Strategic Planning - Message from the President - 2011 Skip Navigation

Letter from President Jeffrey Herbst

October 6, 2011
Portait of President Jeffrey Herbst
We will soon begin a process of targeted strategic planning that will examine how we can improve Colgate in critical areas. Strategic planning is most successful when the entire community is involved. I am writing to you now, at the very start of the process, to seek your input on both the process and content of our new strategic planning effort. Below, after having consulted with the Advisory and Planning Committee, I map out on a draft basis how we should proceed with strategic planning and a tentative list of the areas we should examine.

Your comments on the process, content, and any other aspect of the strategic planning process would be appreciated. Your comments would be especially helpful if received before October 21st.

You can e-mail your suggestions to Ms. Claudia Caraher ( These comments will be read by the Advisory and Planning Committee. If you would like your comments to be shared without your name attached, please do indicate so on your message. I will also be asking governance structures including the Faculty Affairs Committee, the Academic Affairs Board, and the Student Affairs Board for their suggestions, will discuss the planning process at designated forums such as the all-staff meeting and faculty meetings, and will solicit input from student government and the Alumni Council.

Strategic Planning at Colgate

Colgate’s last strategic plan (formally dated 2003-2008) is now mature: many of the highest identified priorities (e.g., the Ho Science Center, Case-Geyer Library, new financial aid policy, new athletic scholarship policy) have been accomplished and those that have not been executed are unlikely to be realized without a new impetus. It is therefore time for the university to embark on a new planning process that will enable this already great institution to move forward in a bold manner. Done correctly, a strategic planning exercise can define and significantly advance the university’s goals by coordinating a complex set of activities in an efficient manner. A strategic planning exercise can also frame difficult choices that the university must make. Finally, it can help build a consensus for the university community on a pathway toward the future.

Most would agree that Colgate does not have to undertake a long process of examining its fundamental identity. We are, and will remain, an overwhelmingly undergraduate liberal arts university in a residential setting with a faculty of teacher-scholars who have or are eligible for tenure. Within that context, a significant amount of strategic planning occurs on a regular basis. The faculty regularly and successfully revisit the core curriculum, divisions develop their own strategic plans, and we staff for the future. We also have a series of strategic goals that we know will not change, notably the great importance of raising additional monies for financial aid until we are need-blind.

We also cannot afford a process that posits vague goals that cannot be accomplished. We want to move ahead with tasks that we are capable of realizing. Therefore, the strategic planning process will set ambitious, measurable, and achievable goals in key areas. Equally important, we will be clear on what we are not examining as we cannot, and need not, focus on every area of the university. The criteria for including an area in the strategic planning process will be:
  1. It is critical to the mission of the university.
  2. There is reason to believe that current practices in this area do not serve the university well.
  3. Strategic planning in this area cannot be accomplished through normal university processes.
It will also be important to place these issues in the appropriate context. Of course, the future is uncertain and it will be hard to predict the exact circumstances that we will confront in the next few years. However, the guiding assumption of the planning process should be that resource growth will be extremely limited for the foreseeable future. Small increases in net tuition, uncertainty around endowment performance, and a debt level that cannot be increased significantly will mean that revenue growth will be much slower than in the past and, in particular, much lower than during the last strategic plan. The economic headwinds we face do not mean that there is no room or call for new initiatives. Indeed, given the competitive challenges before us, it is important to increase the pace of innovation. The significant change from the past is the understanding that proposals for new initiatives will be most persuasive when they are paired with suggestions on what we should stop doing. Reallocation must become a more important part of how we budget for innovation.


Selecting the issues to be examined in this process will therefore be absolutely critical. However, since we do not seek an all-encompassing plan that sets one agenda for the foreseeable future, we can also proceed knowing that other issues, if they meet the criteria above, can be examined in the future. Routine strategic planning that can be accomplished through normal channels will also continue. For instance, Vice President of Communications Debra Townsend has initiated an overhaul of our web presence that will lead to a further evolution of our digital identity.

The university’s Advisory and Planning Committee should rightfully oversee the entire strategic planning process. According to the Faculty Handbook, the committee “is concerned with institution-wide planning” and includes both top administrators and a significant number of elected and appointed faculty. The Advisory and Planning Committee will, after a process of consultation with the campus community and the relevant governance committees, commission studies from working groups in the areas to be reviewed. These studies should review the issues, identify the areas where progress can and should be made, and then make recommendations that can be implemented over the next three to five years. The committee expects to complete the study and recommendation phase by the end of 2012-2013 or, in the case of certain areas, even sooner. The recommendations will then be taken to the appropriate governing bodies. Final review of the strategic recommendations will be undertaken by the Board of Trustees.

The working groups should contain those administrators, faculty, staff, and students with knowledge and interest in the relevant area. They should represent diversity of thought and background. At least one member of the Advisory and Planning Committee will be on each working group to ensure continual communication.


Choosing the issues under review is critical and dependent upon consultation. Using the criteria developed above, a tentative list might include:
  1. Rightsizing the university. Every school has to be intentional about its size. Does Colgate have the right number of students for its mission and would a change in the student population yield benefits that would justify the resources that would be necessary to accommodate the change? Correspondingly, do we have the right size faculty and administration for our mission?

  2. The academic organization of the university. Colgate, like most schools, has an academic structure heavily based on disciplinary departments. Given the continual evolution of the patterns of knowledge generation, do we have the right structure to serve faculty and students in the 21st century and what changes are necessary? The Faculty Affairs Committee will be consulted with regard to the charge and composition of the committee.

  3. Conditions of service for the faculty. Ensuring that the faculty have the right incentives and that university practice matches stated goals is critical for a well-functioning institution. There are important issues to examine, including length of time in rank, the role of service, diversity, institutional recognition of excellence, and the mentoring of associate and assistant professors. The Faculty Affairs Committee will be consulted with regard to the charge and composition of the committee.

  4. Student diversity in the 21st century. Colgate faces a continuing challenge to increase the ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic diversity of its student body, promote discussion and interaction across difference on campus, and create a climate of inclusion for all members of our community. We also need to consider how our understanding of diversity will be challenged by the potential increase in international students. The Student Affairs Board, the ALANA Affairs Committee, and the Committee on Admissions and Financial Aid will be consulted with regard to the charge and composition of the committee.

  5. The role of technology in the university. Technology rightly permeates the university. Beyond making sure that our systems work, what technological posture should we adapt in order that we serve faculty, students, and staff correctly while trying, as much as is possible, to anticipate future advances? The focus will be on technology to promote learning in the classroom and to aid scholarship and creative activity. The Committee on Information Technology will be consulted with regard to the charge and composition of the committee.

  6. A plan for the university’s physical plant. Colgate has done an excellent job in maintaining its current physical plant. We need now to review what buildings, notably dorms, will have to be renovated or replaced over the next ten to 15 years and develop a financial model to support that work. Sustainability has also become an important priority. A more general philosophy on how the inevitable long-term expansion of the physical plant will proceed is also necessary. The Campus Planning and Physical Resources Committee will be consulted with regard to the charge and composition of the committee.

  7. The architecture of the athletics program. It is important to offer an intercollegiate athletics program that is sustainable within the financial framework of Colgate, given our limited resources, but aspirations to succeed at a high level. Planning in this area should include assessment of the experience of student-athletes, whether our programs are meeting the needs and interests of our students, and the value of our intercollegiate program to the larger Colgate community. The Committee on Athletics will be consulted with regard to this charge, and composition of the committee.

  8. The globalization of Colgate. Colgate’s study groups have long been an iconic part of the curriculum. With the increasing importance of areas of the world outside of Europe and the advent of new financial aid policies for study abroad, as well as approved programs, what is the future of the study group model and of the extended study group model? The Off Campus Study Committee will be consulted with regard to the charge and composition of the committee.
I believe that the strategic planning process will be a tremendous opportunity for us to think about Colgate’s future. I look forward to working with you.