President Dean presents, "The Future of UNH: Four Strategic Priorities"


The Future of UNH: Four Strategic Priorities
January 24, 2019

Welcome everyone. Thank you for joining us on this unusually warm and wet winter day. I’m still getting used to this New Hampshire weather. We had heavy snow and freezing rain Sunday. Near zero and ferocious winds Monday. And today, rain and 50 degrees.

It reminds me of that famous Mark Twain quote, “If you don’t like the weather in New England, there’s always the New England Patriots.” Well, I think that’s close, anyway. Aren’t they amazing?

We’re here to talk about The Future of UNH, but I would first like to take a moment to thank the hard-working members of our staff who make it possible for us to be here, regardless of the weather. Winters like this remind us of how fortunate we are to have colleagues who keep our community safe, fed, warm and running on time, 24/7. Let’s give them a hand.

I’m delighted to see so many members of our academic community: Our talented students, many of whom are the first in their families to attend college. Our distinguished faculty, who go above and beyond to support our students and to pursue research that improves lives around the world. And so many alumni and friends who give generously of their time, talent and treasure to our community. We are joined as well by board members, elected leaders, community members and academic leaders. I am so grateful and proud to serve you.

I have four objectives today:

  • To share our strategic priorities for the next few years
  • To give you confidence in the thoroughness and inclusiveness of the process that led to these priorities
  • To inspire you to believe that this path will make our great university even better
  • And to show you how you can help our community to achieve this bold vision.


In the six months since I arrived in Durham, I have enjoyed meeting and learning so much from all of you.

I have traveled to Concord and Manchester and Whitefield and Wolfeboro, as well as to Boston, New York, Washington and Atlanta to meet alumni. It has been incredibly inspiring to speak with so many good people who care deeply about the future of our university.

The depth and breadth of your commitment to UNH is astounding. And your aspirations for making our university even better are truly impressive.

Today, I want to talk about how we can work together to enhance our university by pursuing several specific strategic directions.  I want to acknowledge that many people have been working hard to make this university great for over 150 years. From Ezekiel Dimond and Dean Pettie to Jo-Anne (Joan) Leitzel and Mark Huddleston, faculty, staff, and university leaders have devoted their lives to this university.  My hope is to work with you to fulfill our potential as the flagship public university of the great Granite State. The challenges we face today are not the challenges faced by President Gibbs, or even President Ann Weaver Hart, so our solutions will be similarly new.

Our four priorities reflect core values that are at the heart of UNH’s mission: Student success and well-being, academic excellence, the state of New Hampshire and a strong financial foundation. Certainly, I draw great inspiration from our community’s proud history of envisioning, innovating and creating to grow and thrive. Together, you have built and expanded our campuses and colleges. You have designed new programs of study to meet the challenges of a changing world and a dynamic, high-tech economy. You have established new research programs, labs and partnerships. You completed the largest fundraising campaign in UNH history. You have made UNH more affordable for students in need, and you have attracted record student applications and enrollments. You have brought UNH incredibly far. I am so proud of this community for making UNH the great institution that it is today. Thank you, everyone.

What is new and exciting about the four strategic priorities I am announcing today are their bold and visionary aspirations. They will focus our progress in four strategic priority areas in the coming years. They will transform UNH. And they will allow us to become a national leader among public universities.

The Strategic Planning Process

Here is the path we have taken to get here:

Several months ago, we began soliciting ideas about strategic directions from the university community.

We used a traditional framework for doing this analysis, called SWOT, for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.  We also asked people to share their aspirations and their suggestions for tracking our success.

This effort was broad-based.  We received thoughtful input from the cabinet (my leadership team), the deans’ council (led by Provost Wayne Jones), the faculty senate (led by Professors Scott Smith and David Bacharach), the student senates (undergraduate and graduate), the operating staff council, the PAT council, the foundation board, and the alumni board.

We incorporated that input into a survey of the university. And over 3,000 of you shared your ideas.

A team representing faculty and staff pulled all this input together into a set of strategic priorities.

Today, I am honored to present them.

I need to explain the terminology first.  Here is the framework I am using:

  • Strategic priorities are the primary areas in which we will work for the next five years or so.  A good strategic plan has only a few of these.
  • Aspirations are what we dream of UNH becoming.  Aspirations can be described in words or numbers. I will describe an overall aspiration for the university, as well as aspirations for each strategic priority.
  • Initiatives are specific things we will do to address our strategic priorities and to fulfill our aspirations.  I will announce some specific initiatives today, but there will be more, likely many more, over the next few years
  • Metrics are simply ways to measure the progress we are making.

So, in summary: priorities, aspirations, initiatives, and metrics.

Our overarching aspiration is bold, indeed. We will transform UNH into one of the top 25 public universities in the country in the most important measures of academic performance. Let me repeat: We will transform UNH into one of the top 25 public universities in the country in the most important measures of academic performance. This is a big goal. It will challenge us to reach higher and farther than ever before. And it will make UNH a national and international example of higher education innovation and success. These are big goals. There are about 700 public universities in the US that grant bachelor’s degrees or higher. This would put UNH in the top 5 percent of those institutions. Thankfully, I have tremendous faith in our success because of the talent, expertise and compassion that you bring to UNH every day. You have made me a true believer.

Now, onto our Strategic Priorities:

The first strategic priority is to Enhance Student Success and Well-Being.

Our aspirations in this area are that UNH will ensure timely graduation for all of our students. They will be engaged and ethical global citizens. They will learn here secure in the knowledge that they are all—regardless of any differences among them--valuable members of our community. They will graduate prepared to thrive not only in their first jobs, but throughout their careers. To accomplish this, we will become a national leader in designing the educational experience, from the first year to graduation.

A student came to my office hours earlier this year.  In her first year at UNH, she suffered from headaches and memory loss.  She dropped out of school when she was diagnosed with a brain tumor...  This year, she will graduate with a degree in nursing.  She’s a great example of how tough and smart and resourceful our students are.  We can help them all to succeed, just as we helped this student.

We have already identified several initiatives associated with this priority:

A university-wide retention program, which has already been kicked off in the Office of the Provost.

Rethinking the core curriculum. This has great potential and will need to be undertaken in partnership with the Faculty Senate. And I want to say here how much I appreciate our strong partnership with the Faculty Senate and its leaders.

We will provide facilities, support, and incentives to offer state-of-the-art evidence-based teaching and learning.  This could involve online learning, flipped classrooms and well beyond.

We will identify the metrics we will use to assess our progress, but they will likely include graduation rates, alumni surveys and evidence from the upcoming campus climate survey that asks everyone at UNH if they feel genuinely welcomed here and if they believe they can fulfill their potential.

Our second strategic priority is to Expand Academic Excellence.

Our aspiration is that UNH will have increasingly strong and diverse students and faculty from across the country and abroad. UNH will be known and respected for its high caliber academic programs. We will have distinguished research, scholarship and doctoral education recognized around the world, as we already do in a number of areas in the arts and sciences and the professions. The lamp of knowledge lit in Durham will burn brightly for our students and our citizens.

Here are some initiatives associated with this priority:

We will re-envision our honors program to create a new UNH Honors College.  A team will come together to establish key attributes to attract  top honors students, including more flexibility in choosing courses, more opportunities to support learning and career success, increased faculty mentoring and some specialized housing for those students who seek that option.

Create and expand scholarship programs to continue to strengthen and diversify our student body.  We are working on some now that I hope to announce soon.

Identify and invest in high potential research and graduate programs, and expand graduate education, at both the PhD and master’s level

Our metrics for this priority may include the percentage of enrolled students in the top 25 percent of their class, the percentage of underrepresented faculty and students, graduate program rankings, and our ability to maintain our Carnegie R1 classification

Our next strategic priority is Embrace New Hampshire

Our aspiration is that NH residents will be incredibly proud (maybe even “wicked proud”) of UNH.  We will be known as a jewel of our rugged, beautiful Granite State. Students in New Hampshire will grow up wanting to come to UNH. It will be the first choice of our best and brightest students in New Hampshire and beyond. UNH will prove itself to be a trusted and valuable partner in advancing New Hampshire’s quality of life and supporting its economy. No matter where we travel in this state, we want people to be proud to call UNH their flagship university.  We are, of course, deeply involved with New Hampshire in many ways already, especially through cooperative extension, which works directly with more than 100,000 NH residents each year.

Initiatives include:

Establish a Business Advisory Council and work with business leaders to further economic development in the state.  We are well on our way to forming this council, and there is a lot of enthusiasm in the business community about working with us.

Expand leadership and student visits with Concord.  We have already begun to build relationships with people in both the Senate and the House, as well as with commissioners and the governor’s office.

Deepen our relationships with New Hampshire high schools, and make sure they know how strong the UNH of today is. This could involve students, alumni, and staff

Possible metrics include the Granite State Poll, our state funding, partnerships with organizations in the state, and applications and yield of top quartile New Hampshire’s college bound students

Our final strategic priority is to Build Financial Strength.

Our aspiration is that UNH will be a national leader in aligning budget and resources with strategic priorities. UNH will be accessible and affordable for students by diversifying revenue sources and effectively managing expenses. UNH will meet the full range of student needs by providing world class faculty, facilities and organization.  This priority is crucial. In fact, our four priorities and all our strategic initiatives are absolutely dependent on our success in this area.


We are establishing a new standalone finance department, to be led by a chief financial officer whom we will hire. Currently, finances at UNH are managed in two distinct organizational areas. We will combine them into a single office and leadership role responsible for UNH’s financial health. Existing finance personnel in the offices of the provost and the vice president for finance and administration will be moved to this new organization. Our reorganization will not increase the number of senior administrators, nor will the overall cost of administration increase materially.  I will provide details on all of this in the coming weeks.

We will undertake a deep dive in understanding and managing our costs in both academic and non-academic areas, using both internal and external resources.

We will seek to diversify tuition revenue to include UNH on-line, micro credentials and Professional MS programs

We will create a strategic funding pool to support our priorities

And within the next year or so, we will initiate a new capital campaign

Metrics for assessing our financial strength could include the percentage of revenue from sources other than traditional undergraduate tuition and fees, as well as the national rank of our costs for in-state students, and our volume of deferred maintenance on buildings and grounds.

So those are our four strategic priorities: Enhance student success and well-being, expand academic excellence, embrace New Hampshire, and build financial strength. 

Before I close, I want to return to our overall aspiration.  I mentioned before that our goal is to be among the top 25 public universities on the most important elements of academic performance.  We are determining what these are and how to measure them, but they may include:

  • Graduation rates
  • Student participation in high-impact learning experiences
  • Student post-graduation success, perhaps as a function of their family income
  • Educating a diverse set of students who will help to make up NH’s future work force
  • Research funding per faculty member
  • Number of top-quartile academic programs

We will be tracking progress on these key metrics and sharing them via the web and other means.

I believe that this level of excellence is within our grasp, but it will take concerted effort on the part of the entire university community.

Where do we go from here?  I expect to get feedback from today’s presentation that will help us to further refine these ideas.  If you would like to provide feedback, please email me at

In some cases, we already are implementing the initiatives, or have identified the people who will do so. In other cases, we will be putting together teams to implement initiatives.

If you would like to participate in an initiative I have mentioned today, please send me a message.

If you would like to suggest a different initiative, please send a message.

We have created a website explaining and updating our strategic priorities and giving you another way to provide feedback.  It is at

Before I close, I want to emphasize that my asking you for your feedback and help is not a pro forma exercise.  We are competing with other universities that are larger, better known and better funded.  We have a lot of ground to make up on them.  But if I have learned one thing in my short time here, it is that our university -- New Hampshire’s university – is unmatched in the commitment, enthusiasm, grit and loyalty of its students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends. We can reach these aspirations only because we know we can count on this special community to work together to build an even better UNH. I have tremendous faith in you. And I am so incredibly grateful and excited for the success we will achieve together.

So, will you help make the University of New Hampshire an even greater institution?

Will you help UNH students to succeed in the classroom and in life in ways we never imagined?

Will you help UNH to expand its academic excellence and reputation to new and amazing levels that will attract the best students from NH and beyond?

Will you help to build relationships across the state that will help people to realize that UNH is absolutely indispensable to the prosperity of New Hampshire?

Will you help us to find the financial resources that will make all of this possible?

I am confident that you will.  As I said in my very first speech to this community, I believe in the University of New Hampshire.  And now, six months in, I can say proudly that I believe in you.

It is an honor and a privilege to be your president, and to be in a position to ask for your help as we pursue these