A biweekly publication for faculty and staff

Campus Defines Strategic Academic Focusing Strengths

October 7, 2014

An earlier issue of Panorama detailed the outstanding success we had this year in recruiting new faculty members to the University of California, Merced.

Every school  —  and practically every program — expanded its roster of ladder-rank faculty members. At the same time the campus was recruiting these outstanding individuals, we were heavily engaged in the deliberative process of Strategic Academic Focusing (SAF), an exercise that is drawing to a close and will provide very useful results.

I recently had the opportunity to discuss the status of SAF during a well-attended faculty forum.

The SAF process, which seeks to identify future areas in which to target strategic faculty hires, has engaged the entire academic community in a very productive way. Planning for the future, particularly the future characterized by the substantial programmatic growth anticipated at UC Merced, can be a creative and intellectually stimulating exercise. An equally important part of the SAF process, while perhaps not as intellectually stimulating, is the realistic analysis of the current status of the programs we hope to expand.      

These analyses have clearly shown which programs have been most successful in educating undergraduate and graduate students, in providing research support for graduate students, in sharing research results with graduate and undergraduate students in the classroom, and in achieving national and international recognition for these academic accomplishments.

As the disclaimer in the stockbroker TV commercial says, “Past performance is no guarantee of future success.” Nonetheless, it is logical that one would turn first to programs with clear demonstrated strength when trying to determine which areas are the best candidates for future expansion and growth.

Nearly a year of defining and refining areas of academic strength and interest has resulted in the identification of five thematic areas for UC Merced. We need to do further work to pinpoint specific strengths within these categories that are signature elements for the campus, but the broad areas include materials, sustainability, entrepreneurship, research for societal benefit and big data.

In all cases, there are programs in each school that contribute to these broad research topics. The topics are interdisciplinary and collaborative, even as they simultaneously build on core strengths within individual graduate groups.

Over the course of the fall semester, facilitated conversations among faculty members will take place around each of these topics, so each theme becomes more tightly focused.

With this strategic plan in hand, future faculty hires will follow a straightforward process designed to grow these areas as well as to continue supporting the foundational elements of our academic programs.

If we follow these guiding principles throughout the course of the 2020 Project, UC Merced will further develop internationally recognized pillars of excellence that will be defining elements for the institution.