At the June 25 meeting of the University’s Board of Trustees, Chancellor Gallagher presented the final draft of Pitt’s new strategic plan, which will be implemented this fall. The following is a transcript of an excerpt from his remarks.
Today for your consideration, I am pleased to present a final draft of our new Plan for Pitt framework. This is the next chapter of our five-year strategic plan for the University. We plan to put this into action this fall. I want to start with a little bit of history about the plan and the planning process to remind you how we got here.
The first Plan for Pitt was released in 2016. We started with a board retreat; got your input about the changing landscape; and identified strategic goals in six key areas of academics, research, community, diversity, global engagement and foundational strength. By all measures, we’ve made enormous progress with this plan. This planning process was widely adopted by our schools and programs, and it was the basis of reporting to the board what we were doing and for your consideration and review as we did it.
This formulation has served us well for more than five years, but it’s always important that your strategic planning be a live process, a continuous process, especially if your plan is working. In refreshing the plan for the next five years, our goals were simply to first, build on the strengths and successes of our first Plan for Pitt. Two, make adjustments to our strategies, in particular, to respond to new opportunities or new challenges that the University may be facing over the next five years. And importantly, we wanted to improve our capacity to implement our goals through effective planning and execution.
Let me start as well with another comment. The plan I’m presenting today is not mine. This is very much a collective effort that cut across the entire University involving key stakeholders from within and from without the University. We kicked this off in late 2019. This board will remember we had a retreat, much like we kicked off the first process, to discuss the strategic opportunities and threats facing the University. We initiated at the same time an open and transparent communitywide strategic planning process. This included the retreat, as I mentioned, but also hundreds of people across the University, and I’m delighted with the response from the University community. It was enthusiastic and dedicated. We had more than a hundred people involved in the steering committee and the goal committees. We had many more, hundreds more, who participated in workshops, responded to surveys, submitted their ideas to us and their aspirations and who reviewed the multiple drafts that have been posted and circulated for comment along the way.
So, the plan I’m sharing with you today is not a top-down directive. It’s our collective shared view from the University community from all five campuses over the last 18 months. I hope that our students, faculty and staff will see that this plan reflects their very best ideas about how we can move Pitt forward together.
Finally, a little bit of context before I jump in. The document we’re talking about today is not the full plan, and this goes to the heart of improving our planning process. A strategic plan, and certainly the strategic plan for Pitt, is now composed of several elements. The strategic framework, which is the document we will look at today, is really the North Star for our strategic efforts. It lays out the direction, the objective, lays out where we’re going as a university, and it starts with two things. One is our mission and values—the stable, steady part of our direction—but it also layers in the strategic actions that we need to take in response to the changing environment around us that will shape our actions so that we can be successful in our mission.
That’s the purpose of the framework we’re going to review today. The next part of the planning process is the one that begins in the fall: the implementation planning. This takes the framework and each year develops concrete initiatives and actions that are defined, tracked, funded and carried out. This is where measurable objectives are laid out, where the funding and budgets and the responsibility for these programs are established. And that when these projects are successfully completed, advanced our progress toward our strategic goals.
The implementation planning is dramatically scaled up from what we had five years ago. We have the school- and program-based planning that was very strong, but we now have a robust University-wide program that is integrated with our annual budget and our management tracking programs. I’ll cover that a little bit more in a moment.
In terms of the direction laid out in the framework, there are really two types, as I said. One is the stable and inclusive part of the direction. The other is a bit more contemporary and targeted. By the stable part of our direction, I mean, of course, our mission. The University has been around since the birth of this country, and our fundamental mission remains exactly what it was. We are here to improve lives of the students who go to Pitt and our region. In other words, to make this world a better place, and we do that through education, research and service.
We are not trying to reinvent our mission. We are a mission-stable organization, and we reaffirm that mission here and the values that support it. These institutional attributes or values drive our actions, even when they aren’t part of a plan or document or initiative. They operate in a powerful way below the surface, but they must be acknowledged, nurtured and supported to drive the culture of the institution and to achieve their maximum impact. Many of you read business journals and articles, and you know the famous Peter Drucker quote that “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Well, that’s why. These are the things that shape the actions across an institution all the time, even when it’s hard.
The other type of direction that’s established in a strategic plan is a bit more targeted and contemporary. It focuses on the things we need to do to address threats or opportunities that we will face over the coming five-year period. This portion of our plan is intentionally focused, a bit more selective, and it’s temporal. It focuses on this specific time frame.
Unlike the first plan, we’ve now reorganized how we present these strategic goals. We are now organizing them to three pillars or areas: our people, our programs and our purpose. I’m going to share with you why we think this is a great structure, but in short, this focuses on who we are, the enablers of our mission; what we do, the things that we do to carry out our mission; and finally the impact we have. What difference do we make? What is our value proposition? We believe these three pillars are now a simple and more powerful way of sharing and communicating our strategic efforts on what really matters for the advancement of the University.
I’d like to take a moment now to talk a little bit about each of these areas. Our first one starts with what we are, and it quickly is people. Pitt is a people-powered institution. Our mission is made possible by our ability to attract exceptional individuals to the University—students, faculty and staff—to learn, to teach and advance the frontiers of knowledge.
This pillar provides a place where we identify strategic goals that are about strengthening our ability to attract, retain and support those individuals and to support how they work together as a collective community dedicated to our academic mission. You’ll see that the strategic goals in this area focus on people and how we attract, support and enable them. It includes things like the attraction and retention of students, faculty and staff. It includes promoting a community where everyone belongs—that’s inclusive, diverse and equitable—but it also provides a community that defends our academic purpose through protections for academic freedom and for the academic autonomy of faculty-determined programs in our teaching and research activities and a robust shared governance system—things that are essential to the academic purpose of a university. It also includes equipping Pitt to be a great place to work and learn with support for mentorship, collaboration and new opportunities across the University, and includes goals for protecting our community members and supporting those who grow an outstanding world-class student experience that is second to none, both inside and outside the classroom, and ensuring that our built environment, our facilities, provide the support to advance what we do and help us achieve our goals.
All of these things are in the service of enabling the Pitt community to do what they do best: to drive our programs, our purpose and our success.
The next area of strategic goals is our programs. In some ways, this is the most obvious area. These are the things we do: our academic activity programs, our research activities, our service and our community engagement. Here we are defining ways to improve the quality of these programs, the reputation of these programs or the reach of these programs.
The program area includes strategic goals, many of which should be familiar to you because we’ve been discussing them over the last year, that we believe are near-term objectives for strengthening key programs at Pitt. This includes a focus on the profile and size of our graduate and professional programs at the University; expanding into new markets; reaching new students with distance and remote learning approaches, in particular; improving our capacity to do large-scale, transdisciplinary, sort of problem-sized collaborations, both within the University and outside the University; enhancing our innovation and creating the academic and teaching environments for exceptional progress in our teaching and scholarship, something that was very much in our first plan. Again, this is very much in our first plan: building on and expanding our leadership in global, civic and community-engaged work.
The last goal area is the one that in many ways was the newest framing. What we did here is we identified goals that define the difference Pitt makes. What is our impact? These strategies stretch outside the University. Much of the impact happens after students graduate or in our communities, after our programs have had an impact. Here we’re clearly defining how we make the world a better place. What I think is really novel about this: How do we hold ourselves accountable for those outcomes?
Here the strategic goals include things like moving beyond program achievements like degree completion and looking at how our graduates are doing after they graduate from Pitt. Are they leading successful lives? Are they getting jobs? Are they making a difference? It positions our research programs to ask: Are they making a difference in how fields work? Is medicine better? Are the health care disparities of our region being addressed? Is the region benefiting economically? Is the world being engaged in collaboration? Are we making a difference on the deep societal problems that we face in social justice or in community and equity in participation in the economy?
You know, it’s interesting; this goal area has made many uncomfortable as we’ve developed it, but it’s also generated some of the greatest excitement. This is where we take on the big challenges that a great university should. This is where addressing the health disparities in our region is something that becomes a key part of our strategic purpose as a university. Where providing a great career path and supporting early alumni after they leave campus extends our services beyond graduation, and where our alumni network now becomes a primary and essential part of our university. They’re an essential part of extending Pitt and providing that support to our graduates and ensuring that Pitt makes a difference because our alumni are, in fact, the primary way in which we achieve that mission purpose.
The process we’ve created puts this plan, this directional framework, into action, and we’ll launch this fall. You start with planning of course, and we are in the midst of that now. Many of the most transformative ideas will continue to emerge from the school-level and program-based activities that I think were incredibly successful in the first five-year plan.
But we are now adding a University-wide planning and budget process that will allow for University-wide initiatives to achieve that same success. The scale of this is a change. We have created a formal planning office, led by Melissa Schild and her team under Hari Sastry’s guidance in the CFO’s office. This office provides planning development, program management and budget integration, and tracking into a robust planning process. Guided by the framework that I just presented, we now have a mechanism with wide representation across the University, embracing shared governance to allocate funds, support project management and data collection, and to make sure that we achieve the actions that advance our progress toward these goals.
Really this plan is the start and not the finish. I hope it does not live—even though it’s a very attractive document—on a coffee table. I hope it’s a working document that drives our planning each and every year.
I think that the biggest difference here between the two plans is this process of integrating into the University’s budget management and operations. Yes, it’s been restructured from six areas into three, but I think the real difference here is how we’ve strengthened our ability to execute our goals.
I think that the University showed its creativity in addressing how we continue to position Pitt to make the world a better place despite the fact that higher education, our society, our economy, our entire globe seem to be facing so many challenges, but we believe that many of those challenges need the talents that a university can provide and nurture. So, we wholeheartedly endorse the mission of the University, and we believe this strategic plan lays a pathway to make us better.
In closing, we’ve provided the trustees with an electronic version of this framework that I shared with you today. After this meeting, we will be posting this online. We have posted previous versions. So, it should not be much of a surprise to the community. Anticipating that this board will consider this draft between now and the fall meeting, we are marking this as a final draft, if you’re curious about that watermark. In discussions with Chairperson Richards, we agreed that this makes the most sense to make sure that the board has an opportunity to offer further guidance and input before we finalize the framework.
I want to extend a huge thanks to everyone who made this happen. Certainly, Melissa and her team who worked tirelessly on this—in the midst of a pandemic, I might add—but also to the enormous community across the University, whether on steering or goal committees, or just as volunteers who participated, commented, critiqued and lent us their insights and expertise. We couldn’t have done it without you, and I hope that you see your efforts reflected in this final product.
I’d like to assure everyone in the Pitt community that we’re not done. This has to be a living document. There will be many opportunities to participate, to contribute, whether it’s through the seed funding program or initiatives or school-based activities. Our task now turns to bringing this plan to life over the next five years. The initiatives that will help us make Pitt better at advancing these strategic goals will continue to evolve, but they’re exciting. I think they push us in a direction that we all want to go.
I’m looking forward to hearing from the board in the coming weeks, looking forward to any comments you have. I want to thank all of you for your support of Pitt and, in particular, its mission and priorities as stated in the strategic plan.