UNC's new Academic Plan begins to take shape

Sue Estroff always said that it didn’t cost money to dream.

In public comments supporting her work writing the University’s new Academic Plan last year, Estroff’s line almost became a catch phrase.

“It’s an anti-depressant for the campus,” Estroff, co-chairwoman of the Academic Plan’s drafting committee, said in an interview last year.

But this year, as the University’s guiding academic policy document begins its decade-long march forward to realization, the dreaming stage is over and the costs are becoming more apparent.

Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Bruce Carney told the University’s Board of Trustees earlier this month that it would cost $40 million to fully implement all of the Plan’s diverse goals.

Those goals could affect all areas of University life, and include revised academic regulations, guaranteed enrollment in first year seminars and faster transitions to graduate and professional schools for undergraduates, among others.

With University-wide budget cuts and protests against the proposed 15.6 percent tuition increase for in-state students this year, the provost’s office will be pushed to find more cost-efficient priorities in the early stages of the plan’s implementation.

“In this first year, we should go for low-hanging fruit,” said Alice Ammerman, the Academic Plan implementation committee’s co-chairwoman and director of the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. “But we also shouldn’t hold back on things that do cost money.

“We’ll be ready when resources become available, but that’s just not now.”

Ammerman and committee co-chairwoman Gina Carelli, of the psychology department, have spent much of their first few months working through their group’s specific limitations.

“We’re not deciding what will and won’t be finished and carried out,” Carelli said. “We’re just putting the concrete plans in place.”

The planning method itself is different from the University’s original 2003 Academic Plan.

That plan — which helped bring about major curriculum reform, the first-year seminar program and the FedEx Global Education Center — set the same kinds of lofty academic and professional goals as the current plan.

By the end of the academic year, current committee members said they hope to create step-by-step recommendations to guide implementation of the group’s six initial priorities, which include a revision of academic requirements, increased faculty wage parity and a series of themed, team-taught lecture courses.

The 2003 plan lacked an implementation committee, but identified a diverse set of groups across departments as standard bearers responsible for carrying out specific parts of the plan.

“That plan was brand new, we had never had an Academic Plan before and the general plan was to just keep it moving,” said Executive Associate Provost Ron Strauss, who served on both committees. “Because the administration and campus leadership valued the plan, those things in the plan happened.”

But not all of the first plan’s targeted goals came to fruition. Topics as varied as developing the Carolina North satellite campus and raising faculty salary parity with peer institutions were too broad to have definite end points, Strauss said.

“Everybody always wants everything to happen now, but this plan is a planned 10-year effort,” he said. “Completion will be determined on a different rate.”

Ammerman and Carelli said they have approached their charge with that scope in mind.

“We just want to help prioritize paths forward when the resources become available,” Ammerman said. “This is not a hard and fast contract.”

Contact the University Editor at university@dailytarheel.com.

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