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Northeastern holds first town hall meeting on next academic plan

12/08/15 - BOSTON, MA. - Provost James Bean speaks at the first Town Hall meeting in Columbus Place on Dec. 8, 2015. Photo by: Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

James C. Bean, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, led the first town hall meeting with the Northeastern community on the university’s strategic planning process on Tuesday. Northeastern’s next academic plan will guide the university’s course over the next 10 years.

“The academic plan is really a discussion about where we want to be as a university 10 years from now,” said Bean, noting that most of the goals set forth in the previous academic plan were achieved. “We want to paint a picture for 2025. We’ve come a long way in the past nine years, and we hope to go a long way in the next 10 years.”

The academic plan will serve as the framework for the university’s next long-range plan, which will map out how the academic plan will be put into action. The plan will take shape over the next year through extensive discussions with students, faculty, staff, parents, alumni, donors, and community members. The final plan will be ratified in fall 2016.

Tuesday’s discussion, which was held in the Alumni Center, focused on Northeastern’s essence statement, which Bean described as a set of core university beliefs and values.

Bean outlined the process for the university’s next academic plan at the State of the University earlier this fall. The university launched an interactive academic plan website for the Northeastern community to learn more and provide feedback, and one of the first questions asked was “What is the essence of Northeastern?” A working group, appointed by Bean, used the feedback from the discussion thread and other parts of the community to develop a first draft of the essence statement, which was posted online Monday.

Tuesday’s meeting continued the discussion, as Bean pointed to several themes that emerged in the feedback—interdisciplinary research, liberal arts education, innovation and entrepreneurship, global and experiential learning, diversity, the unique traits of a Northeastern student, and the university’s connection to the city of Boston.

Eighty staff and faculty members attended the first town hall meeting on the next academic plan in the Alumni Center on Tuesday. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Eighty staff and faculty members attended the first town hall meeting on the next academic plan in the Alumni Center on Tuesday. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

The town hall attendees, primarily faculty and staff, provided thoughtful questions and comments throughout the meeting. They weighed whether to lead the essence statement with the topic of a liberal arts education, Northeastern’s foundation in experiential education, or a combination of the two. Some wondered whether the order even matters.

The draft underscored Northeastern’s global emphasis and the critical value placed on students gaining a global perspective. During the town hall discussion, Alexander Levering Kern, the executive director of the Center for Spirituality, Dialogue and Service, also pointed to the need to more clearly define what global citizenship means as it relates to our students.

Robert Gittens, vice president for public affairs, highlighted the importance of recognizing Northeastern’s strong local connections to the city of Boston, as well. “We need to acknowledge our unique place in Boston,” he said. “We learn from Boston and this community in ways that other institutions do not.”

Other topics that were discussed and considered for the essence statement included the value of a diverse university community and the shift in higher education toward creating customized educational tracks for students.

The essence statement will be redrafted over the course of the next month, and a revised draft statement will be available in January. Throughout Tuesday’s discussion, Bean urged speakers to post their suggestions and comments to the academic plan website so that the larger Northeastern community can view and respond to them.

“What we really need is the collective brain-power of this community,” Bean said.

More town hall meetings have been scheduled for early 2016, with the next two taking place on Jan. 19 and Jan. 25.

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