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Faculty Senate briefed on Master Plan, institutional progress

At its first meeting of the academic year, the Faculty Senate was briefed on plans that could add up to 3 million square feet of additional space over the next decade and the university’s improvements in areas such as student admissions, faculty hiring and resources to enhance research opportunities.

As part of Northeastern’s Institutional Master Plan, about two-thirds of new space would be dedicated to academic purposes and most of the development would be focused along Columbus Avenue and in more efficient uses of Northeastern’s main part of campus.

“We’ve tried to think big, we’ve tried to think conceptual and we’ve tried to fulfill the broadest uses possible for this campus,” Ralph Martin, the university’s senior vice president and general counsel, said during his presentation on Wednesday, which focused on the broad potential uses for the campus and centered on improved academic facilities and spaces that foster interdisciplinary research and collaboration.

The Master Plan is a once-a-decade document the city of Boston requires major institutions to complete to document their plans for growth and development over the next 10 years. The process engages members of the Northeastern community, local officials and a city-appointed task force, all of whom shape the final document, which is due to the Boston Redevelopment Authority by the end of this year.

The new space would come on the heels of Northeastern adding 2.2 million square feet of space — most of it residential — since 1998.

The Faculty Senate meeting also marked the first for Richard A. Daynard, University Distinguished Professor of Law, in his new role as Senate Agenda Committee chairman. Stephen W. Director, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, also spoke about the impacts of Northeastern’s Long Range Plan, the roadmap for realization of its Academic Plan.

In his presentation, Director noted improvement across the board, with many goals set for 2014 — in areas like admission rates, SAT scores, the number of students from outside the Boston area and increasing the diversity of the student body — already realized. He also noted improvements in the hiring of tenure and tenure-track faculty and resources that enhance research opportunities for faculty and students.

“We’ve made tremendous progress,” Director said, “but we still have more to do.”

Among Northeastern’s myriad improvements was the advancement of its ranking in the listing of top American colleges and universities by U.S. News & World Report, at No. 56 this year, moving up on the list from No. 96 when new long-range planning began during the 2009-10 academic year.

“Most of you will remember that it wasn’t so long ago when the top 100 was our goal,” Daynard said in his remarks at the start of Wednesday’s meeting. “Part of our ongoing goals here as a Faculty Senate is to make sure the reality of the university continues to meet and exceed outside expectations and perceptions.”

As the Senate Agenda Committee chair, Daynard said he was eager to work with the Senate and university’s senior leadership to continue improving the university’s standing.

“I think the relationship between the Agenda Committee and the administration is off to a good start, and I think we have a good chance for a productive and mutually beneficial relationship this year,” Daynard said.

The Senate also voted unanimously to approve a new Master of Science in Sustainable Building Systems offered jointly by the College of Engineering and the College of Arts, Media and Design’s School of Architecture. The body also began a discussion, led by Mary Loeffelholz, the vice president for academic affairs, on the way the university can better prepare its tenured faculty for their new roles as associate professors and their advancement to the rank of full professor.

“This is both a challenge for many universities and an opportunity for us to do better by faculty members in these ranks,” said Loeffelholz, who noted that of the more than 200 associate professors at Northeastern, about 60 registered for a workshop specifically for their rank. “Clearly there is interest and demand for conversation about this topic at Northeastern.”