By Melissa Mitchell When the football team takes the field, team members know they can count on the cheerleaders on the sidelines to stir up enthusiasm in the stands. The UI's biggest cheerleader these days is Chancellor Michael Aiken, who takes advantage of every opportunity he can to rally the campus community as it undertakes a major strategic planning process aimed at preparing the UI for the challenges it faces in the year ahead. Aiken delivered his most recent pep talk Tuesday when he kicked off the University YMCA's "Know Your University" lecture series with a discussion of "Project 2000 - A Look at the Future." Before launching into the substance of his talk, Aiken shared an anecdote - borrowed from a UI alumnus who is president of another university - to give the audience an indication of what it sometimes feels like to be a leader in a complex organization: "It's a lot like being the man who mows the lawn in the cemetery," Aiken said. "He has lots of people under him, but he's not sure anybody's listening." Aiken didn't have to worry about that Tuesday as he shared his vision of the UI's future with an attentive audience. Before concentrating on where the university ought to be in the next century, however, Aiken reflected on how the UI got to where it is now. "I'm deeply mindful of the thought and complexity that went into building this university over the last 125 years, and particularly, in recent years," Aiken said. He noted that he also is "keenly aware" that adaptations the university - and any great university - makes over the years in curriculum, programs and areas such as student services "are reflections of political, social and economic influences" of the times. Because of that, he said, "there is often a disjunction between that repertoire of programs and activities [the university provides] and those contingencies outside the organization." To close that gap, Aiken said, universities must adopt "certain strategies to deal with that disjunction. From time to time," he said, "we need to take stock of achievements" as well as "major changes impacting us at this particular point in history." Before outlining details of the current planning and evaluation process taking place on campus, Aiken noted a number of "major factors we need to be very aware of," which led to current trends in higher education. "Starting with recent history, something that began around the time of the Carter administration that continues to impact us, was that inflation went sky high and interest rates were way up there," he said. The impact that had on universities was that "faculty salaries fell way behind in terms of purchasing power." To address that problem, many private universities implemented double-digit tuition increases. "Public universities did not do that because their money comes from state legislatures and they don't have that control over tuition." However, the chancellor said, "some factors began to spill over to the publics as well." And as those institutions have tried to raise tuition and keep pace with inflation, the public continues to raise questions about the quality of education students receive. Other factors that have resulted in challenges for universities today include the transference during "the Reagan Revolution" of fiscal responsibility for social-welfare and environmental programs from the federal government to the states. "This state - and virtually every state - is facing some fiscal crisis" as a result of that shift, Aiken said, "because tax structures have not been in place to deal with it." Compounding these problems, he added, are factors such as weathering an economic recession and deflecting criticism of higher education prompted by "highly publicized and unfortunate athletic situations, as well as misconduct in some higher administration offices." Add to the mix the need to address issues related to changing demographics among the nation's college students, pressure to transform research into economic development, and the whole issue of political correctness, and it becomes easier to understand the challenges universities face today, he said. From there, Aiken updated the audience on the UI's internal strategic planning process, begun last year in an effort to put the university on the offensive when it moves into position to tackle the challenges that lie ahead. The process has involved efforts by faculty and staff members throughout the campus, who have conducted detailed studies of key areas of the university culture - research, instruction, the library, international education and public image among them. "That process will synthesize during this academic year, so we will have a shared plan - a blueprint - for the future," Aiken said. The 10 committees completed preliminary reports in May, and those reports were circulated among personnel in affected in the summer. The next step will be for the chancellor - with input from the vice chancellor for academic affairs and provost, the Campus Planning Committee and the Council of Deans - to issue a final report to the campus. Aiken said that report should be released next spring. During the remaining part of his talk, the chancellor gave a brief preview of some of the ideas and recommendations that have surfaced in the preliminary group reports. In the area of research, Aiken said he is excited about the prospect of launching "a collaborative research initiative" that would be "creative and innovative" in approach and could evolve as "the next Beckman Institute." While communicating his enthusiasm for such a project, he added that it is too early in the planning process to present a clearer vision of what it would entail. Another idea emerging from the planning process addresses the issue of technology transfer. In fulfilling its mission to translate research into applications that benefit the public, "we need to provide some kind of support to faculty so they can communicate the culture inside our community to the outside," the chancellor said. Aiken also focused on the efforts of the work group looking into concerns related to undergraduate instruction. "We need to think about the four-year, undergraduate experience as a holistic experience," Aiken said, adding that it is essential that students develop a strong sense of belonging, as well as an understanding of university culture and their role and responsibilities in that culture. "The Discovery Program grew out of that," he said. Other ideas Aiken would like to see implemented by next fall include a freshman convocation; a new, improved orientation program; and more faculty and peer advising. Aiken also shared concerns raised by the group examining the university's offering of international education. In order to prepare students for an increasingly global world and work force, Aiken said, the university should provide every opportunity to familiarize them with other cultures. That would include ensuring that every UI student graduated with fluency in a second language. The resources aren't there yet, he added, but it should remain a goal. In addition, Aiken said, "we should find a way to get 30 percent of our graduate students to share the richness of the cultures they come from" with the greater campus population. In the end, the chancellor said, "a planning process like this will be effective to the extent that we get support and feedback" from all concerned. "We want this to be an open process; we want the larger community to give feedback."