WIYN Strategic Plan ~ 1998


Appendix A - Org Chart

Appendix B - Oct 1997 Rpt

Appendix C - Jun 1997 Rpt

Home Page




This document presents a Strategic Plan for the WIYN Consortium and WIYN Observatory. It grew out of two workshops held in 1997; a more detailed presentation of the results of those workshops can be found in the Appendices. These produced the key features of a Strategic Plan for the WIYN Consortium. This report presents the major elements of our plan along with suggestions for its implementation.


Provisional Mission Statement

The plan is based on a Provisional WIYN Mission Statement that was developed during the planning meetings:

WIYN is a consortium of public and private educational institutions that seek to:



Strategic Directions

  1. Optimize the optical and mechanical performance of the WIYN 3.5-m telescope. This direction seeks to maximize the scientific return from WIYN by making the telescope as fast and efficient as possible within available resources.
  2. Develop advanced instrumentation for WIYN. The scientific competitiveness of an astronomical telescope depends on the quality and effectiveness of its instruments. The initial complement of WIYN instruments is very good. Nonetheless, the inevitable advance in technology demands an ongoing program to bring new instrumentation to WIYN.
  3. Implement versatile modes of observing with WIYN. A large class of scientific problems exist which cannot be effectively explored via the traditional approach of having a few dedicated observing nights assigned to various research groups each semester. For example, time-dependent processes may require brief observations over many nights, or a program may need small amounts of very rare weather conditions for its success. As such programs are central to the research of many WIYN scientists, WIYN must develop innovative observing modes.
  4. Broaden the base for collaborative efforts within WIYN. The WIYN consortium provides the opportunity to make the whole of its collaborative efforts greater than the sum of the parts for key areas of the WIYN mission, including technical developments, scientific research, education, and public outreach.
  5. Exploit the unique qualities and features of the WIYN Observatory as they apply to leading-edge astronomical research. The WIYN Telescope is one of a dozen telescopes in the 4-m size class. It is therefore important to ask how WIYN can best add scientific value to the astronomical enterprise; one approach is to emphasize those features of the Observatory which are most unique.




1. Enhance Resources

The WIYN Observatory is running successfully, but its tight operating budget has inevitably imposed significant constraints on further development. The WIYN investment funds are not appropriate for ongoing development expenses, and in any case are not being replenished at an adequate rate. Thus the objective to bring WIYN to a fully competitive state conflicts with our funding realities. It is critical for WIYN to close this gap.

Goal 1a:

On the basis of the first years of operation WIYN will assess the funding level required to operate the observatory at an appropriately scientifically competitive level. As part of this process WIYN will explore sources for external funding and the establishment of an endowment fund.

For WIYN to be an effective observatory, instrumentation replacements and upgrades also must be funded on a routine basis.

Goal 1b:

A reinvestment fund will be established to support continuing upgrades of WIYN facilities and instruments.


2. Improve Administration

There is a strong need to define more clearly the management structure for WIYN, including the roles of the WIYN Board and the Scientific Advisory Committee. Furthermore, WIYN lacks a functional executive authority. This point has been informally discussed in the context of a Director, and a formal exploration of this option should be undertaken.

Goal 2a:

WIYN will revise its management plan by adding a stronger executive, which we refer to as the "WIYN Director." WIYN will consider the duties of the Director, how it would fund this additional area, and review the range and costs of possible mechanisms for gaining an executive capability.

We suggest that under the new plan the WIYN Board continues to be financially responsible for WIYN, will set overall policy for WIYN, review major proposals, appoint key staff, including the Director, define the job description and expectations of the Director, and review the performance of the Director. If a new management structure is put in place, the Board should also review that structure for effectiveness after one year and at periodic intervals thereafter.

Goal 2b:

The responsibilities of the WIYN Board will be reviewed, with particular attention paid to their role in assuring the financial well-being of WIYN.

The responsibilities of the WIYN Science Advisory Committee are not well-defined. Sometimes the SAC acts as an advisory committee, sometimes as a management council, and sometimes as an executive committee.

Goal 2c:

The duties, procedures, and functions of the Science Advisory Committee will be carefully defined as part of the review of the WIYN management structure.


3. Enhance Partner Involvement

If WIYN is to achieve its full scientific potential, there must be greater involvement of the scientific staffs of the partners in WIYN and greater institutional commitment. It is highly desirable that at least one scientist on a rotating basis from the university members be resident in Tucson to monitor the performance of the telescope in terms of its ability to perform to specifications and deliver scientific observations efficiently. The universities also need to take the initiative in preparing proposals for new instrumentation, and to identify PI's for instruments included in the WIYN long-range plan.

It is critical that the scientists in the WIYN partnership continue to recognize their responsibility in supporting this project.

Goal 3:

The partners in WIYN will increase their commitment to WIYN through both formal means (such as contributions of resources), and informally through collaborations and gifts.


4. Instrumenting WIYN

The quality of data from WIYN depends on how we choose to use the telescope, the performance of the telescope and its associated systems, and the caliber of WIYN instruments. A continuing program of instrument improvements and development is necessary for the scientific health of WIYN. Yet building instruments is difficult as it involves risk, time from people having a variety of skills, consensus building within the WIYN consortium, identification of resources to carry out the process, and an ability to effectively manage the construction and testing of the resulting instrument.

Goal 4:

The Scientific Advisory Committee will improve the process through which new instruments for WIYN are sought, reviewed, funded, and developed. During the next 2-3 years WIYN will bring on-line a tip-tilt camera for high angular resolution, wide-field imaging and significantly upgrade the capabilities of its existing primary instruments, the CCD imager and bench spectrograph. By the end of a three year period WIYN will have developed the scientific justification and a project plan for a major improvement in capabilities, which will likely require an investment of \$1~million or more.


Actions for 1998-1999


  1. Carry out the series of evolutionary upgrades of WIYN facilities and instruments to maintain a competitive and scientifically focused facility. These projects are currently being supported with the limited WIYN capital funds.
  2. For the telescope and associated systems, these upgrades are designed to be post-completion projects that improve our performance. Examples include the elimination of vibrations in the telescope top end that reduce image quality and completing our system for remote observing.

    We have a number of moderate-to-small scale instrumentation efforts in progress. These include acceptance testing and commissioning of the mini-mosaic camera, upgrades to Hydra and the bench spectrograph, and the construction of an instrument adapter and guider system for the modified Cassegrain port.

    At the same time we have initiated a major instrumentation project to develop a tip-tilt system to provide high angular resolution imaging. An NSF MRI proposal was submitted through Wisconsin in January 1998 for partial funding of this project.

  3. Consider a revised WIYN management plan. A new management structure that includes a Director was discussed at the March 1998 WIYN Board meeting, and the issues raised there will require further consideration.
  4. Develop and cost a new operational model for WIYN. Our current model for WIYN might be called the ``bargain basement'' approach; we are running WIYN at the lowest reasonable cost. While we have proven that we can successfully operate WIYN in this mode, we are rapidly exhausting our resources to support the evolutionary improvements which are essential for keeping WIYN competitive and at the leading edge in key scientific areas.
  5. We therefore will explore the impact of a new ``cost efficient'' WIYN model where we seek to considerably improve WIYN's scientific capabilities through a modest increase in funding levels. The amount of additional investment required will be estimated calculating the realistic budgets for a minimal set of evolutionary improvements in WIYN. These will be based on our experience during the last 2 years, the experience and plans at the ARC observatory, and plans for the SOAR observatory.

  6. Describe a best set of scientific opportunities for WIYN and link these to instrumentation and other upgrades to the WIYN Observatory. By defining science goals we can then limit and focus our efforts to improve WIYN. This approach allows us to maximize the return from our limited resources.
  7. Remote observing will become a routine observing mode of WIYN.} Remote observing is now regularly done at the Universities. However, it is being accomplished with a minimal set of tools that provide only a small portion of the needed functionality. The scientific vision and technical plan for remote observing are fully developed, and the required personnel are ready for implementation. Complete implementation within the year will require the development of external funding.
  8. Define the level of seed funds required to maintain scientific competitiveness in key areas. The level of instrument seed funding will depend on the frequency with which WIYN plans to bring new major instruments (cost ~$1M) online. A first step will therefore be to present a specific financial plan for this need to the WIYN Board at its Fall 1998 meeting. Similar conditions apply to other major initiatives, such as upgrades to existing instruments or to the telescope and its auxiliary equipment.



A. WIYN Organizational Chart

B. Report from October 1997 Workshop

C. Report from June 1997 Workshop