn, Executive Vice President Bill Pierce and me) for discussion and integration and then be forwarded to the Steering Committee for further discussion and recommendation. That integrated document will then be redistributed in the early spring, and our next question to you will be to assess possibilities for moving forward based on the opportunities presented in the first phase, and to ask for ideas to deal with the challenges that have been identified. Should we “stay the course?” Should we rethink how we do things? How can we, should we, reinvent ourselves to thrive in this changed world? What is so core to our essential identity and mission that we need to be sure we hold on to that no matter how things change?

We’ll repeat the same process outlined earlier for this second step, and by April, will have a collective sense of how we might want to move forward. This also will be shared with the campus community for comment.

So, for the rest of this calendar year, we’ll be assessing where we are. In the spring, we’ll look at where we want to be. And depending on the answer to that, a next phase would explore tactical strategies to answer the question of how we want to get there.

While we are doing this, there are a number of other initiatives that are already moving forward and we want to be sure that those initiatives are incorporated into and integrated with the larger effort. So, in addition to the steering committee, the university working as a committee of the whole and simultaneously working from the perspective of the unit structures, we’ll be forming four other committees to oversee coordination and integration of multiple, simultaneous processes. They are:

Subcommittee One: How We Work Together

Shared Governance is at the core of the values that guide this university’s actionsand this group will look at how well we are keeping our commitment to this important aspect of university life, given both internal and external challenges.

Subcommittee Two: Educational Delivery Models

This group will look at three key areas: Enrollment Management Planning; On-line Education; and International Programs and Initiatives. Strategic Plans have either been developed or are being developed, and the subcommittee will look at these plans and make recommendations for moving forward.

Subcommittee Three: Academic and Research Priorities

A number of groups have been working for the past several months to examine how we do things and to make recommendations for how we can do them better. A good number of these are in the research area, with university wide-groups working to examine our research infrastructure and to begin to develop research priorities. Other groups have been working on the Health Sciences Campus, developing a strategic plan for University of Louisville Physicians, and for the School of Medicine. Business and Speed have been engaged in strategic planning for their schools, and we have recognized the need to do more academic strategic planning around new and existing program review. This group will collect the plans being developed within specific domains and make sure that they are fully aligned with each other where necessary and integrated into work coming out of the larger campus initiative.

Subcommittee Four: Financial Strategies and Resources

For the last few months, a small group has also been looking at some key areas where we might better use our resources and maximize our efficiencies. This group will continue its work, and this subcommittee will recommend priorities for implementation and budgeting in support of the larger university process. Some recommendations for structural redesign, improved business practices, and better budgeting models might come from this group.

Over the next couple of weeks we’ll be releasing the names of those who have agreed to serve on these committees, as well as those who will serve on the Steering Committee.

Timeframe (updated):

  • November 8-Jan 1: Where are we?
  • Jan 15-April 15: Where do we want to be?
  • April 15-June 15: Creation of Integrated document and review by key constituencies
  • July 2013: Presentation to the BOT for further direction and discussion
  • Fall 2013: Continued campus discussion; committees to review and revise reports
  • Spring 2014: Continued campus discussion; implementation begins for some recommendations; further discussion of more complex issues
  • February 2014: Update to Board of Trustees