2012-Present: Vision

Dr. Ángel Cabrera and the New Vision for George Mason University

Soon after George Mason University’s new president, Dr. Ángel Cabrera, officially took office on July 1, 2012, he was tasked with spearheading the creation of a new vision for the university. Cabrera was given this enormously important project by Mason’s Board of Visitors, who asked him to draft a new set of ideas to guide George Mason into the future. Mason’s sixth university president began his tenure by overseeing the creation of an optimistic, forward-thinking agenda for a university already named among nation’s most up-and-coming institutions.

Both Cabrera and the board were well aware that Mason was part of a rapidly changing academia, full of challenges to the viability of higher education. In a resolution of August 17, 2013 the board asked Dr. Cabrera to create of a new strategic vision that would help Mason remain relevant and competitive in the future.  Accepting this task, on August 17, 2012 Dr. Cabrera set to work on assembling a team of university stakeholders to help him formulate ideas. The vision would have to address emerging challenges Mason and other universities would face in the coming economic and technological climate, particularly funding, technology, and public perception.  The vision would be used to guide the upcoming strategic planning process in 2014. 

Eight working groups were established to focus on pertinent issues that were identified during President’s Council sessions with the Board of Visitors in early August of 2012. The groups studied the following issues: program innovation and growth; funding and resources; research; on-line education and executive education; global strategies; regional strategy; values and the Mason graduate; and student value and affordability. The working groups were overseen by a steering committee, which organized their findings and processed them into initial “big ideas.”[1]

Sixteen town hall-style meetings were scheduled across the three Mason campuses, Fairfax, Arlington, and Prince William. Students, faculty, staff, families, alumni, and community members were encouraged to attend these general meetings and give input regarding the university’s future. A number of shorter-in-length focus group meetings were arranged for members of the Mason community to address particular working group topics. Numerous e-mail notifications to students, faculty, and staff, as well as an updated website kept participants informed throughout the process.

All told, the process was said to include more than four thousand individuals participating in committees, town meetings, and focus groups.[2]  The drafting of the initial version of the Mason Vision document in February would include professional and analytical groups and members of the Mason community both internal and external.[3] Dr. Cabrera made clear the inclusivity of the initiative in stating: “The question [was] not ‘what are my plans for the university’, but ‘what are our plans for the university?”[4]

The initial draft of the Vision document was released on February 5th 2013. The 17-page document not only suggests initiatives Dr. Cabrera intends to implement during his tenure at Mason to address current and future challenges to Mason’s viability in the future, but further defines, and redefines, Mason as an institution.[5]  The Vision document identifies six areas by which the University intends to define itself: the Motto; a redefined mission statement; a list of Mason’s core values as an institution; the characteristics of Mason graduates; and commitments the university intends to keep.[6] Perhaps most importantly, the Vision introduces the concept of the “Mason IDEA.”  The letters in the IDEA acronym stand for characteristics Mason uses to describe itself: Innovative, Diverse, Entrepreneurial, and Accessible.

Speaking on what is contained within this initial draft, Dr. Cabrera stated that “There is one component that talks about what shouldn’t change, and then there is a part that talks about what should change.”[7] He reiterated that the process as a whole has been an effort in inclusion—a project that synthesizes the opinions of all those affected. The purpose behind the release of the preliminary draft of the Vision document was to facilitate discussion. The Board of Visitors’ vote on the document was set for March 20, 2013. If the Vision were approved by the Board, it would then be sent to state higher education officials in Richmond for ultimate review and approval.[8]

With the Vision draft released and available to the public, the next step was to invite feedback from students, faculty, and community members on the content of the draft to aid in the shaping of the final Vision. Much like the town hall events held prior to the completion of the original draft[9], four town hall style events were announced by Dr. Cabrera. A fifth meeting was later added.  Mason community members were invited to attend these events and provide input to the final vision process. An e-mail option was added for those with valuable ideas who found themselves unable attend a town hall. And in keeping with its original inclusiveness, the process was opened to the entire community.

The five town hall meetings took place in the final weeks of February. They were spread out over the three Mason campuses so as to make them accessible to as many people as possible. Among the ideas suggested at these meetings was a consensus from the Student Government that parts of the final Vision include reference to enumerated and protected student rights.[10]  As expected, some questions dealt with the ever-present theme of a possible NCAA-level football team at Mason, and Dr. Cabrera, diplomatic in his answers, discussed both the pros and cons of such a venture: “It’s a pretty expensive proposition. In an environment where we have so many pressures and demands to increase quality and to remain affordable to our students, we have to be very careful about it.”[11]  The subject of football will no doubt remain a hot-button issue at Mason, but for the time being, it can be assumed that Dr. Cabrera felt that the cost passed on to students might not be worth having a program at that stage.

After another slate of town hall discussions, flurries of social media promotion, and a full semester of internal analysis and work, the Vision proposal was presented to the Board of Visitors, who unanimously approved it on March 20, 2013. In a congratulatory letter to the University as a whole, President Cabrera lauded the efforts of all involved to create the official Mason Vision framework, which would move into the strategic planning process during the summer of 2013. “Now we have the foundation, the framework on which we can build a plan…the plans of each academic unit, for technology, for libraries—you name it,” said Cabrera on the completed document.[12]  Dr. Cabrera and the Board of Visitors anticipated that strategic planning would be completed around December 2013, and an official plan in motion by July 2014.[13]  In addition to the official announcement, a festive e-mail was sent out to the entire Mason community and, in keeping with his propensity to leverage modern social media as a means of communication, Dr. Cabrera utilized his presence on Twitter to promote the news, as well.[14]

The drafting of the Vision for Mason, from conception to official outline, created a new mission statement that defines the university as “a public, comprehensive research university established by the Commonwealth of Virginia in the National Capitol Region…an innovative and inclusive academic community committed to creating a more just, free, and prosperous world.”[15]  Dr. Cabrera described it as a process that has succeeded in “craft[ing] a vision that [is] both aspirational and inspirational.”[16] With the visioning process concluded, the results of the work of the many individuals and groups were to be used to inform the university’s planning sessions for Mason's 2014 Strategic Plan. 

Brrowse items related to the university's visioning process.

[1] MasonVision. (2013, March 20). George Mason University. Retrieved from https://vision.gmu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/MasonVision.pdf

[2] Oral History Interview with Dr. Ángel Cabrera, April 8, 2012.

[3] MasonVision. (2013, March 20). George Mason University. Retrieved from https://vision.gmu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/MasonVision.pdf

[4] Oral History Interview with Dr. Ángel Cabrera, April 8, 2012.

[5] Menchhoff, H. (2013, February 8). Cabrera Releases Working Draft of University Vision. Connect2Mason. Web. Retrieved from http://www.connect2mason.com/content/cabrera-releases-working-draft-university-vision

[6] Ibid.

[7] Wilson, Colleen. “Cabrera outlines his new vision for Mason.” Broadside 18 Feb. 2013 : Pg. 4. Print.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Muraca, Frank. “Mason Hosting Town Halls for Input on Strategic Vision.” Connect2Mason 29 Nov. 2012.

[10] Papadogiannakis, Nikki. “Student government discusses conduct code grievances.” Broadside 4 Mar. 2013 : pg.4 . Print.

[11] Hobbs, Holly. “New Mason President Tackles Multiple Issues.” Fairfax Times 23 Aug. 2012.

[12] Oral History Interview with Dr. Ángel Cabrera, April 8, 2012.

[13] Cabrera, A. (2013, March 21). Congratulations! . Web. Retrieved from https://vision.gmu.edu/

[14] Cabrera, A. (n.d.). Angel Cabrera (CabreraAngel). Twitter. Social Network. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/CabreraAngel

[15] MasonVision. (2013, March 20). George Mason University. Retrieved from https://vision.gmu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/MasonVision.pdf

[16] Oral History Interview with Dr. Ángel Cabrera, April 8, 2012.