Strategic Planning Steering Committee hosts open forum



Sarah Muller

Students’ need to be heard by the university was the focus during the Strategic Planning Open Forum on Wednesday.

About 40 people sat in the Oak Room, all with various questions for Steve Freeman, chairman of the Strategic Planning Steering Committee. Those heading the forum had no idea what would be discussed, but the primary focus for the Strategic Planning Steering Committee was to listen to concerns.

“We don’t want the university to be stagnant,” Freeman said.

The forum was one of the first steps toward generating the first draft of the university’s strategic plan, which is expected to be completed by spring break 2016. More discussion will continue during the course of the year in order to have a final draft to the president’s office by June 1, and a finalized product by July 1. The final proposal will outline the next six years at Iowa State.

The Strategic Planning Steering Committee is a six-member committee formed by ISU President Steven Leath. Its purpose is to compile the best resolutions for the university that will be worked on during the next six years.

The Steering Committee then decided that creating six subcommittees would be beneficial to cover all areas of the university.

These subcommittees will cover areas that include enhancing the student experience, enhancing the university’s research profile, supporting state and regional economic development, enhancing the university infrastructure, ensuring a welcoming, safe and inclusive environment. The last committee will search for creative ideas in order to relate to the other five subcommittees.

Maurice Washington, graduate student in agricultural and biosystems engineering, shared concerns about how much of the budget was allocated to the four priorities set forth by the president.

The president’s four priorities aim to “ensure a successful experience for students, enhance the university’s research profile, support state and regional economic development while serving all Iowans [and] ensure a welcoming, safe and inclusive campus environment,” according to the Strategic Planning Steering Committee’s website.

“We know that without diversity, we will not have excellence,” Freeman said.

However, he explained that none of the priorities have a specific dollar amount.

“Iowa State can’t be everything to everybody,” Washington said. “The quality of students entering in here, especially undergrad, is not up to par … you have a lot of students coming in here who are not prepared.”

Freeman recognized the growth in enrollment is a stress on students, faculty and staff. However, he said it’s the quality of student experience the university provides that is the more pressing issue, and one that is more easily remedied. 

“Part of our land-grant mission, and part our mission from how we serve the state of Iowa, is really an open-enrollment policy,” Freeman said.

Questions also arose about the variety of voices being heard as well as concerns about hearing those voices early on in the conversation. Freeman addressed the issue concerning how the university sends out information on becoming a part of the discussion in the long-term, including reaching out to students more through the Graduate and Professional Student Senate and Student Government.

“This is our job to help the subcommittees gather those voices,” Freeman said. 

However, Freeman also stated that more voices will most likely be heard after the first draft is written in the spring.

“Once we have something for people to respond to, I am expecting more [people],” Freeman said.

Staff and students also commented on events addressing the concern for diversity on campus. Comments about Monday’s rally to support the events taking place at the University of Missouri, as well as the multicultural open forum in September were heard at the forum.

“[Leath] is afraid to fall on the sword,” Washington said. “Even if he doesn’t care, just show empathy.”

Washington continued to explain as a graduate of the university that he does not encourage students to come to Iowa State.

“The environment here is not conducive for the students,” Washington said.

Jazmin Murguia, senior in journalism and communication, was present at the forum and asked for clarification about a focus on diversity. She also was concerned about the list of recommendations the multicultural open forum created and sent to Leath. She expressed that she hoped the list would be sent on to the Strategic Planning Steering Committee for consideration in the future.

While Freeman said he knows the list exists, the committee has not yet seen the list of recommendations.

More questions were raised about timing for the subcommittees to reach out to groups and receive feedback. Some of the people in attendance said they wanted an honest conversation about the student experience and called for action to be taken, citing the large amount of research that has been done regarding the subjects discussed at the forum.

“I think that we are data-rich and action-poor,” said Raj Ramen, professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering. “I think there is always a tendency to want to accumulate more data, especially as academics, [because] that’s something we are very comfortable doing.”

Ramen said the university has the data on the issues being raised, but would like to see administrators realistically begin to take action.

When looking at issues of student experience, considering where minority and majority student experiences differ, Ramen said he thinks there are gaps that need to be addressed. He said he also thinks the university needs to be thinking about specific actions to make the experience better.

“I thought that [today’s forum] was a good process,” Freeman said. “People who had concerns, people who felt passionate about some issues were able to raise them … I think we accomplished what we set out to do.”