In October, UCLA launched its 2023–28 Strategic Plan, a guiding framework and overview of institutional investments that will provide high-level direction for the university over the next five years. The plan focuses on five goals: deepening our engagement with Los Angeles; expanding UCLA’s reach as a global university; enhancing research and creative activities; elevating how we teach; and becoming a more effective institution.

We sat down for a conversation with a driving force behind the plan, Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Darnell Hunt M.A. ’91, Ph.D. ’94. Here, he dives into its particulars, reflects on its significance for the campus and touts its impact on the broader community.

Why is now the right time to launch a five-year strategic plan for UCLA?

There are a number of reasons. That timeline is significant because it includes some major milestones, like the arrival of the L.A. Metro Purple Line in Westwood in 2027, which will more closely link the university to other parts of L.A., and UCLA’s hosting the Olympic Village in 2028. Launching the plan now gives us a chance to consider how these major moments will affect UCLA, and to fire on all cylinders toward our ambitious goals leading up to them.

Another factor is that we are going to be entering into a major, multiyear fundraising campaign soon. This will be one of the first times in UCLA’s history that we have the benefit of a strategic plan as the framework by which we conceive and implement the campaign.

Lastly, we are going to be welcoming a new chancellor at the end of this academic year. Providing this person with a sense of the way the university community thinks of itself, where the university is now and where it is going, will be a huge asset for that person — who will then be able to layer on their own thinking and priorities.

ECVP Hunt Breaks Down UCLA’s New Strategic Plan

Beyond the five goal areas, what is the overarching objective here?

We want to make UCLA the most impactful university. We often talk about being a great research university, and of course U.S. News & World Report has said that we are the best public university for seven years in a row. But we really aspire to be the most impactful — to have the greatest positive influence on the real world, to shape society in beneficial ways, to make a difference. And that’s what the plan is designed to do.

The way we get there, the methodology, is through this concept of inclusive excellence. That’s a kind of undercurrent that cuts across the whole plan. Much like the city of L.A. itself, UCLA is a place that welcomes and lifts up people of all kinds. The success of our plan — the success of our university — hinges on ensuring that people and communities of all types benefit, not just select groups.  

Share more about this concept of “inclusive excellence.”

Inclusive excellence is the notion that there is no trade-off between diversity and excellence. You can think of them as two sides of the same coin. There is an ample body of research across multiple fields showing that when you diversify the people around the table, the people who are participating, you multiply the perspectives, the wisdom, the knowledge, the questions you bring to a problem, the way you go about it. At the end of the day, you produce a better product.

So what we are saying here is that to be excellent, you have to be inclusive. You cannot be excellent at the level that we are talking about without being inclusive and without creating the structures, pathways and processes to ensure that you are inclusive in everything you do. Being conscious of that will translate into a level of excellence that we would not otherwise have.

UCLA is making substantial progress on deepening connections to Los Angeles with the acquisition of sites in downtown L.A., the South Bay and the Westside. Why is this a priority?

I look at this from two vantage points, with the two working together.

First, we are doubling down on UCLA’s relationship with Los Angeles and seeing it for the competitive advantage that it is. We attract remarkable faculty because of where we are located, what our city offers and the fact that Los Angeles is so diverse, with some of the largest international diasporas. Almost every cultural or social issue in the world has an analog here in our city, and that means that with more of a presence in the city, our students and scholars can actually engage with issues across the entire globe. This “glocal” connection — the whole idea of the fusing of the global and the local — is something that you can uniquely do in Los Angeles, and it really gives UCLA a leg up.

The other point is that we are a public research university, which means we have a significant mission to serve the public. In many ways, you can think of UCLA as owned by the people of California. We have a responsibility to deepen our engagement beyond Westwood to deliver more broadly on the opportunity and promise that a great university like UCLA offers.

Find out how and why UCLA is expanding across the map of Los Angeles.

Let’s talk about teaching, goal four. Sometimes quality instruction can get lost at a major research university. This is a big place, now bringing on different campus sites. Why is this a focus area of the plan?

The short answer is that we have amazing students who want and deserve a world-class education. We are producing future leaders, and to do that, of course you need to have excellent teaching. You need to keep up with the latest pedagogical approaches, the latest technology in the classroom — all those things that are part and parcel of the experience. This goal is meant to ensure that we do just that.

Thankfully, one of the things that attracts faculty here is our amazing student body. I remember my days as a dean, and before that as a department chair, working to recruit leading scholars to UCLA. One of the first questions they ask is about the students: “What is the student body like?” So for them, it’s not just about research — it’s also about teaching.

How can people get involved?

I will give you one example I am really excited about, and that’s tied to our new UCLA downtown building. The way we are thinking about that building is as a brick-and-mortar incubator, where people can come together and engage across a range of different topic areas. We are thinking of it as UCLA’s “living room,” where people can come in off the street, sit down, have coffee and talk with folks about the world’s great problems or opportunities. We established a programming board, chaired by one of our wonderful professors who lives downtown and who also happens to be a historian of Los Angeles, to solicit proposals for uses of the space.

We envision a research group, for example, working on sustainability issues. The building could be treated like a flex workspace, where projects come in for a limited period of time. We are four blocks from City Hall, so we expect to be working with government officials. We are by the court system. UCLA Law [and] the Luskin School of Public Affairs could have space in the building, working with civic leaders, community-based organizations. We want our alumni to come into the building. We want to use the building for events to recruit the next class of students from areas of Los Angeles that are far from Westwood. This gives us a more proximate connection with communities that have traditionally been underserved, whom we have to think of as the tapestry of UCLA if we’re going to achieve this goal of inclusive excellence.

How will UCLA define success?

That is a great question. One of the things we talked about at the very beginning of the strategic planning process is what types of metrics we would identify for each goal to see if we were on track and to see if we are actually making progress over time. Every goal has a different type of metric that we can look at.

Deepening our engagement with Los Angeles may be a measure of how many different community partnerships we launch. Expanding our reach as a global university may look at the volume of international exchange between students and faculty. We may look at our funding dollars, hopefully making it easier for researchers to apply for grants and secure them. We have talked about different strategies for making the material in a class more accessible, ensuring there is equity across different groups. We want every student, regardless of where they came from and the experiences they have had, to have an equal opportunity to learn and to become leaders. And, of course, becoming a more effective institution means reducing red tape, making it such that staff feel like they are not as burdened with going through the routine of their day-to-day work.

Each of the goals has different metrics, but I think for me, the higher-level measure or indicator of success is just stopping a random person on campus and asking them, “Where is UCLA going?” and have them be able to articulate the vision that the plan endeavors to establish. If people are able to express that in their own language, then we have succeeded in communicating the plan and creating the type of buy-in necessary to ensure that it will have the impact we envision.

Read more from UCLA Magazine’s Spring 2024 issue.