University strategic plan: Actions must follow words

At the end of the fall 2021 semester, the university released its five-year strategic plan. Listing five Outstanding Success Possibilities (OSP), the plan was written using student and faculty feedback, including surveys such as the Campus Climate Survey.

Each OSP has its own overarching goal with various outcomes, deliverables and sub-deliverables: Market-responsive education (OSP 1); transformative student experiences (OSP 2); Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Service (OSP 3); Customized Educational Models (OSP 4); People First (OSP 5).

In an email to the university community on Jan. 27, campus president Steven Kaplan laid out recent actions that the school has taken in accordance with the strategic plan. He said that a “Connected Core” for six-course, two-program tracks is to be launched in fall 2022, as part of OSP 1. Two grants submitted to the National Endowment for the Humanities also fall under this category.

The email also highlighted the newly created Campus Climate Response Team that will develop a model and system to address “racial or bias incidents on campus,” as part of the third OSP.

The university has a long history of students asking for more from the administration in regards to taking action and being transparent. With the recent improvements outlined in Kaplan’s email, and the expectation that more will follow, this may mark the beginning of the university actively listening to students’ voices.

In the Campus Climate Survey, a student said, “Leadership should continue to make this a priority and take action – it is no longer time for words and fancy emails… We need to stop doing what is easy and looks good on the balance sheet at the end of the year and take bold action to ensure that we are an inclusive environment for all.”

This comment was followed by another student saying, “I have no clue what goes on in the administration. I feel as tho[ugh] the administration is so far removed from students’ lives not many will know what to say here.”

But demands for change have not only surfaced in anonymous surveys. Students have also taken action to fight for the change they wish to see.

Some recent outcries include the making of the Instagram account OrganizeUNewHaven following the internal appointment of Lorenzo Boyd in 2020, student demonstrations in response to comments at the 2021 9/11 Memorial Ceremony and a formal letter to the university by the Black Alumni Network in 2021 that listed actions and steps that should be taken.

While many of the pleas for action are related to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) efforts, students have also come forward to address campus operational issues like housing, parking, dining and academics.

The strategic plan is a transparent document that holds the university accountable for its students and community. However, only time will tell if action will follow the words so carefully crafted on the page. In five years time, when students look at the state of the university knowing what was promised to them, I am confident that they will be just as outspoken and determined as those who preceded them in demanding more.