Moving UNT to higher levels of quality and recognition are our foremost goals," Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Howard C. Johnson explains as a preamble to the new academic plan he is proposing for the university.
Johnson, who is assembling the plan with the help of
faculty and administrative task forces throughout the university, says its academic vision is "to move UNT
forward during the next decade to a position of academic leadership among America's public research universities."
He says the measure of that position of academic leadership will be the quality of the university's faculty and the quality of UNT's students (both undergraduate and graduate).
The university's strengths
Johnson is quick to assert that the final version of the new plan must include supporting and growing the university's strengths.
"We must build on excellence in our outstanding programs — and build to excellence in our programs with emerging strengths," he says.
Prior to joining UNT in October 2003, Johnson was
executive vice provost for academic affairs at Syracuse University, where he served in a number of teaching, scholarly and administrative roles for 30 years. His academic, teaching and research specialties include mathematics and mathematics education.
Matching his knowledge of building strong strategic academic plans with UNT's programs, resources and potential, Johnson spent his first year mapping out much of the new comprehensive plan.
According to UNT President Norval Pohl, the new plan, titled "University of North Texas Academic Plan for Distinctiveness and Excellence," will be the centerpiece for all strategic planning at the university.
"During his first months on campus, Provost Johnson has asked questions and challenged all of us to take a fresh look at UNT. He has certainly energized the campus community with his enthusiasm and 'can do' attitude. This promises to be a watershed year for the university," Pohl says.
Johnson says UNT "must create a distinctive academic profile to reach the level of external competitive research funding, faculty scholarly productivity and graduate success we are seeking."
"We see clearly today that the leadership role UNT seeks can only be earned through ongoing processes of strategic planning and innovative thinking. We will not realize it by copying the successes of others," he says.
While Johnson acknowledges that UNT's excellent programs are numerous and diverse, he worries that the university's areas of strength and quality are so diffuse that many external audiences — including many alumni — are not aware of either the number or prominence of UNT's outstanding programs.
He aims to address these concerns in the plan's final version after considering individual comments and suggestions.
He notes UNT's distinctive qualities on both ends of
the spectrum — that many students choose UNT for the excellence of its academic programs and that UNT graduates are in high demand in many career areas.
The new academic plan outlines four initiatives and makes provision for a possible fifth focusing on graduate studies. The four initiatives are:
- Undergraduate education
The plan reflects Johnson's belief that "outstanding undergraduate experiences ensure outstanding students — and outstanding graduates."
It advocates involving senior faculty members in the undergraduate education experience, expanding the number of internships and other community-based learning experiences for students, and increasing opportunities for intellectual discourse by developing new universitywide lectures and symposia.
- Interdisciplinary research and education
Johnson says new knowledge often comes at the intersection of established but normally unrelated disciplines, and advances happen through collaboration. His interdisciplinary initiative calls for flexibility and teamwork that will allow UNT to become a center for innovative teaching and research.
- Programs building on the resources of the North Texas region
"While seeking national and even international recognition for many of its programs, UNT must take full advantage of its location in this wonderful North Texas region, which offers unprecedented opportunities in areas ranging from the fine arts to high technology," Johnson says.
His specific plans in this area include using the region as a laboratory for teaching, research, service and internships; creating applied programs that are closely linked
to established and emerging industries in North Texas; and developing programs, curricula and research related to solving regional problems.
"We must actively seek ways to increase the number
of opportunities for our students to study abroad. Since transportation and communication are shaping a world that is more interconnected than ever before, it is important that UNT place a high priority on developing programs, courses and experiences that have an international foundation," Johnson says.
This fall Johnson is gathering additional comments from schools, colleges, administrators and faculty members that will guide the refining of the plan. Once that process is complete, he will present it to the Board of Regents for final approval.