"Drifting into the future is not an option under this watch," announced Nancy Zimpher at her inauguration as the University of Cincinnati's 25th president on May 21. In fact, when she referred to plans to "propel UC to premier institutional stature," she did not use the word "propel" lightly.
President Nancy Zimpher outlines UC plan at inauguration
President Zimpher intends to launch, drop-kick, detonate -- whatever it takes -- to boost the university's reputation into the elite. Of course, doing so, she acknowledged, will not be easy.
The university will look at vastly different ways of handling finances, academics, recruitment, technology and rankings, all part of her academic plan titled, "UC|21: Defining the New Urban Research University." "Together, we will need to be willing to experiment, to change, to learn from mistakes, to act our way into this 21st century vision, and to celebrate its accomplishments," she said.
Appropriately announced on the 21st of the month, the plan comprises 21 goals "to chart an ambitious future deserving of a great university." The plan, she clearly stated, is her highest priority.
"On the day that I publicly accepted this job last July, I asserted that urban universities, and especially one of the stature of the University of Cincinnati, will become prototypic 21st-century universities. Now more than ever, we need to craft our vision for the future, adopt a set of principles and pursue strategies that will bring that vision to life."
Soon after Zimpher's arrival in October, she started working on that vision by gathering information from students, faculty, staff, emeriti, alumni, corporate partners, donors, civic and social-service leaders, and neighbors. In all, nearly 3,000 people provided input through eight Town Hall meetings, scores of input sessions and a special Web site, all generating more than 800 pages of notes, which were subsequently condensed into "UC|21."
The report centers itself around these six goals: place students at the center of all UC does; increase UC's research capacity; achieve academic prominence; forge key relationships and partnerships; establish a sense of place with 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week services and educational activities; create opportunity where potential is nurtured and blossoms.
Much of that hinges upon our relationship with the community. "Universities are places where new knowledge is formed and where potential is developed and discovered, but a university cannot be innovative by working in isolation," she emphasized. "Community engagement is essential. We seek to create a front door to UC resources and expertise for the community and to develop more meaningful, reciprocal partnerships.
"Universities also serve as vital engines of opportunity for the local and global economy. UC|21 seeks to strengthen UC's position as an educator of a skilled, principled workforce and as a catalyst for entrepreneurship and as a partner in economic development."
On the way to achieving the components of the UC|21 plan, President Nancy Zimpher set before the UC community her own personal top 10 stretch goals:
10. Recruit more students from out of the state of Ohio.
9. Convert more than 80 percent of UC classrooms to wireless technologies (up from 30 percent).
8. Create a 24/7 campus for students and neighbors.
7. Increase the number and caliber of faculty distinctions.
6. Double the external funding UC receives to more than $600 million in the next five years.
5. Increase UC's placement in national rankings by working to change measurement criteria to more meaningful measures of success, then striving to meet the metric through more highly ranked programs and more measurable contributions to the common good.
4. Double the number of National Merit Scholars in the freshman class, increase the number of UC freshmen who graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school classes and make UC Ohio's model transfer and articulation campus.
3. Improve graduation and retention rates to at least 75 percent.
2. Break into the ranks of the top 50 public and private universities.
1. Increase general funds by 50 percent over the next five years and increase enrollment by as many as 5,000 more students.
"We must seek regulatory relief and deregulation on tuition," Zimpher added, "become more entrepreneurial in the programs we can deliver anytime, anywhere; provide performance incentives for academic units to deliver more market-driven programs; and, most importantly, cultivate stronger relationships with our donors, clearly the major investors in our past and, I dare say, in our future."
Implementation strategies are being developed, but anyone harboring suspicions of institutional bureaucracy getting in the way should understand that Zimpher lets nothing get in her way. "Think of these as eminently plausible goals," she said. "Something big enough that if reached could truly redefine this institution as we know it; yet achievable enough to engage UC and its community in the challenge of a lifetime."
Despite the additional work and the uncertainty of changes, faculty members are excited about the focus, says John Cuppoletti, Faculty Senate chair and physiology professor. The diversity of campus representatives and community leaders who "struggled together" to mold the plan, impressed him.
"The plan was developed for a better university, with a focus on education, research, scholarship, service and engagement within the community," he says. "This will lead to a university with a budget in the black, enhanced economic growth and better health care to the people in the region. The plan and President Zimpher's leadership promise to define our urban research university as a role model for others."