The Catholic University of America

Nov. 3, 2011

CUA Comments on Long-term Priorities

  Strategic plan photo 1

At the Nov. 1 town hall meeting, Provost James Brennan describes the process of developing Catholic University's strategic plan.

Catholic University hosted a town hall meeting to provide a forum for comments from faculty, staff, and students on the University’s new strategic plan, a document outlining CUA’s priorities for the next 10 years. The comments ranged from promoting the “distinctive Catholic culture” of the national university of the Catholic Church to improving the workplace environment on campus.

The meeting took place Nov. 1 in the Great Room of the Edward J. Pryzbyla University Center. Almost 200 university faculty, staff, and students attended — along with President John Garvey, Provost James Brennan, and Vice President for Finance and Treasurer Cathy Wood, and the Strategic Planning Steering Committee. As co-chairs of the Steering Committee, Brennan and Wood began the meeting with a summary of the planning process.

The strategic plan’s four broad goals are to promote the distinctive Catholic culture of the University, strengthen the University’s academic excellence, enhance the student collegiate experience, and improve the experience of work at the University. Brennan said that the University aims to meet the goals between 2012 and 2022 through over 200 measurable “action items.” Each action item has associated timelines, measures to assess progress, and an academic or administrative office responsible for implementation and oversight.

Questions and Comments

During a comment period, about two dozen faculty members, staff, and students posed questions and comments on issues ranging from the definition of Catholic identity to the quality of food on campus. Peter Shoemaker, director of the University Honors Program and associate professor of modern languages and literatures, moderated the session.

“One of the things we as students are trying to promote is our Catholic identity and the Catholic culture of this University,” said sophomore Peter Rescigno, who suggested developing a program or course for freshmen detailing the University’s Catholic heritage.

Sophomore Connor Dowd urged also for a course of studies to prepare Catholic University students to teach in Catholic schools and in parish youth programs. “There are a lot of people I know who are interested in teaching specifically about Catholicism,” he said.

In contrast, Jerry Muller, professor and chair of the history department, was opposed to expressions of Catholicism in all aspects of the University’s activity. He asserted that “Catholic culture” should be visible in some areas, but there are “elements of University life where that would be inappropriate or at odds with the nature of the academic enterprise in general. …The notion of a Catholic biology or a Catholic psychology or a Catholic math would be highly inappropriate,” Mueller said.

Alternatively, Professor Michael Gorman of the School of Philosopy stated,“I don’t think it’s a bad idea to try to make sure that the Catholic nature of the University is reflected in all of its elements, including all of its academic departments.” He acknowledged that seeing the nexus between Catholicism and subjects like math can be difficult, but “we can acknowledge that without throwing out the idea of trying to implement the Catholic ideals through our academic endeavors.”

Graduate students spoke to strengthening academics and improving student life and jobs on campus. Graduate student Matthew Parent suggested more funding for graduate students’ travel to academic conferences, the lack of which he said hurts the ability to draw “top-level” students to the University. Others urged health benefits for dependents and for more meeting areas where graduate students could foster community.

Comments ranged widely. Jennifer Fleeger, assistant professor of media studies, suggested University-organized on-campus extracurricular activities for undergraduates pressed for study-time should be better integrated with their courses, and Rachel Wainer, assistant dean of students, reinforced the action item about campus safety in the plan.

Physical and Financial Considerations

During the briefing, Steering Committee Co-chair Cathy Wood explained that, in addition to the strategic plan, the University is working on a master plan, a development plan, and a financial plan.

The master plan will map out changes to the University’s physical layout across the next 25 years. Wood said the “ambitious” plan is being developed in consultation with architects the University has hired, members of the neighboring community, and the government of the District of Columbia, which requires all colleges and universities within its borders to maintain a long-range, general plan for their facilities.

Strategic plan photo 2  

Members of the CUA community listen as Dave Best, associate director of student conduct and ethical development, comments on the strategic plan.


The development and financial plans are expected to delineate ways for Catholic University to afford instituting the proposals in the strategic and master plans, said Wood. Still, she cautioned, “A financial decision should not drive where you want to take the organization.”

An open meeting on the master plan is expected in the coming weeks, Wood noted.

Strategic Plan Timeline

The strategic plan was set in motion in 2010 when Catholic University was reaccredited for 10 years by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. In the process, the commission requested information on the University’s plans for the following five years, especially on student “assessment” and “learning outcomes.”

After Garvey was appointed President in July 2010, he initiated a campus-wide effort to formulate a plan — looking ahead 10 years.

In January and February this year, the University hosted 14 town hall-styled meetings at which members of the University community were invited to name what they consider the University’s strengths, challenges, opportunities, and risks that should be weighed in the process. According to Brennan, 550 members of the University community participated in one or more of the sessions.

Among the concerns, the Steering Committee identified four themes that were “fairly obvious,” from the 14 meetings, Brennan reported at the Nov. 1 briefing. They became the basis of the plan’s four goals.

In late spring, the Steering Committee began considering feedback from the President, the President’s Council, and the academic deans for objectives and initiatives aligned with the plan’s broad goals.

Following approval of a working draft of the full plan developed over the summer, the Steering Committee is presenting the plan to the University’s administrative leadership, the Academic Senate, and the Board of Trustees.

Questions and comments raised in the Nov. 1 meeting will be considered as the Steering Committee puts the finishing touches on the plan. The final draft of the strategic plan is scheduled for a vote by the Board of Trustees at its Dec. 13 meeting.

Brennan said that once the strategic plan is finalized, the University’s 12 schools, libraries, and research centers must develop corresponding unit plans that “articulate the direction that’s in the University’s plan.” Brennan said he expects the unit plans to be complete by the end of the academic year.

A progress report on the plan — with special attention to objectives on student assessment and learning outcomes —is due to the Middle States Commission on Higher Education April 1, 2012.

Catholic University’s draft strategic plan can be viewed and comments submitted online at


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