A biweekly publication for faculty and staff

Next Steps in Strategic Academic Focusing

March 3, 2014

I've had the privilege recently to work with Academic Senate leader Ignacio López-Calvo and our faculty and administrative colleagues, reviewing almost 40 Strategic Academic Focusing initiatives proposed by our very talented faculty members. 

Perhaps now more than any other time in the short history of this institution, it is important to ask how we want our academic programs to evolve. In essence, this has been the objective of the Strategic Academic Focusing.

But there is an overarching element of this activity that, in many ways, transcends the importance of any specific individual themes selected.

Will UC Merced strike out on a path that is truly unique and visionary, or will it simply strive to move as quickly as possible to look like another high-ranking and well respected university?

There is nothing wrong with aspiring to emulate other outstanding universities. But Merced is unique in being relatively unchained by precedent to any long-standing institutional culture. We truly have the opportunity to do something visionary and yes, perhaps even revolutionary, in the panoply of higher education – not simply for the sake of being revolutionary, but because revolutionary thinking is required in higher education, and for the most part is sorely lacking.

We are a small institution with the capability of being nimble and experimental. We have the luxury to take some degree of risk in defining our educational and research plans. We should by no means be careless, but simply acknowledge that with bold and creative new ideas comes the potential that some of those ideas might fail.

While those of us in academic leadership can encourage and support creativity and risk-taking, we cannot impose it. In the end, the academic mission belongs to the faculty.

The next six to nine months looks to be the most exciting period of time since the first days of this fine institution. It will be a time to define the extent to which the institution can identify creative and visionary approaches to higher education, and to call forth our most innovative and entrepreneurial ideas.

It will be a time to decide whether success is defined by how quickly UC Merced looks like some other well-respected university, or, instead, by what we can do as an institution to redefine the academy for the next century.

In my 35-year academic career, I have never met a more talented group of faculty members, most of whom joined this university to celebrate the pioneering spirit that is UC Merced. I hope that spirit will prevail, and that truly innovative and groundbreaking programs will be the result of this Strategic Academic Focusing exercise.