October 14, 2023

Printable VPA Academic Strategic Plan PDF 140KB

Questions? Please contact the VPA Dean's Office at vpadean@syr.edu.


The Syracuse University College of Visual and Performing Arts (VPA) is home to seven academic units: School of Art, School of Design, Department of Drama, Setnor School of Music (SSOM), Department of Film and Media Arts, Department of Creative Arts Therapy, and the Department of Communication and Rhetorical Studies (CRS). The college supports over 1,800 students seeking bachelor’s and master’s degrees taught by over 250 faculty and assisted by a staff team of 60. The academic units are housed in seven campus buildings that are separated by 3.7 miles from the Comstock Art Facility near South Campus to the Nancy Cantor Warehouse downtown, passing through the Shaffer Art Building, Smith Hall, Sims Hall, and Crouse College on Main Campus and the Syracuse Stage/Department of Drama Theater Complex, home of the Department of Drama.

Over the past seven years, with strategic leadership, VPA has consistently balanced its budget after years of structural deficits. The college has also increased annual giving, restructured several administrative offices, established a college-wide professional academic and career advising office to support all students, expanded academic and experiential programming in Los Angeles, and launched a new low- residency master's program in creative arts therapy. These initiatives were a direct result of goals and objectives outlined in VPA’s 2017 strategic plan. The college’s accomplishments have been possible because its financial plan assumes spending within revenue projections throughout the long-range budget plan, which includes planned strategic investments in capital projects, equipment, and personnel.

As VPA looks to the future, it acknowledges the significant economic setbacks that arts and culture experienced because of the global pandemic. Across the spectrum of artistic and creative endeavors, restrictions on gatherings, changes in consumer behavior, and severe unemployment have taken a devastating toll on the sector. The full scope and scale of the impact can be hard to discern, in part because of the size and diversity of the industries and occupations that constitute arts and culture. This sector is composed of a myriad of industries such as film, advertising, digital and visual arts, and design as well as specific individual occupations like actor/director/choreographer, musician, visual artist, and designer. Remarkably, while many arts programs suspended activities during the pandemic, VPA continued to offer training at the very highest level while finding new ways to engage with students and the world. The college’s resilience has positioned it well to continue to evolve in the next five years, but it is still facing some COVID-19 pandemic challenges, primarily in the Department of Drama and Syracuse Stage.

Strategic plans and initiatives will continue to be executed in alignment with the identified vision and mission of the college as outlined below.

Vision: The vision of the College of Visual and Performing Arts is founded upon the belief that art and scholarship can impact social change.

Mission: The College of Visual and Performing Arts at Syracuse University is committed to the education of cultural leaders who will engage and inspire inclusive communities through performance, visual art, design, scholarship, and commentary. We provide the tools for self-discovery and risk-taking in an environment that thrives on critical thought and action.

Within five years, VPA will be known for:

  • Professional and arts degree programs offering courses that intersect with business,entrepreneurship, marketing, communication, and technology to aid students in being adept at moving between different skillsets.
  • Curricular offerings designed to account for study abroad and study away opportunities for all undergraduate students, focusing primarily on growing VPA LA and our affiliations with the University’s global campus partners.
  • A professional art gallery where the work of faculty and students is properly and uninterruptedly exhibited year-round, coupled with ongoing renovations at the Comstock Art Facility (ComArt), Crouse College, Syracuse Stage/Drama Theater Complex, and the Shaffer Art Building.
  • A community that provides its diverse student body with not only flexible and forward-thinking curricular experiences supported by technologically equipped learning facilities on campus and away, but also supports best-in-class wellness practices and ongoing career services.
  • Collaborative opportunities for faculty and students to implement interdisciplinary programs, courses, and events.
  • Inclusive Excellence that elevates our collective diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility, and belonging efforts.
  • A community of diverse students and faculty whose intersectional, creative, and transformative works impact local and global environments in partnership with alumni and innovative industries.
  • A clinical and research-focused Department of Creative Arts Therapy offering art therapy and music therapy degrees (online and low residency) in partnership with local and national VA medical centers and outpatient sites.

Areas of Distinctive and Aspirational Excellence

The College of Visual and Performing Arts has a long and distinctive history of innovation. In 1873, as the College of Fine Arts, it became the first-degree conferring organization of its kind in the United States. The Department of Music was founded in 1877 and was one of the first in the country to grant a degree in music and to require four years of study in both music and theory. The SSOM also claims to have either the oldest music industry program in the nation or the second, depending on publication. Founded in 1910, the Department of Oratory (now the Department ofCommunication and Rhetorical Studies) offered one of the nation’s first academic programs devoted to the study of communication and rhetoric. In 1913, Syracuse University and VPA became the first institution in the U.S. to offer advanced study in photography. The excellence of our schools and departments is frequently recognized nationally and internationally. The Hollywood Reporter consistently lists our film program among its top 25 film schools; the School of Design is number 14 in DesignIntelligence’s “Top 25 Most Admired Interior Design Schools.” The Department of Communication and Rhetorical Studies was recently named the top master’s program in the country by the National Communication Association. The Department of Drama is consistently ranked among the top 10 programs by Backstage, OnStage, and Playbill. It should also be noted that the department is distinguished by being the only undergraduate program in the country fully affiliated with a League of Resident Theatre (LORT) (Syracuse Stage) member. With 75 such theaters in 29 states and the District of Columbia, LORT is the largest professional theater association of its kind in the United States.

The thread that runs through our multiple areas of disciplinary expertise and weaves us together into a coherent whole is the tools for self-discovery and risk-taking in an environment that thrives on critical thought and action.

Locally and Globally Engaged Faculty

Excellence in VPA is rooted in the college’s expert and professionally engaged faculty. Professors model experiential inquiry at the highest level nationally and internationally by thriving as filmmakers, designers, artists, actors, creative art therapists, photographers, illustrators, directors, conductors, writers, musicians, composers, cultural critics, and more. A representative sample ofVPA’s global breadth includes communication and rhetorical studies faculty engaged with global partners Massey University, University of Buenos Aires, Shanghai University, and the University of Copenhagen focusing on memory and engaged citizenship scholarship.

Through VPA’s engagement with global audiences, students have more opportunity to produce work that is broader and with deeper impact. Global connections also generate unique opportunities for students to engage in traditional research and creative opportunities, hold internships, and access expanded mentoring opportunities. Degree programs in visual and performing arts support global study through semester-long programs in London, Prague, and Florence. Summer programs offer additional opportunities to study in Bologna, Venice, Santiago, and Moscow. Students across the college may also participate in the VPA LA Semester, which offers internship-based learning in Los Angeles.

Improving the college’s communication structure and practices will allow research, creative work, and performances to further impact the local community, the nation, and the world. In some programs, students and faculty feel unseen by the larger University community. For example, identifying dedicated space for a professional art gallery where the work of faculty and students can be properly and uninterruptedly exhibited is essential. The music and theater performance venues are woefully inadequate when compared to peers and must be more accessible to the University community and beyond. This will require an expansion of the existing infrastructure and the creative use of emerging technologies to share work more broadly, when applicable.

Experiential Inquiry

The learning experiences in VPA are by nature experiential. Students learn by doing, whether writing screenplays or theatrical scripts, performing, fabricating, producing, speaking across mediated platforms, thinking critically, and learning to communicate effectively. Because the college is largely undergraduate driven, these opportunities are provided to students early in their college careers. Some examples include performing at Carnegie Hall, working in a professional theater (Syracuse Stage), mixing and mastering recordings in a state-of-the-art sound studio (Belfer Archives), engaging in public speaking and crafting persuasive messaging in a variety of media on campus and beyond, and training with the professional staff at Light Work and the Syracuse University Art Museum.

Study away/study abroad options in Los Angeles; New York City; Washington, D.C.; London; Florence; Berlin; Prague; and through World Partners are strategically designed to connect students to global artistic communities and support internships and professional experiences that are pivotal to the development of young artists, storytellers, musicians, designers, and critical thinkers. Study abroad/away should be accessible to every student regardless of financial status or academic program. Students should have the opportunity to choose semester-long study abroad or away as well as short-term programs led by VPA faculty. The college will work closely with Syracuse Abroad to develop strategic plans for growth in study abroad/away opportunity development. These plans will prioritize the most viable study abroad/away options based on criteria including cost, cohort size, student demand, center capacity, most appropriate mode/location, staffing, etc. Such initiatives will require increased external fundraising to provide scholarships for students who cannot afford these experiences. It will also require curricular flexibility to truly allow students to engage in study abroad/away while completing their degree of study on time.

Additionally, curricular re-evaluation and assessment must be built into work as intentional and regular. Furthermore, it must include strategies to tear down barriers that prohibit interdisciplinary offerings and collaboration across units, schools, and colleges. VPA students desire more flexible and forward-thinking programs of study that truly allow students to explore who they want to become. Faculty members must actively engage in innovative curricular redesign; a newly invigorated curriculum will be the result of significant student input, and as such will support more service learning and community engagement expectations throughout the college.

Cohesive, Inclusive Community in a Comprehensive University

While Syracuse University’s campus is populated by thousands of students, the nature of VPA’s disciplines with high-touch instruction allows faculty and students to know each other as individuals. The spirit of generosity and sharing of time and resources runs deeply in the VPA community. Faculty serve as advisors and mentors beyond the classroom, studio, and rehearsal hall. The recently created Office of Academic and Career Advising supports every student with a dedicated, caring, and knowledgeable professional staff member. VPA students also build collaborative cohorts through peer advisors, social events, and program-specific professional organizations, honor societies, and fraternities. Furthermore, the network of alumni support VPA students by offering internships and connecting them to other industry professionals often through unit-specific convocations and lecture series. This is also fostered through the newly established “Industry Days,” an initiative focused on bringing alumni and students together for networking, resume reviews, mock interviews, and professional development breakout sessions.

The students, faculty, and staff must work in sufficiently resourced and well- maintained physical facilities. This will require continuing effort to ensure all existing spaces are being utilized efficiently. Repurposing spaces should be considered, and in some cases, spaces may require renovation, ornew space needs will be identified. The schools and departments must establish equipment needs and identify a replacement/refresh plan to ensure students and faculty are working within peer and industry standards. Special attention should be paid to units located away from the main campus: School of Design (the Nancy Cantor Warehouse), Department of Drama (Syracuse Stage/DramaTheater Complex), and School of Art (ComArt). The extra distance to and from residence halls, dining facilities, health and wellness facilities, and other academic buildings and classes limits students’ ability to thrive in every way. This situation requires innovative solutions, not all of them expensive.

To build and sustain an inclusive community, schools and departments must seek to diversify the staff, faculty, and curriculum as well as engage in reflective practices to reshape the courses offered; update the content and materials to reflect the shared beliefs in inclusion, equity, diversity, and accessibility; and review pedagogy to include non-Western models of teaching and learning. The college will continue to intentionally seek excellent faculty and staff who represent various aspects of diversity—sex and gender, sexual orientation, age, ability, race, economic, and geographic. Recruitment and retention of accomplished faculty and staff from underrepresented groups must be a guiding principle.

In affirming a commitment to support the mental, emotional, and physical health of all our community members, we will have to reimagine curricular offerings to consider contact hours, assignments, and required credits in a degree or semester. A re-examination of our class schedule paradigm may be necessary to allow adequate travel between classes, which is critical to our students’ health and well- being. Work-life balance should be a hallmark for students, faculty, and staff.

Local and Global Impact 

The college must be more successful in increasing audiences locally, regionally, nationally, and globally. VPA aims to be a place where all students can be financially, socially, and academically supported soour local and global impact will multiply through their excellent work. Our graduates will enter an international workforce where they can utilize the skills obtained in VPA to make a difference in the world.

Realizing Our Vision: Programmatic and Operational Commitments

  1. Academic units will engage in the re-evaluation of long-standing curricula and teaching practices. 

    Diversity and inclusion must infuse each program's course of study. There are ample opportunities to decolonize course content, to consider global pedagogies, and to increase accessibility. 

    Further, curriculum review should maintain an awareness of the amount of time a student will have away from their studies to explore other interests outside of their academic obligations.

  2. VPA will incentivize faculty and student creative work across boundaries of space and discipline.

    The college aspires to be a community that values and supports the research and creative work of its students and faculty and celebrates the diversity of inquiries, disciplines, and practice-informed work. Through a structure built on meaningful resource allocation to support research and creative activities, VPA will facilitate an environment where highly productive artists, designers, creative arts therapists, scholars, and performers engage in socially just and collaborative initiatives that impact local and global communities. To this end, it may be necessary to adjust teaching loads and research leaves to allow faculty the time to create. Class scheduling must be more flexible to create unique opportunities for students and faculty to engage in research or creative work outside normal campus activities.

    Curriculum flexibility and interdisciplinary collaboration require a re-examination of our current offerings. It will be necessary to shift from the current emphasis on skill development to nurturing critical thinking, creativity, and problem- solving. To engage in this work, the college will promote a structure that supports meaningful curriculum redesign and workshop events throughout the academic year. Moreover, each unit should reexamine faculty service requirements to identify more efficient methods of completing necessary administrative tasks.

    The numerous adjunct faculty members should also be supported in their teaching activities to ensure they have the resources needed.

    The multi-faceted industries the college programs, schools, and departments serve are collaborative in nature. As such, students should have more opportunities to experience interdisciplinary, practice-based learning. Although there are geographical barriers to this work that must be confronted, programs must be less territorial in protecting departmental/school resources and share more broadly and strategically. For instance, film students seek actors, composers, and costume and set designers. The goal should be to provide opportunities for students to connect with other students while stillgiving them the guidance and skills they need to thrive academically and professionally.

  3. Academic units will reconsider the daily schedule of classes to allow:

    A. Students to take more classes in other disciplines.
    B. Students to focus on their well-being through socialization and fostering healthy habits such as eating healthy and exercising.
    C. Students to access health services, disability services, and counseling services with greater ease, especially for those students in the School of Design and the Department of Drama.

    The college will work in collaboration with the appropriate University offices to identify solutions for the existing transportation concerns of our students whose academic work takes place off Main Campus. Enhanced transportation and coordinated schedules will allow for greater interdisciplinary collaboration. As stated throughout this document, access to healthy and nutritious food has been challenging, especially for students who spend most of their time at the Nancy Cantor Warehouse, the Syracuse Stage/Drama Complex, and ComArt, for whom sufficient food resources are not available. The college would also like to explore with our University partners the possibility of traveling resources such as counseling and health services at our facilities off campus. The Barnes Center is a remarkable facility, but students on South Campus, at the Warehouse, ComArt, and Syracuse Stage/Drama Complex have limited access to it. The college DEIA committee will work with the Office of Disability Services to find appropriate accommodations for all VPA students. Some standards of accommodation (extra time onwritten exams, for example) do not translate well to studio or performance settings.

  4. VPA will reach larger audiences locally, nationally, and globally for the creative and scholarly work of faculty and students.

    The college must continue to leverage its many local community partners such as the Everson Museum, Syracuse Stage, Symphoria, La Casita, Point of Contact, and the National Veterans Resource Center. This can be done through reconsidering where and when performances are held to increase their local and global impact. VPA’s communication structure and processes to better publicize events, shows, performances, and successes can continue to be enhanced. The COVID-19 pandemic revealed opportunities for sharing art and scholarship electronically, which revealed the need to continue to evolve our use of virtual platforms to expand audiences.

  5. VPA will focus on increasing fundraising and external grants to support the college's academic strategic initiatives.

    The dean will continue working with the VPA Office of Advancement and the Office of Advancement and External Relations to increase funding for named professorships, scholarships, and capital projects. Further, the associate dean for research, graduate studies, and internationalization will continue working with the faculty and the University’s Office of Research. The faculty will be incentivized to seek external grants where appropriate to their academic specialty, for it is recognized that grants have an important and long-lasting positive impact on faculty, students, and the institution itself.

  6. Academic units will formalize a process for regular student input and ideas.

    College leadership must devote more time and space for recurring dialogue. VPA students were eager to be heard in this strategic planning process, and their input was constructive. Student feedback will assist in promoting a more welcoming, inclusive, and responsive environment. It may be important to support undergraduate and graduate students to develop a college-wide student group that interfaces regularly with the department and schools in the college. This process should also support a mechanism for feedback and accountability to program commitments.

  7. VPA will better support faculty, staff, and students who feel marginalized, including our international students.

    The college must engage in equity audits at all levels to better understand current practices. Faculty, staff, and students should participate in conversations about diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in a meaningful and productive way, beyond the mandatory training workshops. The college will need to identify ways to enhance support for marginalized students, provide them with the appropriate support, and connect them with appropriate resources.

    VPA will develop a program of student mentors to directly support international students. The Office of Academic and Career Advising will coordinate this effort and develop specialist advisors for international students. In coordination with the Office of Advancement and External Relations, the college will seek opportunities to leverage international alumni groups in various countries to better support current students.

  8. VPA will pursue a shared responsibility with Academic Affairs and the Office of Admissions so that the incoming undergraduate enrollment aligns with faculty staffing and college infrastructure.

    VPA’s recruiting office will continue to collaborate with the Office of Admissions to better recruit and admit VPA students, to minimize over-enrollment, and to maximize resource allocation where appropriate. Working to enroll students in alignment with academic unit capacity will greatly impact the student experience as it allows for adequate class sizes, instructional spaces, equipment needs, and teaching capabilities.

  9. VPA will continue to review program offerings.

    Faculty and college administration will use program review as an opportunity to consider program consolidations and new program offerings (both online and residential) to ensure the college is meeting the needs of market and student demands.


VPA’s strategic planning process began in August 2022, when Dean Michael Tick appointed a diverse college-wide committee of faculty, staff, and students. The committee included faculty representatives from each of the academic units, one adjunct faculty alumnus, one graduate student, one undergraduate student, and three staff members (associate dean of research, graduate studies, and internationalization; director of budget, operations, and strategic initiatives; and a professional academic advisor who is also an alumna of the college). Dr. John Warren, professor of music, chaired the committee. In addition to meeting weekly, the committee solicited feedback from the entire college by launching a survey that yielded more than 500 responses with representation from every unit of thecollege. During Spring 2023, committee members held seven listening sessions with faculty, staff, and students of each individual unit. Not only were these conversations constructive and informative for the immediate task of drafting this plan, but they allowed for open dialogue and community-building. In these sessions, faculty, staff, and students identified areas of excellence, opportunities for growth, and acknowledged the challenges VPA faces as an academic community. In the process of listening, the committee realized that opportunities for more frequent collaborative thinking and dialogue within our departments and schools is critical.