Unifying force

When you’re the president of a prestigious university, you have the luxury of being surrounded by world-class talent on a daily basis.

Edward Hundert, president of Case Western Reserve University, took advantage of this talent when he set out to create a vision for the school after he took the helm in 2003.

“My first six months here, I spent most of my time participating in numerous groups to help develop a vision for the university,” says Hundert. “I visited every one of our eight schools, had forums with staff, faculty and students, and visited every city with 1,000 or more alumni to talk about the vision.”

Various drafts of what the vision should be were created, reviewed and revised. The board of trustees gave its input, the faculty senate gave its input and representatives from the staff made suggestions.

“It was really building a consensus among all the constituencies,” says Hundert.

The end result was a vision for Case to create one of the most powerful learning environments in the world.

“The most important thing was it needed to be our vision Case’s vision  if it was to have an impact and become reality,” Hundert says. “It could not just be one person’s idea. The vision speaks to an incredible opportunity to be one university, but collaborating and partnering with local, regional and national institutions.

“We have bold aspirations to become one of the leading research universities in the world. You can only do that by partnering with other great institutions.”

Hundert says the strong vision has inspired faculty, staff and alumni. It has also helped bring in world-class talent to lead various departments and initiatives throughout the university. “Recruitment of top talent is one measure of whether the vision is having an impact,” says Hundert.

Partnering with other institutions has become a key driver for Case to make itself one of the top research universities. It is partnered with 12 other business schools from around the country and has partnered its medical school with every major medical institution in town. Case is also putting more emphasis on technology transfer to make sure the discoveries made there are properly developed and have a maximum benefit to society.

Hosting the vice presidential debates before the 2004 election gave potential students a glimpse of Case and its vision. As a result of that event and of the vision, the university saw a 50 percent increase in its applicant pool, and a greater number of those applicants was coming from other states and countries.

“The applicant pool increased so much because people on the faculty, in admissions and the alumni are really owning the vision,” says Hundert.

“I think it’s gotten everyone inspired about Case as one great university with one inspiring vision, but at the same time, we are encouraging everyone to spark off that vision in diverse ways.”

He says by involving as many people as possible in the early stages, they naturally take more of an ownership role. There is no buy-in; you don’t have to convince them to believe in the vision because they helped create it.

“It really isn’t so much buy-in, but it’s more about owning it and being inspired by it,” says Hundert. “It’s about achieving more as an employee, student, alumnus or trustee. It’s about being part of something that is setting the bar very, very high.”

Case couldn’t achieve its goals acting alone. By challenging people to rethink how universities operate, new partnerships have been forged that continue to spark innovative ideas and concepts.

“Most of what we’re doing we couldn’t do without collaboration across boundaries, departments, schools and equally important, with institutions locally, regionally, nationally and internationally,” says Hundert.

But the most important thing to remember is that people are ultimately what get the vision from concept to reality.

“It’s all about the people at the end of the day,” says Hundert. “A leader has to be the spokesperson for the institution. The main thing to do is empower all the excellent people at the university to take you in directions you as a leader never would have imagined. That’s what energizes me every day.”

How to reach: Case Western Reserve University, www.cwru.edu