By Savanna Squires and Janet Dake —

At a public forum Oct. 3, U of L Interim President Greg Postel and other officials revisited the university’s “2020 plan.” This is a step-by-step plan implemented in 1997 to make U of L a “preeminent research university” by 2020.

Postel opened the discussion with the recent scandals surrounding U of L’s athletics department. He described news of the FBI investigation on the department and its affiliates at the university as a “bombshell,” and said the university is trying to make the best decisions.

“There are a lot of allegations,” Postel said. “(The investigators) have not, by any means, told us everything that’s known. And we find out about it in bits and pieces.”

Then a panel of five administrators presented the five pillars of the “2020 plan.”  These include:

  1. Educational excellence
  2. Research, scholarship and creative activity
  3. Community engagement
  4. Diversity, opportunity and social justice
  5. Creative and responsible stewardship

Acting Vice Provost Dale Billingsley spoke about the first pillar, discussing increasing student enrollment and increasing U of L’s low graduation rate of 54.4 percent.

In open discussion, faculty members said expanding the distance education program and increasing international student enrollment could help raise enrollment and retention. As the Cardinal reported, a new winter term starting Dec. 16 will add online core classes in several schools.

Views were mixed on whether the university could provide enough instructors and advisors to match a growing student population. According to Danielle Dolan, an assistant dean for advising and student services in the College of Arts and Sciences, there are 450 students for each advisor.

“You add 10,000 students to that and it just becomes unmanageable,” Dolan said.

Concerns for increasing the student body also extended to where those students would come from. Jim Begany, the vice provost for strategic enrollment management and student success, said student applications doubled between 2016 and 2017. He said this trend alone would not accomplish the goal of 30,000 students by 2020.

“It would be a paradigm shift,” Begany said.

Executive Vice President for Research and Innovation Bill Pierce spoke about the second pillar of the 2020 plan: research, scholarship and creative activity. He cited a dramatic increase in research output between 1997 and 2008, which propelled the university into the “research one university” tier.

“We are at the lower end of that group,” Pierce said. “That means we’re on the top ladder, but we’re near the bottom rung.”

Pierce stressed the need for U of L to strive to improve this status, as to not slip below the research tier. He mentioned several “grand plans” the university had made in the past to improve various institutions that fell through because of funding issues.

In order to provide U of L’s research community the support it needs, Pierce said the university needs to devise a plan to pay for it. He said  in light of U of L’s current financial status, U of L must set its priorities straight on where the money goes.

“If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority,” he said. “We need to revisit what it is exactly that we want to be, what we want to do.”

Panelists also talked about how diversity at U of L intertwines with academic excellence, graduation rates and innovative research.

After the forum, faculty member Pat Smith said she was “extremely excited to see some of the incredible work in the community,” especially involving healthcare, economic development and access to education.

Lisa Gunterman, director for the LGBT center, also attended the forum in hopes of hearing more about recent events on campus, “(I) especially appreciated the issues of diversity and how that is important to integrate across all areas of campus whether it be in the classroom or through programming.”

Photo by Arry Schofield / The Louisville Cardinal