By Anthony Caporale
On April 7, the Strategic Planning Steering Committee at Saint Vincent hosted its first of five information sessions. The one-hour session, addressing “Academic Excellence,” discussed the first goal of the new 2021-2026 Strategic Plan. Students received an email from college president Fr. Paul Taylor, O.S.B., inviting anyone from the Saint Vincent Community to join the informational Zoom. Taylor also shared two documents outlining the key goals Saint Vincent wishes to address in the next five years.
Dr. John Smetanka, the vice president of Academic Affairs, explained the purpose of a strategic plan.
“A strategic plan is a document that establishes an institution’s priorities and objectives for the growth and development over a period of time. A good plan also lays out the major steps to reach those goals (tactics), accountability for each of those tactics, and measurements that assess progress towards the plan’s ultimate fulfillment,” Smetanka said.
Saint Vincent has a current plan, but it is coming to an end. The 2016-2021 five-year plan saw some major accomplishments, according to Smetanka.
“The plan included the successful completion of an over $110 million dollar fundraising campaign, the most recent additions to campus facilities (James F. Will wing of the Dupre Pavilion), the new construction and renovations of the Latimer Library,” he said.
And because the 2016-2021 plan is ending, the committee is now preparing for the next five years. In the past weeks, Zoom sessions, like the one hosted on April 7, have been held to allow the entire community to voice their opinions.
“It is critical that all stakeholders have a voice in the development of the plan since it impacts the entire community,” Smetanka said.
These sessions are open to anyone who is interested; in fact, all are encouraged to attend.
“It is not too late to get involved, to read the draft of the plan, to watch the recordings of the information sessions, and to let your voice be heard as the Strategic Plan 2021-26 develops in the coming weeks,” Smetanka said.
As the discussion continues, the plan will likely see changes. The Board of Directors will be presented with the draft in June and the final approval will be voted upon in early September 2021.
Indeed, the first session saw spirited debate. Smetanka, who hosted the session, explained that Saint Vincent plans to “enhance the learning opportunities for all members of the community.” Academic programs must be evaluated for educational effectiveness, he said, while “developing, nurturing and promoting signature undergraduate and graduate programs, especially the core curriculum.”
Academic excellence in the context of the strategic plan, Smetanka asserted, is not so much about reaching a set standard of achievement as ensuring that each student fulfills his or her full potential.
“I would say that Saint Vincent strives to ensure each student reaches his or her full potential, and that every student has the experiences at the College to be transformed into the person they want to become—a person dedicated and equipped to make a positive difference in the world around them,” he said.
Much of the session focused on “evaluation” and “assessment,” terms used in academia to refer to a standardized and data-driven system for measuring academic outcomes. Saint Vincent must maintain clear assessment procedures in order to retain its accreditation. In 2018, SVC received a warning from its accrediting agency over insufficient assessment procedures. In 2019, following new measures implemented by the College to meet the agency’s demands, Saint Vincent was successfully re-accredited.
Dr. Caryl Fish, professor of interdisciplinary science, emphasized the need for clear goals in the evaluation process.
“I think I agree with evaluating programs. But I do not see the aspiration there. Evaluating courses should be a tactic to get to where we want, which is to have the best programs,” Fish said.
Dr. Christopher McMahon, professor of theology, agreed on the need for a robust assessment process. He also suggested more coherent and focused funding for academic initiatives.
“I think one of the things that is important going forward is program assessment, it is something we have been lacking in . . . . We are guilty of failing to fund initiatives sufficiently so that they contribute to the overall excellence of our institution. We got all these different ideas but putting money behind those ideas in a sustained way is something we need to work on,” McMahon said.
All Saint Vincent students have received an email with links to the complete recordings of every meeting.