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'We are at a pivotal moment': Interim OU President Joseph Harroz to present strategic framework for university to Board of Regents after community input

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Interim OU President Joseph Harroz in his office at Evans Hall Dec. 11, 2019.

After two administration changes in three years, interim OU President Joseph Harroz's administration will present a regent-requested plan for the university's future in the coming weeks.

This plan — designated as the university’s strategic framework — was initially outlined at the Sept. 11 OU Board of Regents meeting, according to an OU News press release, and will likely be presented to the board in January. 

The framework is intended to present the university’s goals and how it will pursue them, echoed by priorities outlined in the framework’s survey, community conversations with campus leaders and town halls held last semester.

“We are at a pivotal moment,” Harroz said in an October video from the office of the president. “We have the opportunity to define what the next generation of OU excellence is.” 

In October, the president’s office sent an email to the OU community explaining the strategic framework, and that a committee of 11 faculty members — the President’s Academic Planning and Budget Advisory Committee — would draft the Norman campus framework.

The email also asked students, faculty, staff and alumni to participate in the framework’s survey, which received over 5,000 responses and organized the priorities of these community stakeholders. It also created a word cloud of the most popular responses, with priorities like diversity, excellence and innovation being some of the most common.

Alisa Fryar, an expert on higher education administration and an OU professor who has been involved with the President’s Academic Planning and Budget Advisory Committee, said surveys like these are often used in this kind of strategic planning for institutions. But she said those plans usually take about a year to draft, given the level of research they include. 

Fryar said the participation that went into the framework — the survey, leadership meetings with community stakeholders and town halls — may have been more than the committee could’ve asked for to have completed the framework in one semester.

Strategic planning as a practice is more than just a simple outline of steps. A study by Charles Goldman, a policy expert on strategic planning for education systems, said strategic plans consist of an institution’s vision for the future, mission statement, strategic goals, defined objectives and key performance indicators — or measurable targets — at the base of the plan. 

Goldman, who has consulted with institutions professionally on strategic planning, said OU’s plan to create a framework first is a good start — especially since the framework is being conducted with input by those familiar with OU internally rather than an external firm — but that he would recommend the university to eventually go through with a longer process to create a more actionable plan. 

Fryar previously worked on a strategic plan for the College of Arts and Sciences. As a full strategic plan rather than a strategic framework, Fryar said its creation took more time.

“It was a year of collecting information, doing a ton of meetings, doing surveys — multiple surveys — more research and benchmarking institutions, and more multiple drafts that went through a lot of different committees,” Fryar said. “And it was quite a bit longer even, too, but it was for a different purpose.”

Universities typically undergo a strategic planning process for one of two reasons, according to Goldman’s study: internal pressures to increase efficiency or external pressures to increase value for community stakeholders. 

Goldman said external pressures can come from students, faculty, staff or alumni asking for more from the university in response to repeated university issues, such as racist incidents, investigations into upper administrators and financial disputes. It is also common for universities that go through a leadership change to engage in some type of planning process to chart a way forward, he said.

“Immediate crisis may signal that there are longer-term issues that the institution needs to address in order to become effective, and so that may then lead to a strategic planning process,” Goldman said. 

Regional accreditors that provide accreditation to American institutions are increasingly requiring member universities to develop formal strategic plans, which is also a reason many have developed them, Goldman said. The U.S. has seven regional accreditors, including the Higher Learning Commission, of which OU is a member.

The commission requires that institutions specify their missions through systematic and integrated planning, according to the HLC’s criteria for accreditation, and also states that this planning process should include the institution as a whole — considering “the perspectives of internal and external constituent groups.”

“If you want to change strategy, usually you have to reallocate resources, because a lot of the activities in the university are really directly related to where the resources are,” Goldman said. “And to the extent you need people to carry out this strategy, it tends to be very difficult if there hasn't been some mechanism of involvement along the way.”

Fryar said she felt the process of creating the framework engaged with the community through town halls and the survey, and it helped create conversations on how OU compares to peer institutions. 

“President Boren was a president who people really appreciated how much he was able to communicate a vision for OU,” Fryar said. “But that vision was often fairly limited by his perspective, and kind of where he was in the institution and his own history. This is a space where I feel like, if nothing else, a lot of people have been able to say out loud, in public, what they think OU should be.”

Although Fryar said she does not know what the framework is going to look like or how it will be implemented, she said the process really showed upper administration what different community stakeholders aspire for OU to become.

“I've seen the president and provost — their rhetoric around the university, the way they talk about plans — and I've seen some responsiveness with that. Just small ways a lot of times, but that they are responsive to these conversations,” Fryar said. “But it certainly created a world in which it feels a little bit more like the future of OU is something we're talking about, as opposed to something we're told is going to happen to us.”

Fryar said she believes the strategic framework would’ve been conducted regardless of who the president was, since the regents requested it, but the process is well-suited for Harroz and his leadership style. 

“We've got a leadership team that I think genuinely wants to pivot,” Fryar said. “But there are folks that have been here for a really long time. And untying the knot that has been created over decades — if they really want to pivot, it's going to take some time.”

Harroz told The Daily in a December interview that he hopes his interim administration is remembered as one that was honest about the difficult times but came together to address them and plan ahead. 

“What I would hope for the next increment of time is that we, as a community, came together and laid out a really bold, really honest, really clear path to accomplishing this really sacred mission that matters to the individual and matters to society,” Harroz said. “I mean, that's why I spend my time here.”

news managing editor

Jordan Miller is a journalism and political science junior serving as The Daily's news managing editor. Previously she served as The Daily's spring 2019 news editor, fall 2018 assistant visual editor and was an SGA beat reporter.

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