Published: Sept. 5, 2017

Today we sit down with Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Russell Moore and Senior Vice Chancellor and Chief Financial Officer Kelly Fox for a Q&A about the initiative titled Academic Futures: Rethinking the university—the futures of learning and discovery.

The Academic Futures initiative is an evolution of a process described in previous editions of CU Boulder Today (CUBT). We wanted to explore how the scope and breadth of the discussion has evolved and why the university is undertaking such a conversation now. In addition, we wanted to know more about what the process is, how people can get involved, and how people within the campus community may request or participate in meetings.

Back in July, you both wrote two pieces in CUBT about a visioning process for the College of Arts and Sciences that also would involve the whole campus. Where does this effort stand today? What makes you excited about this project?

Provost Russell Moore

Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Russell Moore

Provost Moore: Over the last month, during a variety of meetings, including with chairs, deans, Kelly Fox, members of the Arts and Sciences Strategic Planning Committee and others, we have had an ongoing dialogue about the scope of the process we proposed in those columns. After those discussions, it was clear this is not simply an Arts and Sciences visioning process. We cannot pass up the opportunity to engage in a much larger visioning process about the core mission of the university, which is teaching and scholarly work.

First, how do we teach our students and help them to learn—to make them the leaders, creators, movers of our future? What are our students going to be like in five years, 10 years, 20? Second, how do we discover new knowledge—from understanding the stars to reading Shakespeare—and create new things—from nanotechnologies that can heal bodies to new art that can heal the soul. Where are our research trajectories headed in the future? All of us—students, staff and faculty—are engaged in continual learning and continual creation. That is why we exist as an institution, and I want us to think about how we want to do this in the future.

At the same time, this most definitely is an effort that will involve faculty, staff and students from all of our units on campus, including the College of Arts and Sciences, in a combined and comprehensive effort. For example, Arts and Sciences, or any college, alone cannot address concerns related to our budgetary model, space allocation, information technology, or how to ensure we promote and incentivize interdisciplinary teaching and scholarship.

That said, for matters related to the ideals, aspirations and values held within the College of Arts and Sciences, Arts and Sciences faculty, staff and students should determine for themselves how they see and describe the future of their work. We need to honor local initiatives while we also need to recognize that our strength lies in the fact that we are a flagship university encompassing a wide range of educational and scholarly activities.

To more fully answer your question, I hope people from all over campus, from all colleges and school, academic and administrative units volunteer to participate in this process in any way they see fit. I see this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to step back and to think deeply about our core mission of teaching and discovery. I believe we can do something quite extraordinary if we do it together in the spirit of open inquiry.

SVC/CFO Kelly Fox

Senior Vice Chancellor and Chief Financial Officer Kelly Fox

SVC Fox: I am excited because I look forward to listening to what our faculty, staff and students develop for their visions, aspirations and ideals for our university. I believe this conversation, and the openness and transparency with which it will be conducted, will serve as an example to higher education across the nation. I appreciate Russ taking the lead on the initial series of discussions and am very excited about building the services and processes that will support the work of, not only students and staff, but most importantly, our faculty.

As a university initiative, how will all the colleges and schools participate, and how does this relate to the strategic imperatives?

Provost Moore: Most of our schools and colleges have just completed strategic plans and have developed visions of where they want to go. With the process around the Academic Futures initiative, we’ll be factoring in those strategic plans in creating conversations about research and teaching, and graduate and undergraduate education, and we will invite everyone to the table for the conversation.

I have asked Vice Provost and Associate Vice Chancellor Jeff Cox to convene the campus conversation. As an active faculty member, as the chair of the Vice Chancellor’s Advisory Committee (VCAC), and as the manager of our academic program review process, Jeff knows the entire campus, and he has extensive experience in overseeing academic planning discussions. I expect Jeff to ensure everyone in our community feels valued and heard in this process.

For example, Jeff has been in constant and close contact with the Arts and Sciences Strategic Planning Committee chaired by Professor David Brown. I believe by continuing to work with him, his committee and as many people as possible in an open and collaborative way, we can really engage this topic and process to move forward by drawing on the experiences of our faculty, staff and students.

The strategic imperatives, as always, will help guide the ultimate recommendations regarding our vision. As faculty and staff, we are committed to shaping the leaders of tomorrow, becoming the top university for innovation and positively impacting humanity. This process will allow us to free ourselves from our current real or perceived impediments to shape our goals, visions and aspirations to more fully and freely achieve those imperatives.

How should faculty, staff and students participate?

Provost Moore: Because this is a campus-wide conversation, all faculty, staff and students who choose to have a voice will have one. Whether they volunteer as listeners or committee members, schedule or attend meetings, or draft white papers, we hope everyone uses their talents to provide input to the process.

Upcoming town hall events

Wednesday, Sept. 6
9:30–11 a.m., JILA Auditorium

Thursday, Sept. 7
10–11:30 a.m., Wittermeyer Courtroom, Wolf Law
1–2:30 p.m., Discovery Learning Center

Monday, Sept. 11
10–11:30 a.m., British Studies Room, Norlin Library

Tuesday, Sept. 12
10–11:30 a.m., British Studies Room, Norlin Library

Thursday, Sept. 14
2:30–4 p.m., Bechtel Collaboratory (1B70), Discovery Learning Center

Of course, faculty will have control of and lead the discussion related to teaching and discovery. As a faculty member myself, I fully recognize the prerogative that faculty have over how and what to teach, how and what to study and the foundational rights that come with their status. However, that doesn’t mean our staff and students are not invited to participate.

Every member of our campus community shares in the responsibility to support the core mission of the university. These voices bring additional critical perspective, experience and inspired ideas. We absolutely need everyone to participate in this process; otherwise we will not accomplish our goals of clearly identifying our shared goals and aspirations and then building a structure and operation to support those ideals. 

SVC Fox: It’s important to note the first phase of the Academic Futures initiative is about visioning “what” we want for the future of learning and scholarship at CU Boulder. This is not yet a “how” conversation, nor should it be focused on the nuts and bolts of organization or structure. Instead, Russ has set forward a path that first concentrates on developing high-level sets of visions, aspirations and ideals about our scholarly/creative/professional work and student learning within the framework of the chancellor’s strategic imperatives, and involving ongoing planning conversations on campus.

How long will this process take?

Provost Moore: I would like things to go quickly, but I imagine this will take several years. The first phase is what we are talking about now: a free, open conversation about what we want for our work of learning and discovery. We will then need to have a conversation about how we implement our aspirations and ideas—and here, in particular, our staff colleagues will be highly important strategic partners. Then, we have to put things in place. I want to emphasize over and over again that in this first phase of the process we are talking about what we want to do, not how we do it. 

SVC Fox: Let me reinforce what Russ is saying here. We are talking about our hopes for the future, independent of constraints of, say, money, time and space, before we decide what we can do within the limits of our institution. Let’s think largely. Then we can plan smartly. I know that sounds funny coming from the campus’s CFO, but I think it is absolutely vital we have an unencumbered visioning process that really encourages people to come forward with the best and most exciting elements of their thinking.

What do you want participants to do? How should they approach this process?

Provost Moore: I would respectfully request of everyone to leave cynicism and fixations on campus politics, bureaucracies and processes at the door. We want to capture our highest aspirations, to build goals around them, and then to create roadmaps to meet those goals. We’re going to engage with faculty, staff and students in a spirit of open exchange. We will put all ideas on the table; all goals and aspirations are worthy of discussion, as are all concerns. We will engage people directly: in meetings, in one-on-ones, digitally, via submitted white papers, etc. We really intend to meet with and engage people where they are. 

This is a process that will embrace inclusive excellence at every step. It’s a process that is both transparent and extensive, which is as it should be. I encourage everyone to visit our website for information related to the process; we are, for example, posting a calendar, reporting out from ongoing conversations, and keeping track of questions people have.

This site not only will be updated with information for the community, it will serve as a place where the campus-level visioning committee can receive feedback from the community. For now, the website serves also as a place where any member of our community can volunteer or nominate someone else to serve on the visioning committee or as a listener. Additional descriptions for both of those can be found there.

Some have said this whole process is a pretext to break up the College of Arts and Sciences into smaller entities. Others have fears about other preconceived plans.

Provost Moore: There is no pretext for anything here except for having one of the boldest conversations we’ve ever had as a campus. Let us be clear, however. There are many faculty within Arts and Sciences who believe their futures would be better suited if the college structure was radically changed. I would argue we can have that conversation only once we know what we want to do around our missions of education and discovery. We’re not ready yet for a conversation about how we reach our aspirations or about what specific structures and units we might change, expand, break apart or anything like that.

What we’re doing in our initial phase is identifying the what—what we can become, what we will need to become, to reach our highest aspirations—and the barriers that keep us from attaining these heights. That’s got to be an open, honest and unrestricted visioning process with no pretext of any kind: everything on the table, nothing predetermined.

SVC Fox: I’d like to add, this is not about eliminating staff positions or in response to any current or impending budget reductions. We are in a position of budgetary and operational strength, and while we do face challenges, CU Boulder is in very good financial shape. I’d suggest that because of our positive financial outlook, we are in a great position to undertake this type of campus conversation without the threat of budget cuts.

How does the Academic Futures process relate to the Arts and Sciences committee’s current work on a strategic plan?

Provost Moore: Similar to the other campus initiatives underway, these are complementary efforts. The college-level process is looking, among other things, at the interconnection between research and teaching and what it will take to strengthen both of them. I’ve asked Interim Dean Jim White and committee chair David Brown to proceed with the same commitment to a broad visioning process that we are seeking at the campus; in other words, I have asked his group not simply to have a conversation that assumes today’s baseline realities within Arts and Sciences and that seeks to work only within those boundaries.

And David has agreed that a broader, more open-ended conversation is what’s needed in the ASC planning process. We will integrate the findings and recommendations of the ASC planning effort into the larger work of the Academic Futures initiative and that process, as it develops, will help the Arts and Sciences committee to see what new options are available to it.

What about the role of staff and students in the process?

Provost Moore: I’m glad you asked that. While our governance structures put faculty in the driver’s seat with respect to informing and shaping the academic mission of the university, I want to make it clear that staff and students are crucial partners in this endeavor. It’s students—both graduates and undergraduates—who can tell us many key things about learning, about involvement in the research process, and about how their worlds inside and outside the university are changing. That input will help us develop the structures and processes to serve them.

Staff, who play vital roles all over the university, can provide recommendations from the front lines regarding how to create new or modify our current processes to help our faculty reach their goals. So, again, this is a full community visioning process, and we would be remiss if we did not take full advantage of all of the talented people we have on our campus.

The Academic Futures initiative affects everyone, challenges everyone and involves everyone at CU Boulder. There may be portions of the initiative when one element of our community is more involved than another, but in the end, it’s about the entire university. And that makes it exciting.