Ajith: Strategic plan should pave way for needed change

Ani Ajith

On the heels of Facebook’s major overhaul and the unveiling of Apple’s iCloud, Northwestern’s administration plans to lift the curtains on its own game-changer: the 10-year Strategic Plan. The long-awaited plan will come in 16 GB and 32 GB models and feature “Like” buttons and a 30-minute video with Morty in a purple turtleneck, (mercifully blue) jeans and purple sneakers.

My sources within the Board of Trustees and ASG’s Exec Board, as well as a handy Daily article from last year, indicate that the Strategic Plan will be released for public crit– I mean, viewing – sometime this fall, possibly closer to the end of the quarter, after the trustees get a look at it in November.

According to top administrators and trustees, the Strategic Plan is supposed to be our ticket to the top 10 national college rankings. However, it’s critical to steer away from this line of thinking, which can only lead to the complete corporatization of a university already accustomed to mentioning “improving its brand” in every other press release.

Allow me to indulge in a sort of journalistic pregaming here with a wildest-dreams wish list for what’s in the Strategic Plan and what it will do for the University.

1. Commitment to increased international, minority and low-income integration.

We could go back and forth with statistics all day, but the bottom line is that the University could do much more to not only increase recruitment and enrollment of minority, international and low-income students, but also to encourage greater integration of these students within the larger community. I’m not calling for top-down efforts to integrate; instead, I’m calling for greater engagement with existing cultural and ethnic groups to forge stronger ties across communities.

2. Road map for enhancing undergraduate exposure to Evanston and Chicago.

We’re right next door to Chicago, but we don’t visit often enough. We live in Evanston, yet most students don’t venture past downtown. Vastly increased visibility and engagement with our Evanstonian neighbors would make for a smoother, richer four years on campus. Any serious plan to improve undergraduate connection with the Second City has to include not only our graduate schools in the city, but also our friends over at the University of Chicago.

3. Complete overhaul of campus technology services.

This includes better classroom technologies (my publicly funded high school had 10-foot SMART Board touch screens, so why don’t we?) and web-hosting services that support student projects (public universities offer server space to student entrepreneurs, so why can’t we?). We need university websites with better content, design and interactivity, and we should completely replace CAESAR and PlanIt Purple (What’s that? Exactly.) Additionally, there should be an improved, more networking-friendly database for alumni everywhere, especially those overseas.

4. Clear answer on the New Student Center proposal

This should include a timeline, cost estimates and planned features if necessary. [Full disclosure: I have never worked on ASG’s New Student Center proposal and have never been involved with administrators in discussions about it] If we’re not getting a New Student Center anytime soon, then please explain what the plan is for improving community. One of my professors, a decades-long veteran of the faculty, recently criticized NU’s traditional approach to community building. The Strategic Plan should include what the administration plans to do to improve the sense that we are all members of a powerhouse center of learning and progress, and that every theater production, concert, lecture, discussion and initiative propels NU as a whole – not just individual groups or sub-communities – forward.

5. Experiential learning, or “3 and e”

Morty’s proposal to require extracurricular work for credit could be a refreshing new change for our under-utilized quarter system. As it stands, our quarter system emphasizes breadth over depth (at least with more introductory classes) and sets a pace that leaves little time and space for much else. Take a leap, deans, and craft a unique educational experience.

At the very least, the Strategic Plan should deliver a sense of aggressive, fast-paced progress to inspire students, administrators, faculty and alumni. It’s no secret that both the administration and the students want to crack the top 10 national college rankings, but the Strategic Plan should make it clear that this is not our driving purpose for the next decade. As a living and learning community and institution, our transition to the top 10 should come only as a natural consequence of progress toward unique and worthy goals.

Ani Ajith is a Weinberg sophomore. He can be reached at [email protected].