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Editor’s Note, May-June 2019

Planning ahead, looking back
The merits of strategic plans, the pitfalls of honorary degrees, and a special anniversary

Do you know what’s in your university’s latest strategic plan? Do you know whether your university even has a strategic plan? If you’re like many on campus, the answer is probably no on both counts. That’s a shame because, as our cover story by Moira MacDonald recounts, university strategic plans have their purpose. Done well, they help to define the path forward for the institution; and, perhaps even more importantly, they help to tell the story of the institution and the values it wishes to uphold.

“The craft of these things is in the narrative,” says higher education consultant Alex Usher, quoted in the article. “It has to speak to [the university community] about the kind of institution they’re in, the kind of institution they want to be.” After all, if universities don’t tell their own stories, somebody else will to do it for them. Still unconvinced? I encourage you to read the article.

Also in this issue, as convocation ceremonies approach, we look into one of the older university traditions: honorary degrees. Awarding them should be a relatively happy and uncontroversial process – and for the most part, it is. Deserving people get to be recognized for their achievements and, in return, pass on their sage or witty advice to the next generation.

However, despite the best efforts of honorary degree committees to select and vet worthy recipients, controversies can arise, as writer Michael Rancic reports. Although relatively rare, he notes two instances in which the choice of honorary degree recipient was met with significant resistance and protest. In both instances, the university presidents were firm: we are not backing down. Revoking a degree already conferred is another matter, and indeed at least two universities have done so in the recent past.

On another note, one indisputably happy event happening this year is University Affairs’ 60th anniversary – the magazine’s first issue was published in October 1959. To celebrate, we’re planning a number of activities, including a special panel discussion by three of our columnists on June 4 at the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences in Vancouver. Jessica Riddell, Creso Sá and Shannon Dea will discuss the topic, “Looking ahead in higher ed: what keeps you up at night?” We will also have a section on our website and a newsletter devoted to the anniversary – and, of course, a special anniversary edition in October. Stay tuned.

Léo Charbonneau