Now, strategic plans are funny things. Done right, they can set aspirational and practical goals for an institution that can drive fund-raising, shape organizational decisions, and determine the investment of key resources. Done wrong, they can create needless animosity, fear, confusion, and leave an institution in worse shape than before the process. But even when done well, the best strategic plan is useless unless the administration and the academic community as a whole relies on it, turns to it, uses it. So, the first question might be, why bother? Why invest time in an enterprise that has such a potential for failure? The answer is that I believe that this effort is a real opportunity for change, a true chance to articulate a vision for the direction of this institution, a remarkable moment in the life of the institution. I, and many of my colleagues, choose to see this as a time to think boldly about the future of the liberal arts university we care so much about.
One area in which I believe bold, visionary thought is both required and possible is in the area of academic technologies and libraries. I see the three key reasons why this area of discussion is particularly important for Mary Washington right now.
- Virtually everyone who talks about the future of institutions of higher education sees academic technologies and libraries as critical vehicles (paths, jump-starters, incubators, facilitators -- choose your metaphor as you wish) for the growth of colleges and universities.
- Academic technologies offer a chance for smaller institutions to compete with much larger schools with much more sizable resource budgets. Also, assuming a basic computing infrastructure is in place, digital tools and technologies also allow for a quick ramp-up time for projects, easier piloting of new ideas, access to significantly larger (and better organized) library and archival collections, and widespread changes to existing systems or practices.
- Finally, UMW already has a number of critical resources in place with which we can build, create, and innovate boldly. [UMWblogs is perhaps the best known digital tool, and Faculty Academy may be the best-known event; but by "resources" I really mean a dedicated group of librarians, instructional technology artists, staff, and faculty. It is these genuinely creative, caring, thoughtful, reflective, and revolutionary people who must lead and effect the bold changes for which I'm hoping.]
So, help me and UMW to think boldly about these critical components of a successful institution. What would be on your top list of goals for a small (~4,000 undergraduates, ~1,000 graduate and professional students) institution of higher learning? What are the necessary digital and/or library components of an liberal arts university of the 21st century? What could we do to be a leader among our peers in the fields of academic technology, library services and information resources?