February 24, 2012 — During its meeting Thursday, the Medical Center Operating Board had its first look at the University of Virginia Medical Center's hospital bed expansion. The 72 private patient rooms on floors three through eight of the hospital will expand the availability of care to patients throughout the state and have been designed to better meet the needs of both patients and staff.
The tour was part of a three-day meeting of the University's Board of Visitors that focused on three major themes: student learning, fiscal accountability and prudence, and the balance of operating priorities.
In her remarks during the Board of Visitors' preliminary meeting, President Teresa A. Sullivan said that board members – five of whom are serving their first terms – would get a better sense of the size and complexity of the University and of its several large and distinct lines of business. She explained that besides being a major educator of undergraduate, graduate and professional students, the University also comprises a major health care provider, a robust research facility and a comprehensive athletics operation.
Other issues included an update on the capital campaign, an overview of the legislative progress on the higher education budget, a look at the 10-year financial plan for athletics, and extensive reviews of global programs and research and innovation at the University.
Board Tours Hospital Expansion
R. Edward Howell, vice president and CEO of the Medical Center, told the Medical Center Operating Board – a body that includes several Board of Visitors members – that the new rooms are another step in the ongoing process to provide not only excellent patient outcomes but also "a level of service and quality that is superlative."
The rooms will also provide the Medical Center with additional capacity to renovate the hospital's existing intensive care units while continuing to provide care for these critically ill patients. The first round of renovations began last week, when two intensive care units were temporarily relocated to new units on the third and fifth floors that are part of the hospital bed expansion.
"This provides us with capacity we've long needed," Howell said. "We've not only added to our intensive care unit capacity, we've added to our private bed capacity."
Each of the new rooms has a full bathroom and a couch that folds out into a bed to enable a family member to stay with a patient. Sliding wood doors at the bathroom entrances are light and easy for patients or family members to operate, while a small desk with a nightlight allows family members to read or work without disturbing a resting patient. These new rooms, Howell said, "help patients heal and be comfortable at their time of need."
Throughout the design process, staff provided feedback on room designs, and several design features will help employees provide high-quality care. Wide glass entry doors that either slide or swing open make it easier for staff to move patients in and out of rooms, while staff substations help employees better coordinate and document patient care.
Each room features ample natural light, provided through a ceiling-to-floor window on the north wall. Rooms on the eighth floor have views of the Rotunda and the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The new rooms are also flexible enough to meet the changing needs of the Medical Center. Each of the six units in the bed expansion can serve as either an intensive care unit room or a standard patient room.
The $80.2 million project was designed by The Smith Group. The general contractor is Gilbane Building Co.
Student Learning Takes Center Stage
Student learning dominated Thursday and Friday's Board of Visitors meetings, as members heard presentations on the University's global education and learning assessment efforts.
Students increasingly desire a global focus to their education, and that desire has pushed the University to expand its global offerings, officials told the Educational Policy Committee on Thursday.
The Center for Global Health had its roots in the School of Medicine, as part of its international health program, said founding director Dr. Richard Guerrant. But in 2001, the center expanded its reach and began accepting grant applications from undergraduates interested in projects that sought to improve conditions in foreign countries.
Today, 41 percent of Global Health Scholar Awards go to students from the College of Arts & Sciences, and 81 percent of those students are majoring in a humanities field, Dr. Rebecca Dillingham, associate director of the center, reported.
Said Guerrant: "Health and well-being can really bring us together."
With that in mind, the Center for Global Health is eager to explore partnerships with the College's new Institute of the Humanities and Global Cultures, which is taking a more humanistic, interdisciplinary approach to international education.
Sophia Rosenfeld, a history professor in the College and a member of the institute's advisory committee, said that in many ways, the institute's approach is a return to the University's roots. During his time in France, Thomas Jefferson was captivated by the Parisian salons, where figures from many backgrounds would gather for free-floating discussions. When Jefferson founded the University, he hired European and American scholars, bringing them together on the Lawn to foster similar discussions, she said.
"In one sense, the Global Humanities Institute is a return to that model," Rosenfeld said. However, the focus is no longer Western-centric, as technology increasingly makes the world a smaller place.
In one example of the institute's efforts, the University has been offering "pavilion seminars," gathering small, interdisciplinary groups of students and faculty in the Lawn pavilions to discuss topics from many different angles. In the future, the institute would like to expand that concept into "Global Jefferson Seminars," bringing together U.Va. students and faculty members with peers from other nations, Rosenfeld said.
Later Thursday, the Student Affairs and Athletics Committee heard a report on more traditional study-abroad activities. Patricia M. Lampkin, vice president and chief student affairs officer, said the University offers more than 50 study-abroad programs, and U.Va. students can take advantage of dozens of additional options overseen by other institutions.
"What they learn about other cultures and about themselves enhances their ability to think critically, to accept responsibility for their community, and to lead responsibly," she said. "These are all outcomes toward which we work in Student Affairs."
Perhaps the greatest obstacle to studying overseas, she noted, is students' reluctance to give up a semester on Grounds. Many are active in student organizations, she said, and don't want to suspend their participation.
For those students, summer and January Term programs may be an option, Lampkin said before introducing two students who raved about their study-abroad experiences.
Alex Allen, a third-year student in the College from Newport News who participated in a summer voyage of Semester at Sea, said he now spends much of his time trying to convince fellow students to climb aboard. U.Va. is the academic sponsor of the Charlottesville-based program, part of the Institute for Shipboard Education.
On his voyage, he visited a different country every week and came to appreciate a more worldly perspective. Since returning, he said he "craves" varied perspectives and has sought out friendships with international students.
Allen said he has tried to contemplate what his outlook would be like had he remained on Grounds, but "Semester at Sea left such an impact on my life that I can't imagine what my life would have been like without it."
Florette King, a 2011 graduate of the College from Centreville now pursuing a master's degree in public health,said she talks "endlessly" about her time in southern Africa in the summer of 2009 participating in "U.Va. in Southern Africa: People, Culture and the Environment in Southern Africa."
Journeying to Africa as an African-American student, she said, was "undoubtedly the most amazing experience of my academic career."
Going in, she recalls that when she thought of places like Africa, she often thought, "What can I do for these people?" Now she said she asks, "What can I learn from these people?"
Student learning was also a topic for the Educational Policy Committee, which heard a report from J. Milton Adams, vice provost for academic programs, about how the University assesses learning outcomes.
Outcomes are evaluated on three levels: by individual course, within each degree program or major, and across all programs, he said.
He focused his comments on the latter two measures, which he said follow a continuous loop: desired learning outcomes are identified; they are assessed; and improvements are implemented – leading to another round of identification, assessment and improvement.
Measuring learning begins with faculty committees identifying the desired outcomes and the standards by which they are to be measured. Students' work is then randomly sampled and evaluated by independent, trained faculty and graduate students against a predetermined rubric, Adams said.
Such evaluation processes are required by oversight agencies, including the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the University's regional accreditation agency.
One such study recently assessed writing skills in the College. Measuring seven different factors, the assessment found significant growth from the first through the fourth years, but nonetheless discovered some unanticipated weaknesses in fourth-year students' writing samples. While faculty had forecast that 40 percent of fourth-years would rate as "highly skilled," and 85 percent as at least "competent," those numbers came in at 8 percent and 61 percent, respectively, with the balance rated as "minimally competent."
The factor deemed most lacking was writers' failure to anticipate and refute potential counter-arguments to their own, Adams reported. After reviewing the results, faculty determined that courses qualifying for the College's "second writing requirement" – those requiring at least 20 pages of writing in a semester – needed lower enrollments to allow for instructor feedback and resubmission of papers.
On Friday, Dr. Maurice Apprey, dean of the Office of African-American Affairs, shared a success story with the board's Special Committee on Diversity.
When he arrived in his position in 2006, his goal was to increase African-American student achievement at U.Va. – beyond their graduation rates, which traditionally rank highest among the nation's public universities.
Graduation, he said, was "the floor, not the ceiling." His goal was to boost the numbers of African-American students with grade-point averages between 3.4 and 4.0, to make them more competitive for employment and admission to graduate and professional school.
With improved mentoring and advising, the office has emphasized getting new students off to good starts – for instance, making sure they take prerequisite courses before they tackle more academically challenging ones.
The efforts have paid off: The percentage of students earning high honors in their first semesters has more than doubled, from 10 percent to 22 percent, between 2007 and 2011. African-American students' cumulative GPA has risen from 2.51 in the fall of 2005 to 2.95 in the fall of 2011, Apprey reported.
University Grapples With Fiscal Realities
Michael Strine, the University's executive vice president and chief operating officer, told the Finance Committee that midway through the fiscal year, the University's finances appear to be in good shape.
Through Dec. 31, income from all sources was 4.1 percent ahead of last year's pace, while spending was just 1.1 percent higher, he said.
He attributed the gap to two factors: Funding from enrollment growth had not yet been allocated to the schools that had realized that growth, the first step in the coming new internal financial model; and University-wide strategic salary adjustments went into effect Nov. 25, relatively late in the reporting period.
Drilling down further, Strine reported that tuition revenue has come in over budget, even after deducting financial aid expenses, while research funding did not fall as far as had been budgeted, with federal stimulus funds drying up. Endowment income, private gifts and revenues from auxiliaries are all higher than last year, he reported.
On the spending side, operating and maintenance costs for the physical plant have increased by 10.3 percent as several new facilities came online, which is in line with the budget. Spending on non-tuition scholarships has dropped, again due to the loss of federal stimulus funds.
Strine also provided board members with an overview of fiscal trends since the 2002-03 fiscal year.
He warned that several trends are converging to make the 2012-13 budget year particularly troublesome. State appropriations and research funding are expected to lag as a percentage of total income, while tuition increases will likely be minimal. The sluggishly recovering economy will likely hold down interest and gift income.
Earlier in the Finance Committee meeting, Colette Sheehy, vice president for management and budget, outlined how the University is faring in the somewhat chaotic state budget process. The House of Delegates and the State Senate had substantially modified Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell's proposed budget. As of Friday the House had approved its own budget proposal, while the Senate, evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, was deadlocked along party lines.
The governor had proposed about $6.1 million in new spending for the University in the coming fiscal year. The approved House budget trims that to $5.3, while the unapproved Senate proposal includes about $4.3 million in new spending.
One revenue area with potential for expansion in the coming years is technology transfer, said Mark Crowell, now 18 months into his tenure as executive director of U.Va. Innovation and associate vice president for research.
The U.Va. Patent Foundation has been "rebranded"as the U.Va. Licensing and Ventures Group, with a focus on making tech transfer deals and partnerships. The message to investors is that "the University of Virginia is open for business," he said.
The message is getting through, he said, citing the University's partnership with pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca as an example.
There is plenty of room for growth, Crowell said. Using a college basketball analogy, he said, "I feel we have made it to the NCAA Tournament. Now we need to get to the Final Four."
In the future, he would like to see a $40 million to $50 million fund dedicated to incubating U.Va. products with commercial potential, and an "accelerator facility" to "catalyze company formation," he said.
Slightly less optimistic was the Department of Athletics, which briefed the Student Affairs and Athletics Committee on revisions to its 12-year budget plan, less than 18 months after its adoption.
Flush with cash from a new Atlantic Coast Conference television deal, the department outlined a plan in November 2010 that would build its maintenance and operating reserves and reduce its dependency on student fees.
However, lagging football and basketball ticket revenues have tempered that optimism, delaying reserve-building, reported Craig Littlepage, director of athletics, who said the department still intends to reach its long-term targets.
For that to happen, he said, the Virginia Athletics Foundation must continue to raise enough money to fund all scholarship expenses; football and basketball ticket revenues will need to meet their revised goals; and the University must avoid "any type of coaching transition requiring a payout in the first five years of the plan."
• The University Cemetery will be expanding for the first time since the 1940s.
The cemetery's burial plots have been sold out since 1960, with the only addition being new columbarium walls to hold cremated remains, built in 1990 and 2003. The new burial area, located north of the current cemetery in a section currently used as a tree and plant nursery, will provide 84 pre-installed double vaults and six spaces for single-coffin interment, plus 126 new columbarium niches.
The expansion will also include a new "presidential area," a dozen burial sites set aside for University presidents, David Neuman, architect for the University, told the board's Buildings and Grounds Committee.
The committee also gave final approval to a pair of plans it had reviewed before: the $17.2 million expansion and renovation of the North Grounds Recreation Center, which will include an indoor pool, due for completion in August 2013; and a $13 million indoor practice facility for use by the football team and other field sports, which athletics officials hope to complete by spring 2013.
Neuman also outlined an upcoming review of the 2008 Grounds Plan, with an eye toward accommodating anticipated enrollment growth.
• The board approved the elimination of five degree programs that had been offered by the Curry School of Education: a master's in educational policy studies, and Ed.D. programs in educational policy studies, educational psychology, kinesiology and special education. The programs all have more desirable Ph.D. equivalents, and no students are currently enrolled in any of them.
•The board chose third-year student Hillary Hurd for a one-year term as the non-voting student representative. Hurd, from Richmond, is a politics honors student and is also majoring in Russian and East European studies in the College. Among many activities, she was selected for the National Youth Leadership Committee, as part of the 2011 Ronald Reagan birth centennial celebration.
• The University's $3 billion capital campaign – which had been scheduled to conclude Dec. 31, but was extended by economic conditions – is picking up steam, Robert D. Sweeney, senior vice president for development and public affairs, told the External Affairs Committee.
Midway through the fiscal year, the University had received $140 million in gifts, 14 percent ahead of last year's pace and 40 percent ahead of the pace from two years ago. "All of our trends are on an upward swing," he said.
"We're still going to need one very large gift, but I still feel we are going to be able to finish this campaign in a relatively timely fashion," he said.
– by Dan Heuchert and Eric Swensen