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Implementing the Strategic Plan

As many of you know, a major activity during my first year at the university was the development of a strategic plan that will guide the university over the next several years. This plan, which reflects many months of intensive work by the strategic planning committee as well as essential input from faculty, staff, postdocs, students and trustees, was approved by our Board in June.

    But now that the work of creating the plan is behind us, the equally hard work of implementing it has begun. And in the five months that have elapsed since June, much has been done toward realizing the ambitious initiatives that our plan contains.

The Executive Officer’s Group, which meets monthly, has been tracking progress. But because not all of this work is visible to the community at large, I want to take a moment to provide a status report for several of the initiatives contained in the plan. As expected, in some areas things are progressing quite rapidly whereas in others we are still gearing up.

1. Faculty recruitment. Faculty recruitment efforts are proceeding on two fronts. Among junior faculty we have scheduled 10 candidates from our recently completed fall search to give talks beginning this winter (this is in addition to four candidates from our spring 2012 search who were selected for interviews this fall). We are also working to deepen our applicant pool by beginning to actively identify and reach out to promising scientists who may not be responding to our advertisements or considering Rockefeller for their careers. Our faculty members have been seeking recommendations from colleagues at other institutions and scouting for talent in scientific meetings, as well as encouraging authors of prominent and exciting papers in top journals and recipients of prestigious fellowships to apply.

A separate committee is working on mid-career faculty recruitment. Faculty members representing each of the university’s research areas have evaluated a list of 56 nominees solicited from the entire faculty. As the committee continues to meet in the months ahead, other names will be suggested. Potential candidates are being approached and will be invited to give seminars and visit campus.

2. Education. The Dean’s Office, after consultation with various faculty groups, has decided to reinstate, on a trial basis, in-person applicant interviews, which were eliminated when the application process was streamlined in 1998. Beginning this spring, prospective students who are likely to be accepted will meet with three to five faculty members before a final decision is made. The goal will be to better identify students who will be a good fit for our unique, highly individualized program, as well as to give top applicants more one-on-one attention before they make their decision about where to enroll. Additional student-directed events will also be held for applicants in order to increase interactions between incoming and current students. Our expectation is that these efforts will enhance our ability to recruit high quality graduate students who are likely to succeed at Rockefeller.

3. Center for Genomic Medicine. We are continuing to plan for the development of a new interdisciplinary research center, the Center for Genomic Medicine. Jeff Friedman, who has been leading this initiative, has worked with a planning committee to develop a seminar series for leaders in genetics and bioinformatics that will serve as the first step toward informing and developing the university’s expertise in these areas. Two speakers were here last spring and several more are scheduled for the coming months. Planning for programs and infrastructure is still in progress.

4. Drug Discovery Initiative. A planning committee consisting of Barry Coller and J. Fraser Glickman, along with counterparts at Weill-Cornell Medical College and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, has developed a proposal for the creation of a jointly owned corporate entity that would work to help faculty develop their translational projects to a proof-of-concept stage that would then lead to partnerships with companies for further development. As a first step toward this goal, the initiative would work to enhance Tri-Institutional resources and personnel in medicinal chemistry, biologics and animal pharmacology and toxicology. While this initiative is still very much in the planning stages, and would require approval and funding commitments from all three institutions before it could begin, it’s off to a very exciting start.

5. Master planning. As you may remember, we retained Rafael Viñoly Architects to evaluate existing infrastructure and develop a master plan for the campus last year. Their proposal to construct a “river building” to be built over the FDR Drive would make use of air rights the university owns over the highway to create new lab space without adding bulk to our existing campus or blocking views of the river. In June the Board voted to approve funds to develop this design further and to seek city approval for the project. Viñoly has been working on the plans necessary to file with the NYC Department of Buildings, and we are engaged in conversations with the mayor’s office over our proposal. We hope to have a sense of whether or not this project is feasible — from an engineering as well as financial perspective — within the next several months, at which point we can decide if and when we will move forward with it, or develop alternatives.