Task force crafting strategic renewal plan to usher USF into new era

In an effort to move forward with the university’s strategic renewal plan, the USF Strategic Planning Advisory Task Force was formed to set priorities for future semesters. ORACLE PHOTO/LEDA ALVIM

While COVID-19 halted many of USF’s plans and led to drastic cuts in its budgets, USF administration still manages to focus on future goals through a newly created task force on the university’s strategic renewal process.

The USF Strategic Planning Advisory Task Force was created Dec. 21 to craft a strategic renewal plan for the university focused on setting aspirations, identifying sources of competitive uniqueness and differentiations, consulting with key members of the USF and Tampa Bay community as well as reviewing core commitments. 

During a meeting Tuesday afternoon, the task force discussed the plan’s components and timeline, which will be submitted to the Board of Trustees (BOT) in June for approval, followed by the Board of Governors.

“We want to gather information that allows us to separate USF as a university in terms of looking at metrics and looking at our aspirational peers. What sets us apart? So in gathering this information, we hope to bring you a document that actually articulates that, and we’re looking forward to it,” Task Force Vice Chair Sylvia Wilson Thomas said.

Through weekly meetings, the task force will focus on articulating a strategy across all campuses as well as a list of the university’s commitments and values, assessing the university’s strengths and current gaps and developing a formal vision and strategy statements to ensure “the university maintains a flexible and agile posture.”

Feedback and constant communication with the USF and Tampa Bay community will also play a significant role in the task force’s business moving forward. The task force will be receiving feedback from students, faculty and staff regarding the university’s new strategic plan, as well as engaging in consultations with Tampa Bay regional stakeholders, alumni and donors.

The task force will also build upon other initiatives proposed in the past, including the 2025 System Strategic Plan focusing on three points of emphasis — excellence, productivity and strategic priorities for a knowledge economy — to be achieved by 2025 across the state university system as well as USF’s Principles of Community.

“We’ll be moving at a rapid pace, but we’re not starting from scratch,” Vice President for Executive Affairs and Chief of Staff to the President Brian Ten Eyck said. “There’s been an incredible amount of input and engagement across the various campuses across the university already to produce a great deal of work, and we’re going to leverage that.

“That’s what a lot of the task force has already been doing is immersing themselves in these documents and a lot of the material that already exists so that we can get up to speed quickly.”

Chaired by professor of anthropology Charles Stanish, the task force consists of 19 members — 18 faculty from all campuses and Student Body President Claire Mitchell.

The task force held its first meeting Jan. 7 from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. The plan is to host two-hour meetings every Friday as well as town halls throughout the semester.

As of Jan. 19, the task force scheduled three town halls on the Tampa campus Jan. 28, Feb. 2 and Feb. 9 from 3-5 p.m. 

Town halls will also be hosted at the other campuses from 3-5 p.m. on their respective days. The St. Pete campus is expected to host a town hall Feb. 11, and the Sarasota-Manatee campus is expected to host one Feb. 17. 

“We will have three scheduled town halls for anybody that would like to attend so faculty, staff, students, community members,” USF Deputy Chief of Staff Paige Beles Geers said. “And then we are proposing two additional town halls that are both tentative right now. We’re actually seeking input from both campuses on how to best carry those out, but that would be reserved for St. Petersburg and our Sarasota-Manatee campuses.”

Geers said “individual commenters” will be asked to sign up via email and will be allotted three minutes to speak during the town halls. For larger stakeholder groups, one designated person representing the group will be allotted 10 minutes to speak. Any student, faculty or staff who would like to address concerns directly to the board during the town hall meetings will have to sign up beforehand, according to Geers.

At the beginning of each meeting, Stanish and Thomas will provide brief updates on the task force’s progress.

“It would be a nice way for our university community to understand exactly where we are and what we’ve been working on today,” Geers said.

Community stakeholder focus groups are also in the plans to take place between March and April. The focus groups will engage with external stakeholders, including governmental officials, business representatives and K-12 education professionals, to receive their inputs and feedback on material created by the task force.

For Stanish, building relationships with external stakeholders could open doors for student success through internships and research opportunities as well as potential donors for the university.

“Those are the external folks that we hope to get on board, particularly when we show the value of a university for a vibrant metropolitan area,” Stanish said.

“We’re being thorough and deliberate in making sure that we’re reaching out to all of the stakeholders that want to have input into this.”

The task force plans to discuss a range of topics before the BOT’s Strategic Initiatives Committee meeting Feb. 23. Among the topics, members will discuss USF’s competitive landscape and SWOTA — strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats and aspirations — to evaluate what the university can do better compared to other universities across the state.

“We’ll see who is out there and what other universities have similar scope. We will look for best practices and find out what people do best and we will find out what we do best and do it even better, and we will deal with areas where we need improvement. And then this, of course, is the filter, the strengths and weaknesses, opportunities, threats and aspirations,” Stanish said.

The task force will also focus on creating a framework for diversity, inclusion, anti-racism and equity as well as strategies to unite all three campuses while preserving their own identities.

“A theme that has emerged is that the Sarasota-Manatee and St. Petersburg campuses must maintain their unique character and their ties to their community because there’s an awful lot of community support. We’re all in this together to make the entire university system to be mutually beneficial for all our campuses and that’s what we plan to be,” Stanish said.

After the Strategic Initiatives Committee meeting, the focus will then shift toward articulating the value of joining the Association of American Universities, reviewing and evaluating change factors in higher education and developing a formal vision and strategy statement for the university.

Ten Eyck said the task force is working on a universitywide survey to collect input from community members focused on USF’s institutional strengths.

“[The survey] is going to begin to collect input from all walks internally on what they see as our institutional strengths, and where there are opportunities for us to improve or possibly move into new directions,” he said.

The task force will also start welcoming suggestions through their website. A comment submission form will become available on the Strategic Renewal website by the end of the week, according to Ten Eyck.

“It will look very much like the form that was used during consolidation that allowed anybody to submit comments at any time,” Ten Eyck said.

The task force will present its draft to the BOT Strategic Initiatives Committee on Feb. 23. The final recommendations are set to be submitted by the end of April.