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By Roseann Runte

Following previous focus groups and town meetings on Old Dominion University's identity, desires and goals, the university recently held additional focus groups with faculty, staff, students, alumni, members of university and college boards, and community representatives that centered on strategic planning, performing a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) and offering advice to the president.

Having read all of the information, I have taken good note of any specific problems or concerns and assure you that they will be explored with the appropriate staff members in the near future.

It was heartwarming to see that each sector viewed the university as emerging, improving, progressing and dynamic. People were quick to note Old Dominion's potential, creativity, fine faculty, diversity, improving appearance, the friendliness of the campus community and its proximity to the sea, Jefferson Lab, NASA, Langley military bases and the City of Norfolk. People thought Old Dominion presents itself well through events and publications and is willing to take risks, plus it is experiencing a renaissance. The University Village is awaited with great expectations.

The challenges and threats could be neatly summarized in one word: funding (or rather the dearth of it.). The lack of regional cohesion, the limited number of hightech and Fortune 500 companies located here, the aggressiveness of other institutions and the lack of a medical school or union with EVMS were also seen as threats or challenges. A safer neighboring environment, or perception thereof, was also deemed important.

Weaknesses noted beyond funding included the perception that our reputation has not caught up with reality, and a need to clarify goals, simplify priorities and focus on the mission. In addition, the need for more school spirit, housing, parking, academic programs, interdisciplinarity, international students, IT, research dollars, support for teaching, communication with alumni and among departments were mentioned as well as the desire for football, a regional transportation system and less traffic on Hampton Boulevard!

Many comments were actually suggestions to concentrate on attracting high-quality students, to make the university as accessible to them as possible by keeping costs low, to reassess marginal programs (none were named), and to eliminate duplication by integrating services.

Strengths included excellent faculty, connections with schools, businesses and the community, TELETECHNET, research, partnerships, employees, first-year programs, a nice campus, committed alumni, growing academic reputation and accredited programs.

Opportunities include ODU's proximity to Washington, D.C., and the possibility of establishing programs near Dulles Airport and becoming a Washington think tank. Other ideas include creating additional partnerships, alliances, and collaborations with the community, business and industry. For example, the crisis in nursing and health programs could provide an opportunity to partner with other health providers to create programs.

Reflecting on the major themes for the strategic plan, the comments and thoughts noted fit in quite well. Let me elaborate.

1. Increase academic quality, retain faculty and gain a national reputation for excellence (to be among the nation's top 100 research universities)

There was unanimous agreement on the goal of increasing academic quality and retaining faculty by supporting them both financially and with reasonable work loads. Some were nervous about trying to move into the top 100 research universities. They expressed some concern that we would forget about good teaching and our excellent undergraduate programs. Part of gaining national recognition will certainly include some marketing efforts. Having listened to this concern, we will adjust this goal to include explicitly both undergraduate and graduate quality. We will be the opposite of Syracuse University (a good graduate school which decided to include a focus on undergraduate teaching). Old Dominion will be a great undergraduate teaching facility with focused research and strong graduate programs.

2. Create an agenda and a climate which encourages research

This is a focused, strategic goal, which will support economic development in Hampton Roads and offer opportunities for student employment. We will definitely select several strategic areas on which to concentrate our energies, after receiving the submissions from all departments and colleges.

3. Increase graduate programming

This is a specific, focused goal and fits the desires expressed by the community in this and other consultations.

4. Create a viable, lively campus community in a beautiful setting conducive to learning

The recently adopted Master Plan fits this agenda item. We plan to provide housing for 50 percent of the student body. We will create additional teaching and research spaces and more green quads on an environmentally friendly campus. The desire for facilities is widespread and the Master Plan meets all expressed desires.

5. Integrate all services, colleges and academic programs

This initiative responds to comments on duplication of services, improvement in services and policies. It will also be expanded to encompass the improvement of communication and coordination among departments and services.

6. Make the campus sensitive to the region and the world around us

This is a commitment to respecting regional opportunities (ports, NASA, J-Lab, etc.), plus attempting to contribute solutions to regional problems (perhaps transportation?). This goal is a reminder of our international commitment (from our mission and last strategic plan).

7. Find the means to accomplish the above

We have undertaken major efforts to improve funding for the university from the commonwealth. These have borne success but need to be continued. Our as-yet unannounced financial campaign is doing well and we are en route to our $100 million goal.

I would like to expound briefly on the issue of "focus." Nearly every group mentioned this as a matter of concern. Not a single person named anything that could be dropped. Indeed, many suggested new initiatives, while others feared that the focus proposed would detract from existing programs.

In this strategic plan we will target some very specific areas for growth and development. That does mean we will necessarily stop doing other things. We might reduce some activities or we might find additional funds for the new activities.

A small liberal-arts college or a technical school has a very specific focus, but a large metropolitan, research university will have numerous points of focus. Old Dominion has six colleges and it is expected that within each one there will be areas for growth and development. At Old Dominion we sometimes question our identity and focus because we have grown significantly in a short time. There are many pieces to the puzzle: commuters and on-campus students, distance learners and on-site learners, researchers and teachers (and teaching researchers, researching teachers), graduate and undergraduate. Old Dominion is all of the above and we should celebrate this. We are an increasingly residential campus, but will always have a significant number of commuters. We have both strong distance-learning and on-campus programs, undergraduates and graduates, teachers and researchers, and combinations of all the above (students who start at a distance and finish on campus and vice versa). Old Dominion is a true university with multiple programs and many kinds of students. It is this diversity that makes us special and unique. Let us enjoy being a large university!

I would once again like to thank everyone who participated in the focus groups and town meetings. These results will feed into a process, which includes the departments and colleges, deans, directors, vice presidents, faculty and student senates, and the Board of Visitors. I appreciate your time and consideration as well as your enthusiasm for our dynamic university. The future belongs to us. Together we can make that future better!

This article was posted on: June 1, 2004

Old Dominion University
Office of University Relations

Room 100 Koch Hall Norfolk, Virginia 23529-0018
Telephone: 757-683-3114

Old Dominion University is an equal opportunity, affirmative action institution.