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UNG asks community for input on future vision

POSTED: March 4, 2014 11:59 p.m.

The struggle to develop one unified vision while maintaining individual campus identities was evident at a University of North Georgia strategic planning town hall meeting.

“Nobody was crazy about this (merger), to put it mildly,” Strategic Planning Committee Chairman J.B. Sharma said. “And everyone went into a state of grieving. ‘What happened to our placid pond?’ But at the same time, people have moved ahead with a can-do spirit. ‘We’re going to make lemonade out of lemons.’ The point being that we are representatives of the wishes and the hopes and aspirations of the children of this area and the unborn children of this area.”

The University of North Georgia was formed in January 2013 by combining the former Gainesville State College and North Georgia College & State University.

Sharma, the assistant department head of physics, and committee co-chairman and Vice President of University Advancement Andrew Leavitt have been assigned the task of forming a strategic plan and vision for the new university’s future.

The two men have formed a committee of around 55 faculty, staff, students and alumni to develop the draft plan that is now being presented for review and input from university stakeholders.

“By mandate of the president (Bonita Jacobs), the charge that she gave us was that when this was over and done with, nobody should say, ‘I was never asked. I didn’t have the opportunity,’” Sharma said.

So far, the proposed plan is broken into four goals:

  • Campus identity, organizational unity and effectiveness
  • Academic excellence and innovation
  • Leadership and the whole person
  • Engagement, partnerships, outreach and educational opportunity

Those goals are broken into objectives. For example, an objective under the goal of campus identity includes promoting “individual campus identities while upholding University of North Georgia values, policies and procedures.”

There are multiple objectives per goal, and multiple strategies per objective.

Concerns were expressed over the lack of participation Tuesday evening, and the ability of the campuses, including the Oconee and Cumming locations, to become a cohesive university.

“The elephant that’s in this room is that the room is almost empty,” said David Broad, a sociology professor at the university’s Dahlonega campus. “I’m a sociologist. We start our thinking about anything with the assumption that things happen for real reasons. In my opinion, a real reason is significantly because people do not have the faith ... that this process will continue to be a grass-roots-inspired process.”

He said his belief is governance should be shared and not come from a top-down approach.

“Shared governance does not merely mean that those major constituencies merely advise administration,” Broad read from a statement. “It means that their input is carefully weighed, understood and acted positively upon or well-reasoned explanation given for why not.”

Sharma agreed, saying the vision of the future university is a matter of “evolution and revolution.”

“We can’t have it overnight,” he said. “It’s going to take some time to meet those outcomes. It’s probably going to be a process for some time and I speak of shared governance, and I speak of it because I have lived it with this institution (the former Gainesville State College) for 26 years.”

Leavitt admitted he would have liked for more people to attend, but pointed out it’s a unique situation the new university is in.

“It’s weird,” he said. “I mean, has a university really ever asked a community to come for a town hall for strategic planning? What is that? So I think there’s going to have to be an education.”

A rough draft of the plan with the complete list of goals, objectives and strategies can be found at blog.ung.edu/strategicplanning.

People can leave comments online or attend any of the upcoming community and alumni town hall meetings, which run through mid-April including a second date of March 31 at 6 p.m. in the Gainesville campus’ continuing education and performing arts building. Leavitt said future webinars are being planned, as well.

The final strategic plan is expected to be complete by April 30.

“Be involved is the idea,” Sharma said. “It’s a pure, democratic process. Be involved. Have a common ownership here. And in the information age, education is everything. And money will go and investment will go to where there are educated kids such that they can bring value-added jobs.

“We need that here,” he added. “Not just for the money. Just to make sure that we get those high-end jobs that will preserve the environment around here.”


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