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Meszaros reports on implementation plan at forum

By Netta S. Smith

Spectrum Volume 19 Issue 24 - March 20, 1997

Provost Peggy Meszaros was the featured guest at the February Faculty and Staff Senate Open Forum.

Meszaros met with a small group of faculty and staff members in Owens Banquet Hall. She reported on the implementation plan for the unapproved strategic plan, then answered questions relating to the plan.

"This past April, the Board of Visitors approved an update to the strategic plan," Meszaros said. The update includes six strategic directions and a set of strategies. "The Board of Visitors challenged us to develop an implementation plan (so) that we will become the model land-grant university of the 21st century," she said.

Meszaros reported on a three-phase process, all aspects of which are going on simultaneously: national benchmarking, developing an academic agenda to be reported to the BOV in April, and a strategic restructuring plan being developed by deans and faculty members.

For the national benchmarking, "we picked six universities we thought we could learn from," Meszaros said. They are Texas A&M, Cornell, Penn State, N.C. State, Purdue, and the University of Illinois.

A group of administrators identified by Meszaros as "functional leaders" went to each of the six universities to meet with their counterparts. "We're benchmarking best practices," Meszaros said.

In addition to the six universities, Meszaros said plans are under way to visit corporate schools. "If we only look at those who are like us, we won't have the bigger view of what our competition is doing." She and John Fulton plan to visit Motorola University.

"Now we have the job of synthesizing what we have observed," Meszaros said.

Meszaros said that the university also has seven external performance measures that must be reported on.

As a result of the benchmarking work, Meszaros said "several things are becoming very clear." First, she said, "I'm very pleased that we are not part of a system." But she noted, "not a single university we have visited has the budget constraints we face." Also, she said, "they're not under the scrutiny from the state that we are under."

Meszaros said she has found that the more decentralized a university is, the more flexible they are and best able to "chart their own future." She added that decentralized institutions are "able to be far more futuristic."

Only one of the six universities the groups visited currently has a post-tenure-review policy. "Several of them asked for copies of ours," she said.

"We found that few of these universities have really taken a hard look at their future-maybe because they didn't have the budget constraints that we face," Meszaros said. "They didn't even know what we meant by the term `restructuring,'" she said, adding that some of the institutions they visited were "fat" with administrative positions.

She told the group that "we cannot be satisfied even one more year without thinking entrepreneurially about the kind of strategic partnerships we should be building. Those universities that are positioning themselves for the future are taking some rather bold steps."

Meszaros recommended partnerships with K-12 schools as well as with business and industry, including the medical community. She also stressed the need for Virginia Tech to be comprehensive.

"We have a real edge in technology," she said. But we lag behind in other areas. For example, she said, Cornell teaches 47 languages.

Meszaros also said that we need to have a major initiative for involving more undergraduates in research.

Being a land-grant institution is important, Meszaros said, "But every institution we visited worried about the relevance of the concept."