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Mason and the Region

Mason and the Region

To me, the most interesting thing to emerge from the University’s annual planning retreat last week was the reminder of our historical connection with Northern Virginia and the opportunity to renew and redefine this connection to mutual benefit.

It’s pretty well known that regional leaders first sparked an interest in having a higher education institution established, with discussions beginning back in the late 1940s. Mason was born out of regional needs, and the link has been abundantly maintained. It was interesting, though, to be reminded how closely connected university and regional leadership was back in the 1980s, and one of the strategic calls from our meetings was for a revival of this leadership interaction.

Of course the leadership has changed, both in personnel and in specializations, so while we can use historical precedent we also must innovate. Mason continues to serve as one of the key regional institutions—along with Dulles airport, probably THE key regional institution—so we can build on this position. But I also think there are new opportunities and needs. The region is surely in for some challenges, however the shrinkage of the federal government plays out. We need new economic engines, new bases of support for research and development. Mason can, I hope, play a constructive role not only in assembling relevant groups for discussion and planning, but in providing a sense of direction.

The University has the advantage of its location in several parts of the Northern Virginia region. We can in principle help bridge county divides toward greater overall cohesion and action—but it’s clear that this potential has not yet been adequately realized.

So: precedent, new need and abundant opportunity suggest a mutual recommitment between University and region. This in no ways contradicts the University’s goals of augmenting its national reputation and building global relationships. Indeed, helping to form and steer global opportunities is or should be a vital part of the regional mission. Recommitment also supports the University’s pledge to diversity and affordability, two other connections to the region though also beyond. All this needs careful statement, of course, so we don’t seem to be retreating to narrow localism. But I think the formulation is both achievable and desirable, as part of our next strategic phase.

We do face, I admit, the conundrum of a new, Spanish-born President in a region often known as NoVa, but I’m sure we can work that out.