Office of the Provost

Guidelines for the Strategic Assessment Process at the University of Michigan

The strategic assessment process will involve discussions with the University’s academic leadership, unit self-study, and advice and evaluation from expert colleagues within the University of Michigan and at other premier research universities around the world.  The purpose of the strategic assessment is to ensure that each unit periodically takes a clear-eyed look at its intellectual directions and priorities, its strengths and weaknesses, and its comparative advantages over other institutions.  Such an assessment can guide the unit’s future decisions and initiatives in a way that promotes focus in the pursuit of academic excellence.  Further, this assessment provides an opportunity to identify points of potential contact between the unit’s agenda and the strengths of the University of Michigan units for synergies and collaborations. Finally, this assessment provides the opportunity for the faculty and staff of the unit and the University’s academic leadership (President, Provost, Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs) to achieve a shared understanding of the significant intellectual choices and trade-offs facing the unit.

Overview of the Process

The strategic assessment provides each unit the opportunity to take stock of its strengths and weaknesses, to evaluate its strategies and goals, and to receive assistance from external groups of academic leaders within the University and from other academic institutions.  This process should help to articulate possible intellectual directions and to identify the most fruitful ones to pursue given their individual strengths and the strengths that the larger University can add to the unit’s own resources.  The process is flexible enough to adapt to the goals and operating style of individual units.  We expect two (2) academic units to conduct strategic assessments each year, thus each school will assess itself approximately once every ten years.  When appropriate, this process may be conducted simultaneously with an accreditation or other review so that similar work may serve both purposes.  Similarly, we expect two (2) non-academic units to conduct strategic assessments each year. 

The Dean or Director of the unit leads the process.  The Office of the Provost provides oversight and staff support for the relevant elements of the process, working closely to coordinate activities with the office of the Dean or Director and with the external groups that are involved.

We envision a standard four-stage process:

1) Establishing an information base and a shared context for discussion,
2) Unit assessment and planning,
3) Coordinating external perspectives from within the University of Michigan and from outside the University, and
4) Discussions with central academic leadership at the University and agreement on priorities and directions.

  1. Establishing an information base and a shared context for discussion

    The unit is provided a set of information and data displays that can inform the discussion and planning throughout the process. This information contains many of the University reports available for budget planning. When possible, data from peer institutions should be supplemented by the unit. This data should cover a broad range of areas: students, degrees, institutional activity, faculty, staff, diversity, revenues, expenditures, research volume, publications, facility use, fund raising, climate and morale, program rankings, etc.

  2. Unit assessment and planning

    The faculty and staff of the unit, led by the Dean or Director, engage in taking stock of the present and in thinking hard about the future of the unit.  The self-assessment provides an opportunity for the unit to judge its success in meeting its past goals.  More importantly, it prompts the faculty and staff to think about future goals, obstacles to achieving those goals, ways to overcome the obstacles, and the unit’s capacity to improve along each dimension of performance valued by the faculty and staff.  The self-assessment should include consideration of what the University can bring to the unit and also what the unit brings to the rest of the University.

    This stage culminates into a draft document to be shared with external groups in the next stage.

  3. Coordinating external perspectives from within the University and from outside the University

    Two (2) separate external (outside the realm of the unit being assessed) advisory committees will be convened at this stage.
     
    - The University Advisory Committee will be comprised of a small group of 3-6 thoughtful and knowledgeable faculty or staff from other University of Michigan academic or non-academic schools, colleges or units.  

    -The External Advisory Committee will be comprised of a small group of 3-6 thoughtful and knowledgeable faculty or staff from other outstanding institutions. 

    Appointments to the advisory committees will be made by the Provost, or a designee of the Provost, in consultation with the Dean or Director and other leaders from within the unit.  These committees will study the background information and the unit’s self-assessment document, and then discuss with the unit’s faculty and/or staff.  These discussions are intended to bring new perspectives into the unit’s deliberations, to challenge the conclusions of the initial draft self-assessment, to ask and help answer difficult questions regarding capacity, promising directions, and synergy.  These advisory committees will comment on the feasibility and desirability of the plans that the unit is developing, and identify possible obstacles to achievement.  In particular, the University Advisory Committee needs to focus on the implication of the unit’s plans for the rest of the University, and the opportunities for collaborations that advance other University goals and priorities.  The External Advisory Committee needs to focus on the challenges to the unit posed by the latest developments in research and education among our peer institutions.

    Both of the advisory committees will produce a brief exit report for the President, Provost and Dean or Director of the specific unit being assessed.  The value of the advisory committees is not limited to their reports; it is the conservations with the faculty and staff of the unit that will lead to revision of the self-assessment.

  4. Discussions with central academic leadership and agreement on priorities and directions

    In this stage the unit’s leadership meets with the University’s central academic leaders to discuss the strategic plans developed through the self-assessment and the interaction with the advisory committees.  This is an opportunity to build consensus about how to proceed in helping the unit to flourish and excel.  At the conclusion of the process, the unit will produce a report that lays out the future directions of the unit and the rationale for choosing these directions.  The report will be distributed to all faculty and staff of the unit as well as to the President and Provost.

    The final report of the strategic assessment will:

-Be forward looking and focus on future paths of the unit,

-Use candor and judgment to examine how the plans align with the unit’s current strengths and weaknesses, and what will be needed to achieve the plans,

-Incorporate expert advice from the advisory committees, and

-Consider the unit’s contributions to and from the rest of the University of Michigan alongside its contributions to and from its disciplines or fields of study.

See also:

Strategic Assessment and Planning Process detail document for units under review.

Strategic Assessment checklist for units under review.

For additional questions regarding the Strategic Assessment process, please contact Denise Newton, Executive Assistant to Vice Provost for Academic and Budgetary Affairs (newtond@umich.edu or 615-6737).