Chancellor Eric Fingerhut of the The University System of Ohio delivered his Strategic Plan as scheduled today. The result is a painfully cautious document with many laudable goals (increased enrollment, more STEM degrees, improved quality) but few of the hard choices necessary to achieve them. You can find the Plan, along with a separate downloadable Executive Summary at the U System website.
As one example, the Plan spends considerable time examining the situation here in Northeast Ohio. We get an accurate, unblinking view of the landscape:
- Yet questions about the missions of the distinct
universities do arise in Northeast Ohio. The reason
is plain – the state has four public universities in
four contiguous counties (Cleveland State in
Cuyahoga, Kent State in Portage, the University of
Akron in Summit and Youngstown State in
Mahoning), plus one of the last free standing
medical schools in the country, the Northeastern
Ohio Universities College of Medicine
(NEOUCOM), in a region that has seen its overall
share of the state’s population decline over the last
several decades. The close proximity and the lack of
population growth have made the schools
intensely competitive, a competition which has not
served the best interest of the state or the region.
Acknowledgment that no on can be happy with the current situation:
- Had we started with a blank slate, we would not
have drawn so many competing institutions in
such close proximity to each other.
And a firm, decisive plan to . . . keep talking about it:
- To that end, the Chancellor will
convene a public session of the trustees of the
four public universities and NEOUCOM at least
annually to review the progress toward
improving quality, increasing mission differentiation,
increasing collaboration, increasing the
contribution of the institutions to the regional and
state economy, and decreasing competition
among the institutions.
The report as a whole pretty much follows that pattern. We now have goals and a promise that Chancellor Fingerhut will follow up on those goals, but as yet only faint suggestions that the Chancellor or the Governor are contemplating bringing any big wood into the game.
Given Ohio's historically entropic universe of public institutions, simply assembling a document suggesting a single vision is itself an impressive accomplishment. This report would not have been possible were it not for the Governor's success in organizing a single system under an executive appointed Chancellor. Still, assembling the Strategic Plan is a simple matter compared to actually implementing it. One measure of how difficult this will be is the calculatedly inoffensive tone of the document. It's a soft sell. Now we see who buys in.