College of Education holds open retreat for strategic planning to improve national standing

By Christine Kim

Although the “U.S. News and World Report” ranked the University’s College of Education among the top 20 in public universities, according to the latest “U.S. News and World Report” survey, the faculty and staff are working to maintain and further improve their standing.

On Dec. 9, the College of Education, for the first time, had a retreat open to all faculty and academic professional staff members within the college. The retreat was held at the Levis Faculty Center, 919 W. Illinois St., from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. A little less than 100 people attended.

“I think (the retreat) will provide an opportunity to build some consensus among faculty and staff regarding the most critical challenges facing the College of Education in the next 5-10 years, the goals we would like to pursue to meet these challenges, and strategies to engage to meet these goals” said Susan Fowler, dean of the College of Education.

The retreat allowed everyone to have an opportunity to participate and provide input into the strategic plan for the college before its document submission in March. A variety of people from the college attended, including staff members, professors and administration. The current strategic plan and the president’s strategic planning for the college can be found on the University’s website.

“People got to have a voice in the early stages; it’s no good at all in the last step,” said Chris Harris, communications coordinator of the College of Education. “Everybody had a chance to be invested early on, and that’s probably the bigger payoff, even more so than the information we got.”

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The participants of the retreat divided into nine groups, meeting throughout the day in three group sessions concerning research challenges, teaching and educational challenges, and either economic development or service and engagement challenge issues in the college.

“I’m stimulated by the ideas that I heard from others and also to know that the people in the faculty and staff in other departments are eager for change.” said Janet Gaffney, associate professor in special education. “I feel like we’re on the threshold of new ideas and new ways of operating, and that excites me.”

As dean, Fowler appointed a committee called the Combined Leadership Committee, composed of the department heads and elected representatives from the faculty. The committee began meeting in July to gather information and plan the retreat. Sub-committees, which gathered more information, and a facilitator, also organized the retreat.

“I’m impressed with the amount of work that has already gone into strategic planning, that allowed us to be productive,” Gaffney said. “If the (committee) hadn’t done the previous work, then today wouldn’t be as productive. It would have been more floundering and all over the place.”

At smaller faculty meetings throughout the semester, faculty members discussed the future of the college; directions to take; and engaged in a survey of the faculty, staff, and students about the college’s priorities. Strength and weaknesses were analyzed in the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats analysis, and the College of Education Benchmarking Committee identified the strengths and weaknesses of the college compared to other universities. All the information used during the retreat can be found on the College of Education website, www.ed.uiuc.edu.