Students want input in Strategic Plan

Students, staff and faculty members members pitched their ideas for Plan 2020 at a roundtable discussion last November.

The university’s next five-year Strategic Plan is now in its initial draft-writing stage, and students are eager to add input to the discussion.

Strategic Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 12.05.48 PMplans are  intended to guide the university’s policies and conduct, while focusing on a unifying theme. While the previous plan emphasized public service and research, the plan for 2015 to 2020 will focus on social justice.

With this theme in mind, the university has identified five institutional priorities that will be addressed in the plan.

These are to “leverage university resources to ensure underserved student success, reimagine knowledge to solve complex societal challenges, engage societal challenges locally and globally, integrate faith, reason and justice, and build a community of dialogue and justice,” according to Loyola’s website.

Last spring, a team of administrators and staff met to develop a broad visioning statement that would guide the plan. Lisa Reiter, director of Campus Ministry, was part of this team, representing the Division of Student Development.

Although all departments contribute to the five-year Strategic Plan, the Division of Student Development was the only one that asked for student input — holding three forums in late October and early November for discussion.

“The purpose of a floor like this is to invite the students to help us brainstorm,” said Reiter, who added that she was interested in helping with the forums because facilitating such discussions often brings new and creative ideas to the surface.

There is no completion date for a final copy of the five-year Strategic Plan yet, but an initial draft must be completed by Dec. 1. The board of trustees — the governing board of the university, to whom President and CEO Rev. Michael J. Garanzini S.J. reports — meets in June, so the plan has to be ready for them to approve then, according to Reiter.

“The board of trustees has the responsibility to see that Loyola is fulfilling its mission as a university in terms of its teaching, research and scholarship, and then doing that in terms of who we say we are as an institution,” Reiter said. “They’re the ones who make the big financial decisions — they’re the ones who set the budget.”

With the Dec. 1 draft deadline quickly approaching, Reiter has plenty of ideas she’d like to see included in the plan.

For instance, she described a gang prevention program in Los Angeles that gets young people out of gangs by doing tattoo removals and helping former gang members run a T-shirt screen shop and bakery. Reiter would love to see something similar outlined in the next five-year Strategic Plan, in which Loyola clubs and organizations would put all apparel orders through one place that wouldScreen Shot 2014-11-20 at 12.05.31 PM help employ former gang members.

Many students who attended the forums also came with ideas they’d like to see implemented, as each five-year Strategic Plan has the potential to directly affect students with major changes to Loyola.

For instance, the Damen Student Center, the Institute for Environmental Sustainability, construction of new residence halls and Ramble Outdoors (a program that provides trips and educational opportunities for Loyola students) are just a few things that were envisioned in the previous plan.

Some of the students at the forums were part of the Social Justice Coalition — a group of students from various clubs on campus, including Global Brigades, Fair Trade, Urban Agriculture and the Student Government of Loyola Chicago — who joined forces to make a list of their priorities for the five-year Strategic Plan.

“It’s a complete draft of what we’ve come [up with] together and decided are really important things that we would like to see our university do in the next five years,” said senior Neil Veirup, a member of the Social Justice Coalition and forum attendee.

The coalition’s proposals range from implementing a center for social justice at Loyola, to holding Loyola accountable for supporting living wages, fair trade, undocumented students, racial diversity and free speech.

Veirup, a 21-year-old psychology major, would like to see the creation of a social justice center that doesn’t necessarily have a faith component, so as not to deter people without religious backgrounds.

Other ideas involved partnerships and community benefit agreements in which Loyola would foster engagement between community members and students. From swim and music lessons, to artist workshops and basketball camps, the Social Justice Coalition aims to make Loyola less of a “bubble.”

“Walking home, students don’t feel threatened by other Loyola students because they’re familiar faces,” said Amanda Koenig, president of the Women in Science and Math Club. “So recognizing someone from the community — someone I might have played basketball with through the programming a department could potentially put on — could help students feel safe off campus and also help Loyola’s perception in the community.”

While students were grateful to have the opportunity to voice their opinions regarding the plan, many want a more substantial role than simply brainstorming.

Allison Grant, a senior social work major and member of the Social Justice Coalition, stressed that she wants strong student involvement in writing the five-year plan, and to hold the school accountable when the implementation of the plan beings.

“I just really hope that they don’t see it as just feedback, but take it to heart and actually care to implement these things even if they are difficult or controversial,” said the 22-year-old.

Veirup added that he wants to be involved in the plan so that he can help create something that he would be proud of if he visits Loyola five years from now.

However, he has had difficulty getting clear answers regarding administration’s schedule for the plan and lack of student involvement throughout the whole process.

“Part of our frustration is we’ve been asking for more answers on where are we going to be involved next in this process and they haven’t given us a clear answer. They’re like, ‘Well, we don’t know yet. We’re getting a more concrete draft in the beginning of December, and then we’ll let you know,’” he said.

Senior Katelyn Coghlan, a 21-year-old international and environmental studies major and also a member of the Social Justice Coalition, said the forums were an important, rare opportunity for open and honest discussion between students and administration.

Loyola administration and the visioning team are looking for student input regarding what kind of initiatives they can take, and nothing is yet set in stone, according to Director of Residence Life Cass Coughlin.

“We’re not saying, ‘yes, definitely that,’ or ‘no, not that…’ We’re going to compile the student input into ‘these are some of the ideas and seeds that have been planted,’ and then we’re gonna take that to one of the directors of the strategic vision,” he said.

Many students are passionate about being influential in Loyola’s path for the next five years — especially regarding social justice issues, but some aren’t satisfied by simply having their ideas taken into consideration.

“I think that having students present in that room when the final document is made instead of just being like, ‘ok, it’s drafted, it’s done — here’s what we decided…’ You know, it would be more transparent of the university to have student input before it was finished,” 21-year-old Koenig said.

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