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Inside NOW: Clemson unveils strategic plan; gets “back on offense”

Clemson University unveiled a long-term strategic plan to invest in new faculty, student engagement, upgraded facilities and technology, and faculty and staff compensation over the next five years – with most of the funding to come from existing resources.

In presenting the results of more than a year of planning, university President Jim Barker said it is time for Clemson to "get back on offense. For the past two years, we're been playing defense – waiting for the next budget cut and looking over our shoulders. We had a good excuse – the Great Recession – but it's time to move on and start building for the future."

At a town meeting today (Feb. 17, 2011), Barker laid out a series of investments, divestments and new revenues – saying divestments and reallocations will be a major source of funding for the new plan.

Proposed investments over the next five years include:

  • Faculty members to fill endowed chairs funded through the state's Centers of Economic Excellence program to support economic development priorities;
  • Approximately 80 faculty hires in emphasis areas related to "national challenges" such as energy, transportation or health, who bring external funding with them;
  • Aggressive recruitment of top undergraduate and graduate students;
  • Competitive scholarships and stipends;
  • Engagement and leadership opportunities for all undergraduates;
  • Enhanced facilities for teaching, research, student housing, student life and athletics;
  • Information technology enhancements, to include replacing a 1970s-era student information system;
  • Deferred maintenance;
  • Phase one of replacing the university's outdated utility system, to include eliminating the use of coal;
  • Strategic, performance-based raises and bonuses, including "bottom-line bonuses" that reward faculty and staff for generating revenue or cost-savings.

"It will be controversial, in this climate, to talk about raises and bonuses, but we need to attract and retain top performers," Barker said. "One of the benefits of having a top-tier university is attracting smart, talented faculty and staff who in turn attract top students, external funding and partnerships with corporations who want to work with smart, talented people."

Funding the plan will require a series of "divestments" and reallocations coupled with aggressive efforts to generate revenue, such as:

  • Personnel reductions through attrition and targeted severance incentives;
  • Reallocation of fund balances for capital and infrastructure improvements;
  • Selling a university airplane;
  • Continued outsourcing of non-core functions;
  • Phasing out university subsidies to the Madren Continuing Education and Conference Center, Alumni Relations, and selected research centers and institutes and graduate assistantships, to be replaced with generated revenue or grant funding;
  • Phasing out selected low-enrollment degree programs as current majors graduate;
  • Significantly increasing revenue from summer school, distance and executive education, and private partnerships.

Planned facility enhancements underscore the variety of funding options Clemson plans to pursue, such as:

  • Freeman Hall renovations, from revenue generated by online graduate degree programs;
  • Sirrine Hall renovation, from existing funds and private gifts;
  • Athletics facilities, from athletics-generated revenues and private gifts;
  • Engineering and science classroom building, from existing debt capacity and private gifts;
  • Charleston Architecture Center, from strategic enrollment growth and private gifts;
  • Douthit Hills housing and multi-use development, from a public-private partnership.

Barker stressed that divestments and reallocations are not to merely to offset state budget cuts. "They are about positioning Clemson to be successful in this funding climate - as a more independently funded, public university," he said.

Some academic and administrative departmental restructurings are expected, not necessarily to save money but to improve academic quality, build faculty capacity, and create opportunities for collaboration that can lead to new degree programs and better student services, he said. Those restructurings will be announced after details are finalized by the departments involved.

For example, merging the Michelin Career Center and Cooperative Education will give students a one-stop shop for career preparation services. The restructured department will develop a new "internal co-op" program to engage more students in meaningful, professional-level work experiences at Clemson locations on-campus and around the state.

After campus review and development of implementation plans, the plan will be presented to the board of trustees for approval later this spring.