CLAS Strategic Plan
As the largest and most academically diverse college at the University of Connecticut, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS) is fundamental to the success of the University and its students, faculty, staff, and other constituents. The College provides critical ideas, infrastructure, and employment for the State of Connecticut, and its impacts have global significance.
The College embarked on a strategic planning process during the 2019-2020 academic year, which resulted in this document. It is intended to articulate what we are here to do, the values that guide our work, what we intend to become by 2025, and the path we will take to reach that vision.
Overview and Background
Four committees, comprising more than 80 CLAS faculty, staff, and students from across our units (acknowledged below), worked sequentially from September 2019 to April 2020 to generate the information and ideas represented here. A group of alumni and advisors from other areas of the University also contributed at the points where each committee completed its work. The Dean’s office synthesized their reports and posted a draft for comment on the CLAS website, before completing this text. At each step, information was gathered broadly with the goal of obtaining diverse input to be used in an inclusive process.
This strategic plan identifies a shared College mission, vision, and values; offers benchmarking data; articulates specific objectives and strategies; and provides some metrics for defining success. It embraces the broad priorities of UConn, including these highlighted by UConn President Tom Katsouleas in 2019:
- Promoting a top-quality liberal arts education
- Advancing scholarship and increasing our research enterprise
- Aligning our efforts with the economic needs of the State of Connecticut
The plan represents a dynamic entity, a roadmap of guiding principles with the flexibility to adapt to the changing environment in which we work and respond to opportunities as they arise.
Importantly, in the year of this plan’s creation, the COVID-19 pandemic struck the world. It reached Connecticut in spring 2020 and changed dramatically the way the University taught classes, engaged in research, and carried out business. As of this writing, the long-term academic and financial implications are unknown. Development of a flexible guide that can adapt to situations we cannot control, including both negative outcomes and positive opportunities, has become even more critical than we could have imagined. Incredibly dedicated individuals worked through the crisis to complete this plan on schedule, and their legacy is the impact this work will have during years following this unprecedented time.
In some cases, the strategic planning process served to highlight items that were already in progress, either within CLAS or external to our College within the University, because the work was in early stages or had not been adequately communicated. Communications and promotion of these opportunities should be as much a priority as establishing new initiatives.
In other cases, the planning process identified areas for desired improvement over which CLAS has little to no control, such as the library’s ability to provide access to materials critical to support research and teaching, classroom space concerns, University research oversight, and support for fundraising and alumni relations activities. In these cases, and for all other areas related to university-level policies and practices, our approach to move these priorities forward is to form strong internal and external partnerships and to advocate for the College and its interests. Selected examples are included below.
An important component of implementing this plan will be the creation of a Strategic Plan Advisory Committee to advise the Dean. Members will include undergraduate students, graduate students, staff, and faculty across a range of disciplines. The committee can aid in assessing progress toward our goals, recommend course corrections, and identify new opportunities consistent with the plan.
The vision of the College should serve as a beacon for conduct and decision-making surrounding areas not specifically addressed in this document. All College efforts should serve our mission and should be in line with our shared values. The Visioning Committee surveyed all CLAS faculty and staff for their ideas and incorporated the values of the University and the State to synthesize and articulate the College’s vision, mission, and values.
The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences will be UConn’s recognized and supported hub of learning and research, where an engaged, innovative liberal arts and sciences community facilitates student success, crosses boundaries of study, and reflects the diversity of our state and our world.
The UConn College of Liberal Arts and Sciences transforms lives. Through critical research and inquiry, creative education and mentorship, and ethical social engagement, we generate the foundational, collaborative environment that empowers all members of the UConn community to discover their agency and do meaningful work in the world.
We create inclusive spaces for disparate views. We actively seek individual and group relationships that support achievement at UConn, in the State of Connecticut, and across the world.
We pursue new ways of thinking, innovative approaches to problems, and imaginative forms of expression, and we acknowledge that mistakes, past and present, are opportunities for growth.
We value a deep commitment to our work. Dedication leads to excellence in the pursuit of inquiry and knowledge.
We engage differences of thought, experience, perspective, culture, and field.
We cultivate personal agency and the ability to act with ethical and thoughtful conviction.
We embrace our responsibility to each other and the world through the promotion of equity, environmental stewardship, social justice, accessible space, and opportunity.
To create relevant, impactful, and achievable goals, the College benchmarked its programs to determine the gap between its state in 2019-2020 and the vision for 2025. This section highlights background data and the analysis by the Data Collection Committee of quantitative and qualitative data obtained from existing sources, including UConn’s Offices of Institutional Research and Effectiveness, Institutional Equity, and the Vice President for Research, and the UConn Foundation; as well as from surveys distributed to the College’s approximately 30 department heads and directors, 800 faculty, 250 staff, and 10,700 undergraduate students, and a selection of the College’s approximately 1,700 graduate students.
College Statistics: 2019-2020 Academic Year
(sources are internal CLAS data unless otherwise noted)
- 25 academic departments; 13 centers, institutes, and programs; 7 service and outreach units
- 51% of UConn faculty
- 10,708 undergraduate majors; 46% of UConn
- 54% of undergraduates are female; 39% are members of underrepresented groups
- 67% of UConn credit hours at the Storrs campus are taught by CLAS faculty
- 1,705 graduate students – 26% of UConn
- 52 undergraduate majors, 65 undergraduate minors, 53 graduate programs
- 748 scholarships and fellowships awarded by CLAS and its departments in FY19 (source: UConn Foundation)
- 110,000 alumni (source: UConn Foundation)
- $10.2M received by the UConn Foundation to support the College (FY19; source: UConn Foundation)
- $59M in external research funding awarded (in FY19, most recent complete year available; source: Office of the Vice President for Research [OVPR])
(for 2019-20 academic year; source: Human Resources)
Tenure System Faculty
Non-Tenure System Faculty
*Definitions: Non-Tenure-System Faculty: Faculty-in-Residence, Research Faculty, Visiting Faculty, Clinical Faculty, Lecturers, Instructors; Tenure-System Faculty: Professors, Department Heads, Deans; Staff: Academic Assistants, Research Assistants and Technicians, Professional Staff, Administrative Assistants. All tenure- and non-tenure system faculty are inclusive of assistant, associate, and full professor levels.
Data and Analysis from the Strategic Planning Process
The following ideas highlight key ways in which CLAS can optimize building on strengths and take advantage of opportunities. In moving forward in these areas, some weaknesses should be addressed, which are noted below. Many more aspects were noted (both favorable and representing challenges) by the Data Collection Committee. The material described here represents what is most relevant to the ideas developed through the remainder of the strategic planning process.
Strengths and Opportunities
CLAS surveys revealed that students and faculty have a transformational learning mindset. For both groups, success included applying classroom learning to “real world” experiences. Students especially noted the importance of transferable skills that directly apply to future career goals and reported that their success was about learning and retaining information and new knowledge.
Our faculty offer a range of opportunities for interactive learning experiences, such as research and independent study. One-third of the students who responded to our survey said they have worked independently with a faculty member. Further, 14% of those who had not yet had the opportunity responded that they plan to engage in this way. Students responding to the survey overwhelmingly reported wanting to engage more in research and scholarship projects, but often didn’t know how to connect with faculty. By creating more opportunities for these types of connections, student experiences and research could be enhanced.
Our work is highly interdisciplinary, and faculty secure funding for their scholarship. Nearly half of those who responded to the faculty survey report that they always or frequently collaborate with researchers in other departments, and 80% report doing so at least occasionally. More than 1 in 5 awards in CLAS are in collaboration with faculty from other schools/colleges (source: OVPR, 2015-2019). Among UConn schools and colleges, CLAS is second only to the School of Medicine in annual number of proposals submitted and research expenditures. According to the OVPR, CLAS awards received between FY16 and FY19 increased by more than 20%. CLAS average proposal success rates are also higher than University averages for the majority of sponsors. Our faculty apply for fellowships to support their scholarship; 40% of those responding to our survey did so within the last year.
The College is therefore poised to become a hub for interdisciplinary scholarship at UConn that spans research and teaching. By facilitating work across CLAS and working more closely with other colleges, schools, and centers and institutes, we can build bridges that will significantly advance our work. Faculty and department heads identified several areas that could be the focus of interdisciplinary research and education initiatives (see Academic Themes, below).
We also have opportunities for facilitating team teaching in novel ways that could foster communication, collaboration, and learning. CLAS is leading the university in online and hybrid teaching and development. From fall 2015 to spring 2020, CLAS offered more than 1,600 online and nearly 500 hybrid courses (source: Registrar’s Office). This wealth of experience provides a strong base from which to build across teaching modalities.
According to our surveys, CLAS faculty see their scholarly activities as having significant impact on economic and social factors, as well as influencing diversity, equity, and inclusion in Connecticut, New England, and the nation. Strengths within departments and opportunities unique to the regional campuses can be leveraged.
CLAS undergraduates make contributions to the state, region, and beyond. Of the Class of 2019 undergraduate alumni, 88% were employed, in graduate school, or engaged in service six months post-graduation (source: Center for Career Development). They primarily work within the state and region. We are also poised to increase contributions to the Connecticut workforce. Programs that connect CLAS students to careers are desired by our students and would be beneficial in both supporting our students’ career aspirations and retaining talent in the state.
CLAS students, faculty, and staff are on the whole glad to be at UConn. Results from our surveys showed 85% of staff, 85% of students, and 75% of faculty are happy at UConn, and 90% of students, 88% of faculty, and 81% of staff report feeling safe in their office buildings and classrooms.
Areas for Improvement
Balancing and integrating across our missions of teaching and research can present challenges. Differences in teaching across and within departments have the potential to negatively impact morale and overall research productivity. Over half (61%) of CLAS departments have 2+2 teaching load for tenure-track faculty, and many departments heads singled out heavy teaching as a barrier preventing faculty members from writing grants. Departments should develop strategic plans for advancing both our teaching and research missions – 62% of department head survey respondents reported having an active strategic plan.
Research and scholarship productivity and funding levels also vary across the College. Among the faculty survey respondents, about half report no research support this year. When examining the number and amount of external awards by faculty rank within the tenure-track, a lower than expected percentage of awards are observed among associate professors.
Staff, faculty, and department heads reported concerns about the lack of staffing and support in grants management. Most faculty survey respondents (57%) perceived that UConn has weaker grant-related support than other research institutions; only 3% indicated that UConn has better support.
Our student survey revealed that 12% of respondents lack adequate resources to sustain themselves and meet their basic needs. In fact, 28% of the students who said they would consider leaving UConn gave as a reason the cost of tuition and their lack of financial resources. Student survey responses reveal that some students are not able to pursue independent research, internships, and study abroad opportunities because of the financial burden.
A diverse group of faculty and staff is essential to excellence across our missions; retention is as important as recruitment. The most cited reasons for faculty survey respondents considering leaving UConn were: lack of internal resources (39%), competing offers from other institutions (38%), feeling their scholarship isn’t valued (30%), a lack of an intellectual community of collaborators (25%), lack of opportunities to do interdisciplinary work (15%), academic bullying (13%), being excluded from decision-making because of title (9%), and inadequate income (9%). Some faculty respondents also reported feeling that their achievements were assumed to be due to affirmative action (6%), and/or that their contributions are undervalued because of their gender (17%), race (6%), or ethnicity (6%).
Some staff survey respondents (36%) felt as though their work wasn’t valued, and 37% reported that they are excluded from decision-making processes as a result of their position or title. Additionally, 19% felt as if their contributions were minimized due to their gender, and 6% reported being excluded, discriminated against, or marginalized because of their gender.
Between 8% and 13% of student survey respondents reported feeling their contributions are dismissed because of their race or ethnicity; that people seem to presume they are successful because of affirmative action; or that their contributions are devalued because of their gender.
A range of factors related to philanthropic giving was identified. One is the small number of staff dedicated to CLAS development and alumni relations. The UConn Foundation is a separate entity from the University, which limits our ability to influence processes. However, the working relationship between the College and these professionals is positive and productive. We would benefit from capitalizing on the mutual desire to increase alumni and donor engagement at the department level. Department heads surveyed express a desire to get more involved with alumni engagement, and CLAS UConn Foundation staff are eager to partner with the College.
As the arts and sciences college at a land-grant, flagship state Research I university, CLAS’s mission is firmly rooted in disciplinary scholarship that defines a liberal arts education and research program. To that end, the College is structured so core disciplines can flourish within departments. They not only serve as the foundations for basic inquiry, but also as pillars supporting interdisciplinary scholarship.
The following areas of interdisciplinary scholarship were identified by the Planning Committee as the most promising areas in which to build on existing strengths across the humanities and social, life, and physical sciences, with clear connections to other colleges and schools across the University. They will guide priorities for growth and investment at the College level and serve as inspirations for our community to generate novel ideas and approaches that span the College’s strategic goals below.
The Earth and Its Future
Sustainable Systems, Global Resources, and World Cultures
Big Data: Science, Policy, and Ethics
Inequalities, Social Justice, Truth, and Belief
Health, Disease, and Well-Being
Brain, Mind, Language, and Logic
Goals and Potential Outcomes
The CLAS Planning and Implementation committees established four overarching goals, along with tactics and metrics to identify success, for achieving the College’s vision. Their work has been merged and consolidated to provide transparent direction and clear examples of the types of approaches to be taken. These goals are meant to serve as a framework that can shift with time and changes in circumstances. The order of items does not indicate relative priority.
A number of the objectives and strategies intersect, which should create a substantial impact. Beyond these specific connections, a range of factors are broadly relevant across our goals, including appreciation of the diverse people and places that are the greatest assets of our institution. These include the unique aspects of each of our campuses and the students they serve, as well as our faculty and staff across appointment types and career stages. Graduate students are critical to both the teaching and research missions, as well as what we offer to the State of Connecticut and beyond.
While not specific to any of the articulated goals, it is also critically important to all that we do that our rewards are aligned with our values and priorities. In concert with our units and their constituents, we will strive to use various mechanisms to that end, including the faculty promotion and tenure process, evaluations for faculty and staff merit-based salary increases, College-level awards, and publicly highlighting the efforts that make us proud.
Goal 1: Climate, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Build and continually support an academic environment and workplace where diverse faculty, staff, and students feel valued and thrive.
Develop a comprehensive plan to attract more diverse individuals (e.g., with regard to ability, race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and socioeconomic status) for all positions.
- Ensure diverse search committee membership across multiple dimensions for all CLAS hires.
- Provide support for units to be aware of and utilize best practices during interviews, candidate selection, and negotiations.
- Develop a systematic process to accommodate partner hiring that includes best practices and innovative approaches.
- Create a pipeline program for predoctoral and postdoctoral scholars for faculty positions at UConn upon completion of their programs.
- Work with graduate program directors within units and the graduate school to increase the diversity of applicants.
Develop policies and practices that improve retention of all faculty and staff.
- Value scholars with diverse perspectives and lived experiences who can contribute to the production of knowledge in all disciplines.
- Create and implement a transparent plan to identify and mitigate existing issues in salary compression and inversion.
- Promote an environment of social and professional support for faculty by strengthening our centers, institutes, and programs, as well as developing their support for the academic work of underrepresented faculty.
- Gather information on why faculty and staff leave UConn by conducting exit interviews with those who are willing to provide feedback and use the ideas to enact change where feasible.
- Promote regular collection of College workplace perception information and use the data to enact change.
Mentorship and Professional Development
Provide training and mentorship programs for CLAS employees, including tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty, and staff.
- Develop an evidence-based set of best practices and support mechanisms to facilitate mentoring of faculty at the College and unit levels. These efforts should occur across all aspects of the faculty career, including mentorship of graduate students.
- Establish and support an onboarding program for new faculty, including mentorship, peer connections, and work-life balance.
- Facilitate the development of leaders at various levels within the College.
- Acknowledge mentors for their service through opportunities to apply for professional development funds.
- Develop and pilot a mentoring program for College staff.
- Develop a training course offered to staff who meet routinely as a cohort to engage in professional skill development.
Seek out new ways to give College constituents greater influence over the conditions of their work and/or education.
- Work toward providing units increased flexibility in the use of resources to better advance the mission of our College.
- Establish a set of advisory committees for the College to offer ideas and recommendations to the Dean on a range of topics, including but not limited to diversity, equity, and inclusion; research; staff support and development; and student experiences.
- Encourage all faculty, staff, and students to participate in creating an inclusive environment by developing opportunities and programs that provide for meaningful interaction and understanding of diversity.
Goal 2: Innovative Scholarship
Promote interdisciplinary research by building on a foundation of core disciplines and engaging novel intersections to address major challenges to knowledge, well-being, and our world.
Synergistic Activities and Internal Research Support
Create opportunities to stimulate convergence among disciplines and foster collaborative relationships that spur innovative thinking and advance scholarship in priority areas.
- Support College-level symposia to facilitate conversations among scholars from multiple CLAS departments or new collaborations among scholars within a discipline.
- Fund small grants to pilot collaborative work among different areas of the College and facilitate novel, interdisciplinary studies that generate external funding proposals.
- Create a competitive mechanism for newly-recruited scholars from fields in which summer salary is difficult to obtain and/or typically not part of startup packages to apply for these resources.
- Develop creative funding models, in partnership with departments, to provide postdoctoral training opportunities.
- Create ways to facilitate public-private research partnerships.
- Encourage departments to develop strategic plans for enhancing research and fostering equitable workloads that facilitate accomplishing our mission across the profile of our faculty.
Pursue hiring into targeted clusters to increase the College’s interdisciplinary capacity in the thematic areas identified, while also maintaining our strengths in high-level basic research and education. These clusters might be within a department, across units within CLAS, or span colleges and schools.
External Funding Support and Infrastructure
Increase support for faculty in funding applications and publication activity through mentorship and training (see Mentorship and Professional Development section above), especially in fields where underexplored external funding opportunities exist.
- Formalize a grant-writing mentorship program for junior faculty to increase success in securing research funding. Identify and incentivize faculty mentors based on a proven track record of obtaining grants and fellowships, basic familiarity with the research topic, and a predisposition to help others.
- Evaluate and determine ways to increase support for grant proposal preparation, submission, and post-award support, both by determining appropriate steps within CLAS and by advocating for greater support through the OVPR.
- Encourage departments to adjust teaching loads to allow for intensive grant and fellowship application writing or externally supported research activities.
- Consider ways to strengthen the research infrastructure to increase our ability to respond to major federally funded research initiatives and requests for proposals.
Work with UConn Foundation colleagues to secure funding across CLAS with emphases on research areas in the academic themes identified above, and to retain existing donors to the College.
- Raise funds to support endowed professorships.
- Develop new funds for scholarships and fellowships for graduate students.
- Secure resources for additional, lower-cost initiatives related to recruiting the most competitive graduate students and sustaining research missions within units (i.e., top-off money in recruitment packages, summer grants, additional travel grants).
Goal 3: Teaching, Learning, and Student Success
Enhance through experiential learning, mentorship, and innovative pedagogy the College’s opportunities for undergraduate education.
Provide new opportunities for engaged learning in cutting-edge areas.
- Provide more flexibility and incentives for faculty to develop new courses or redesign existing courses that enhance opportunities for active student engagement, as teaching capacity is available.
- Fund an internal grant competition to create or redesign interdisciplinary undergraduate general education courses, prioritizing the thematic areas identified within this strategic plan.
- Incentivize teaching professional development for graduate students by creating or sponsoring workshops and providing support for the graduate students that participate in them.
Student Support and Engagement
Create multifaceted opportunities for students and reduce barriers to participation in undergraduate research, internships, study abroad, and service learning.
- Work with the UConn Foundation to secure scholarships for undergraduate students.
- Encourage units to develop new ways of facilitating faculty-student interactions outside of the classroom, including those that advance faculty collaboration across interdisciplinary areas.
- Work with departments to increase opportunities for students to engage in course-based research experiences.
- Support the development of scalable course-based undergraduate research experiences targeting first- and second-year students, and transition them from these courses into independent faculty-led research projects.
- Recruit and support peer mentors for undergraduate students.
- Create ways to better connect CLAS students with campus resources on experiential learning opportunities, including learning communities and career services.
Goal 4: Broader Impacts, Service, and Visibility
Support existing and new initiatives that impact the welfare of Connecticut and highlight the advantages that we provide.
Facilitate Community Engagement
Expand and incentivize engagement with Connecticut communities, and increase the visibility of what CLAS does with and for citizens of the state.
- Advance community-based research and education; provide opportunities to both facilitate research in this area and increase opportunities for undergraduate active engagement.
- Develop procedures for reporting and recognizing the work of CLAS faculty, staff, and students, and their community partners across the state, as they address public issues in Connecticut.
- Partner with University Communications to develop and offer trainings to departments and faculty in public communication and engaged scholarship.
Engage Government and Nonprofits
Engage with state and local agencies and nonprofit organizations to promote meaningful evidence-based policy and enhance opportunities for funded research.
- Provide support for applied research and other activities with state and local government agencies and nonprofit organizations.
- Develop an engaged scholarship program to provide seed funding to fuel faculty and graduate student research, internship partnerships, and projects with local and state agencies and nonprofit organizations.
- Seek ways to enhance employment opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students by aligning curricula with the needs of the state.
Leverage Alumni Networks
Work with UConn Foundation colleagues to develop and strengthen CLAS alumni networks and engage alumni and corporate and state leaders as donors, mentors, and teachers for CLAS programs.
- Host an annual alumni networking conference, with talks by alumni and faculty members.
- Engage alumni in guest lecturing and classroom visits.
- Facilitate mentoring of graduate and undergraduate students by alumni.
- Recognize alumni contributions to the University, their communities, and society through the establishment of alumni awards and sharing of information online and through social media.
- Strengthen connections with alumni that may help to identify potential internship sites and experiential learning opportunities for undergraduate students.
The ideas represented here constitute a roadmap for the College to achieve its vision over the next five years and articulate the values by which we operate. Guided by this Strategic Plan, our CLAS community will strive to:
- Increase the diversity of faculty, staff, and graduate students, and be sure there is a supportive, inclusive culture so that all individuals can thrive.
- Enhance interdisciplinary scholarship and education by building on a foundation of core disciplines and facilitating novel intersections.
- Augment student success by advancing engaged and experiential learning for undergraduates across all disciplines.
- Connect our work in the classroom and our research to the greater good of Connecticut and beyond.
We in the College adopt this strategic plan as a framework to scaffold ideas in the coming years. It will be a living document that will guide our work, and will evolve in the context of our successes and failures and the world around us.
At the heart of this work is the College’s passionate commitment to the values of a liberal arts and sciences education, encompassing the diversity of disciplines, and their transformative value to the lives of students and scholars alike.
The four strategic planning working committees included faculty, staff, graduate students, and undergraduate students in the College.
Chair: Katharine Capshaw, Professor of English
Dean’s Office Liaisons: Christine Buckley, Director of Communications
Data Collection Committee
Chair: Amy Gorin, Professor of Psychological Sciences and Director of InCHIP
Dean’s Office Liaison: Edith Barrett, Associate Dean
Chair: Samuel Martinez, Professor of Anthropology and Director of El Instituto
Dean’s Office Liaisons: Cathy Schlund-Vials, Associate Dean; Lisa Park Boush, Associate Dean
Chair: Jon Gajewski, Associate Professor and Head of Linguistics
Dean’s Office Liaison: Andy Moiseff, Associate Dean
Victoria Ford Smith
Kane Lynch (ex officio)
Mansour Ndiaye (ex officio)
Alan Bennett '69 (CLAS), CLAS Dean's Advisory Board, UConn Foundation Board of Directors
Indrajeet Chaubey, Dean, College of Agriculture, Health, and Natural Resources
Deborah Chyun, Dean, School of Nursing
Kent Holsinger, Vice Provost for Graduate Education and Dean of the Graduate School
Kazem Kazerounian, Dean, School of Engineering
Radenka Maric, Vice President for Research
Scott Roberts, President, UConn Foundation
Annemarie Seifert, Director, Avery Point Campus