Spotlight: “Strategic Plan Q and A” with Dr. Keith S. Carver Jr., Chancellor of the University of Tennessee at Martin

09212018 Kcarverv2

“Strategic planning served as a catalyst for momentum, differentiation, impact and increased trust among our stakeholders.”

In the first year after Dr. Keith S. Carver Jr. became Chancellor of the University of Tennessee at Martin, he engaged the campus community in a strategic planning process. We talked with him about “Prepare for Takeoff,” the 2018-2023 strategic plan for the university.

(Read more at:

  • What were the big challenges and opportunities you faced as a new chancellor?

Several challenges converged when I became chancellor in January 2017. I came into an institution following seven years of enrollment decline in an area of the state with historically high unemployment rates. State funding across Tennessee was also decreasing. Clearly UT Martin needed a new paradigm and right-sizing, but we also had to find ways to dedicate resources for growth. Importantly, the strategic planning process involved our campus community in developing solutions.

  • How did you use strategic planning to help resolve the challenges and define the opportunities?

These issues are not confined to Martin. Universities not looking critically at their mission and core values can drift if they try to be all things to all constituencies. Success today requires understanding the external environment, strengthening market presence and better defining our university’s differentiation.

Strategic planning allowed us to focus on who we are and how to mitigate the challenges by capitalizing on specific opportunities. Importantly our core values and institutional culture are very connected to our relationship to this region. My experience is (and pardon the irony): If you don’t know where you’re going, then you will get there! The dynamics of enrollment, recruitment and retention are changing, along with student demographics; it’s necessary to evaluate the data strategically every quarter, if not monthly, or you can get behind quickly. Additionally, if we are not taking careful stock of how outside and internal forces are impacting our mission and our goals, we’ll be out of business real soon.

  • How did you apply the leadership-driven strategic planning model to ensure an inclusive process?

We were very intentional about the membership of the Steering Committee, making sure that we had the right representation from faculty, staff and students. Through campus-wide engagement and communications (such as emails, town halls and student forums), we helped people understand our deliberations and our decisions. But I think the key to everything was having members of the community involved in the task forces to build out the plan. They rolled up their sleeves, engaged in the process and saw the fruit of their labor. They became advocates and constructive critics. It’s vital that we are open to differing voices, hear them out and take them seriously. We made sure that everyone was able to say, “I had the opportunity to share my views,” even though they may not have taken the opportunity.

As the one responsible for endorsing the final strategic plan recommendations and taking them to the Board of Trustees, it was terrific to know that it was very much a ‘campus plan.’ While I articulated a vision, the plan itself resulted from broad community engagement.

  • How did your presentation to the Trustees facilitate collaboration with them?

I presented our strategic plan at a high level – the process, our new mission and our values statement. I talked them through the broad goals, examples of activities, ways we’d measure progress and the outcomes to expect. So what they heard was: vision, action, measurable. The board will hold us accountable. Each year we will update them on our implementation progress, including mid-cycle adjustments, so they can collaborate with us around the future.

  • How have strategic communications about the plan facilitated awareness, buy-in and alignment by the UT Martin community?

Linked to our new brand messaging, we use the plan as a backdrop for everything we do and where we will focus. At our end-of-summer administrative retreat, we took a deep dive into the plan and subsequently shared it at the fall faculty meeting and the Student Government Association so they could understand its benefits for them. By keeping people informed regularly, we allow our colleges to be more intentional about their work and their relationship to institutional priorities as well as Martin’s alignment with the System and its strategic plan.

  • Have there been immediate changes as a result of enacting the plan?

Three changes already have occurred: (1) In budgeting, each department and division will present their requests and proposed allocations in January based on their impact in relation to our strategic goals; (2) in recruiting new leadership, we are leading with the strategic plan so that candidates know who we are and what we’re about; the plan is also guiding our questions to candidates so we can see how aligned they are with what we’re doing; and (3) for students and the greater Martin community, the plan has shaped the way we are engaging with them as a campus and cultural hub for northwest Tennessee.

Additionally, the task force work helped shape job descriptions for a new executive director for research, outreach and economic development in the Office of Community Engagement and new professionals for multi-cultural affairs. We have adjusted our out of state recruitment strategy to be more aggressive than in years past. We are in talks with Gallup to measure campus climate every three years to ensure that we are moving the needle, and we are doing some restructuring on the business side to focus on high level priorities.

The strategic plan was approved in June, and we were already implementing it over the summer. Why wait?

About Chancellor Keith Carver

Dr. Keith Carver has held positions at the University of Tennessee for more than 20 years, previously as executive assistant to UT System President Joe D. Pietro and before that in leadership roles at University of Tennessee campuses in Knoxville, Martin and Memphis. He’s been a serious student of “leadership” since his doctoral dissertation, “A Study of Presidential Derailment in Public Research Universities.” In 2013, he was a contributor to Presidencies Derailed: Why University Leaders Fail and How to Prevent It, detailed studies at 16 institutions by Stephen Joel Trachtenberg (former president of George Washington University), Gerald B. Kauvar (research professor of public policy and public administration at GWU) and E. Grady Bogue (former chancellor of Louisiana State University).