The Memo: Supporting the University of Minnesota's Strategic Vision
20 Feb 2006

The Memo: Supporting the University of Minnesota's Strategic Vision

Date: 20 February 2006 To: All Participants

20 Feb 2006

Date: 20 February 2006
To: All Participants
From: Arthur Harkins and John Moravec
Subject: Supporting the University’s Strategic Vision

Our Basic Concerns

The University of Minnesota is at a crossroads in its path for success in the 21st century. With a goal to become one of the top three public research universities in the world within a decade, the University is engaged in an ambitious strategic repositioning process. We are concerned that the majority of recommendations from the committees are leading us in a direction of reactive followership and potential stagnation. Rather than putting forth ambitious goals for the future of the University, the reports back conventional catch-up models over a call for “leapfrogging” to preferred future leadership. If the University ultimately engages in a plan to “catch-up” to other institutions, we are concerned that the likelihood of the University falling further behind in global competitiveness rankings will significantly increase.
Our Core Recommendation: Building on Creative Opportunities 

We have been meeting for some time to discuss trends in higher education here and abroad, and have several key ideas about enhancing the agenda to move the University of Minnesota to the forefront of world universities. This will be no small task. It will require a great deal of creativity and innovation, not just more of the same. What drives our ideas and interests can be summarized in terms of the following concepts: a) an emphasis on proaction rather than reaction; b) policies that foster leapfrogging activities instead of catching up; c) reconsideration of the balance between disciplinary and interdisciplinary programs; d) recognition of the relationships between internationalization and globalization (the need to synergistically integrate these two concepts); e) an emphasis on innovative knowledge production, distribution and utilization; and f) development of lifelong programs that reach larger numbers and varieties of students and stakeholders. For these tensions to become creative and productive, alternatives to the current planning process and its productivity must be energetically put into place.  

Leapfrogging as a Product of Visionary Leadership

We must look beyond the horizon as well as toward the horizon. The most important of the University’s potentials is leapfrogging. The practice of leapfrogging allows us to proactively and creatively build preferred futures through strategic reassessments and realignments of perceived challenges, opportunities and priorities. This requires rapid change and a commitment to innovation among all levels of the University community. We suggest these leapfrog steps for promoting the University’s forward motion and leadership:

  • Through globalism and internationalism, foster development of interculturally competent and socially responsible cosmopolitanism among students, staff and faculty.
  • Through learning to innovate, create learning and research environments that better facilitate the creation, innovative application, and sharing of new knowledge.
  • Through proaction vs. reaction, anticipate and build for preferred University futures rather than respond to current challenges and trends.
  • Through leadership vs. followership, demonstrate the University’s potential and capacity to drive new genres of knowledge production in the 21st century.
  • Through undergraduate knowledge production and innovation develop students that are not simply able to recall knowledge, but are also able to create new framings, meanings and applications of knowledge.
  • Through raising staff productivity as knowledge workers, utilize the strengths of the University as a diverse but collaborative learning organization.
  • Through innovative modes of knowledge distribution, identify, create and utilize new and future-oriented formats for sharing the University’s knowledge.

Realizing the University Potentials – Suggested Action Steps

  • Modify the current strategic process to take into account our proposal.
  • Focus on the University’s long-range leadership potentials as well as those being identified through the current strategic catch-up process.
  • Parallel each of the strategic repositioning committees with at least one more driven by long-range visioning and leapfrogging.
  • Expect these parallel entities to chart “leapfrog curves” (pathways for rapid advancement) into the future.
  • Establish a long-range strategic visioning council with a continuing mandate to set ambitious strategic goals, develop indicators for evaluation, evaluate ongoing long-range strategy realignments, and provide recommendations to the President and Board of Regents for future strategic action.
  • By Fall 2006, establish a grassroots development process involving a number of University Development workshops, labs, seminars, the Freshman Seminar program, and the Honors College.
  • Stimulate the involvement of first-rate retirees, volunteers, alumni, and creatives in workshops, labs, and seminars in the steps above.
  • Elevate the importance of strategic and visionary globalism and proactive internationalization efforts to Senior Vice President level to best enable coordination among academic units, student services and University administration.
  • Promote student learning that enhances their intercultural competence, ability to project and plan for as yet unimagined futures (strategic global futures assessment capability), and their social responsibility as globally engaged citizens.

Coda and Prognosis

The University of Minnesota is poised to lead as one of the very top research universities in the world. A creative, edgy, leapfrog-driven University will create a vibrant, visionary, hard-charging, front-running and value-creating institution that everybody will be proud to variously support, work for, teach at, matriculate to, collaborate with, and donate toward.

An Invitation: Help Us Construct the Next Draft

The authors of this memorandum invite comments, corrections and additions to what we have written. We especially request your thoughts on the application of innovative and dynamic design principles to the University’s future.

The initiators request that the University community and the public provide comments, corrections and additions to their position on achieving the University’s goal. Their next draft, to be released on March 1, 2006, will take into account feedback received up to that time.

About the initiators:

Arthur Harkins, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Educational Policy and Administration and faculty director of the Graduate Certificate in Innovation Studies program at the University of Minnesota.

John Moravec is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Educational Policy and Administration at the University of Minnesota. Moravec’s doctoral dissertation research is focused on the future of knowledge production in Minnesota higher education.


Arthur Harkins, University of MN,, 612/743-7528

John Moravec, University of MN,, 612/625-3517

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