Environmental Scan

The U. Arizona College of Agriculture & Life Sciences for the 4thIR

Like our nationwide peers we are located in our state’s land-grant university.  The College of Agriculture & Life Sciences (CALS) at the U. Arizona was the founding entity for the university and we continue to represent the founding mission and vision of the university.

CALS is mandated to deliver on two of the land-grant mission areas of teaching and research.  Our strategic plan presented here focuses on what the college will be and what it needs to deliver in 2025.  This process builds on the background provided by the CALS 2010 Strategic Plan.  Much of what immediately follows in this overview has been drawn, or quoted directly, from that plan. 

We recognize that the world we live in today is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous and we also recognize that we can survive it by being flexible, agile, innovative, and responsive.  Doing only what we have been doing is not going to be effective. 

Life will be more complicated not only for our faculty and staff, but for our students and our many constituents in the state and elsewhere.  We cannot simply extrapolate trends – the future is highly uncertain and we need to understand and learn to function in such times. This means we will have to do things differently, but so will others with whom we work.

The rest next decade will be a period of continuing change and seems to have ushered in a new generation; we need to be prepared for both.  There will be more significant changes and more uncertainties and perturbations and we will focus on plans that allow us to be most resilient and responsive to our stakeholders and globally relevant in these areas.

Our choices will be more difficult to make and to implement than any time in the memories of those working today.  We can only plan for actions that are under our college’s control but we have to be aware of options open to the state and university. 

We will need to be more innovative, more entrepreneurial, more flexible and more nimble in addressing both the practical problems of society and the basic sciences.  Being more entrepreneurial in particular means we need to accept risk as part of our management and leadership norms.  We must continually review and be able to change direction quickly when we realize our risks are not paying off.  We retain our two primary mission areas of teaching and research. 

It is not possible to predict or even make a good guess at how our world will emerge from the great recession. We cannot simply extrapolate past experience; the Great Depression was ended by massive government spending induced by a world war.  In 2010 CALS used a “Foresight to Insight to Action” approach developed by the Institute for the Future to describe how we should think about the future. 

  • The FORESIGHT studies suggested we are entering a world that is Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous.
  • The resulting INSIGHTS suggested a need for clear strategic directions as well as focused goals, but also to be Flexible, Agile, Innovative, and Responsive. 
  • Our ACTIONS, therefore, need to be different than those of the past and our strategic directions need to be within the context of a series of transitions within a changing world. No one who is working today has solved the kinds of problems we are dealing with today.

The great recession, beginning in 2007, signaled that a new normal would emerge from a period of crisis.  We are just now, 12 years later, beginning to understand what this new normal is.  But we do know very well that our audiences for this new normal include, as they always have, our students and Arizona’s people, communities, industries, businesses, and organizations.  In addition, we have national and international obligations for knowledge sharing and research involvement and to prepare future leaders and experts in their fields.

Resilience through integrated systems

In 2010 one theme emerged after reviewing the challenges facing the world and the southwestern United States and then matching those challenges to our college breadth, expertise, experience, and history of interdisciplinary approaches—for both basic research and practical problem solving.  That theme is resilience through integrated systems and it has five interconnected components:

  • Arid and Semi-Arid Region Agriculture and Environment
  • Individuals, Families, Communities, and Organizations
  • Globally Oriented Basic and Applied Research
  • Border Commerce
  • The Bioeconomy

Resilience has multiple “sustainability” paradigms: defined broadly, and not just environmentally (i.e. climate, energy, water, plants, and animals); it also includes social and economic components such as commerce, global trade, food production, development, jobs, institutions, health, security, transportation, families, communities, communication, consumer perspectives, political interactions and infrastructure.  Overall, CALS takes a systems perspective, where a variety of things are interconnected and interdependent and this is widely applicable to many college programs.

Today CALS is focused on resilience: our capacity to deal with events, whether predictable or not.

We need to be where the world is going, not where it is today.

Major periods of change have occurred in the past and over time our societies and commerce adapted (either rapidly or slowly, depending on the type of change) or died out. Today many significant things are happening concurrently – technology, demographics, economics, resources, physical and virtual infrastructures, life forms, genetics, memetics and general infrastructure are changing; the scale is larger; the speed is faster and more globally interconnected; the degree and complexity of change requires greater effort on the part of many institutions (e.g., business, government, and education).

Colleges like ours have changed dramatically over the years and a number added “Life Sciences” to their names, as we did in 2000.  This isn’t just a marketing ploy.  It is instead recognizing that colleges like ours impact an enormous proportion of our commerce and we are central to the nation’s changing economy.

CALS produces new people and new knowledge that support our growing economy through a very broad variety of industries – from ranching and greenhouse agriculture to biotechnology, consumer behavior, and social services.  The following table demonstrates the dramatic and far-reaching economic impact that our academic, research, and outreach programs have on Arizona’s economy and the nation’s.


Continue to -- New Knowledge, New People, New Economy