Thursday, April 24, 2014

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President Vows To Focus on Faculty Salaries

President Teresa A. Sullivan outlined her top priorities to the Board of Visitors on Thursday in a report that comes as the University of Virginia's leadership begins the process of developing new strategic plans.

Sullivan told board members that her "three big priorities that need immediate attention" for the coming academic year are faculty salaries, faculty replacement and the Medical Center's Quality Program.

She promised to bring a four-year plan for raising faculty salaries to the board's next regular meeting in September.

"This plan will require a commitment by the board, in concert with the University's foundations, to elevate our faculty salaries, but also to enhance the endowment resources to sustain faculty salaries in the future," Sullivan said Thursday during the board retreat in Richmond.

Faculty Senate Chair George Cohen, who attended the two-day retreat, praised Sullivan's points and said faculty will be enthusiastic to hear more details about the four-year plan.

"President Sullivan made a very strong statement and commitment to faculty salaries and recruitment, both of which are issues the faculty is very concerned about," Cohen said. "This is really an issue of maintaining the excellence of the institution, and the faculty is at the heart of that."

In discussion Wednesday during orientation of new board members, Executive Vice President and Provost John Simon said one of his main worries is losing U.Va.'s best faculty members to private universities that pay more. The biggest gap in pay between U.Va. and private peers is for the most experienced faculty, he said. Simon added that many private universities also are able to offer lucrative benefits, such as housing for faculty or tuition subsidies for dependents. They often offer better infrastructure to support research as well.

On the faculty replacement priority, Sullivan told the board that the looming retirement of so many faculty members is an opportunity to review and revise how the University searches for them. "The areas in which we recruit, the ways we recruit and our success in integrating new faculty into the unique teaching environment of U.Va. are all important issues," she said.

Outlining her third immediate priority, Sullivan told the board that the Quality Program in the Medical Center is "a matter of great urgency to me, and we need to increase the scope and success of that program going forward."

Though the University has been the subject of intense scrutiny during Sullivan's ouster and reinstatement in June, Sullivan used the opening remarks of her report to emphasize U.Va.'s strengths and advantages. The University is financially stable, with triple-A bond ratings from all three credit agencies, and has a relatively large endowment.

"We are not in any financial crisis," Sullivan said.

U.Va. provides undergraduates a renowned residential experience, produces graduates who show tremendous pride in their degrees and features a co-curricular program of student leadership and self-governance that "offers unique preparation, and the opportunity to combine the best of a liberal arts college with a research university," she added.

During her report, Sullivan also highlighted "big data" as an opportunity. Modern information technology has allowed the compilation of huge databases full of raw information. The next step is drawing useful conclusions from them.

"The problem of turning data into information looms large for science, industry and the government," she said. "In general, our proximity to Washington gives us opportunities to broaden the portfolio of federal research opportunities from the usual sources, and also provides a rich source of internships, research and post-graduation jobs."

There are, of course, weaknesses to address and threats for which to prepare. Sullivan said declining state and federal funding could affect the University in areas including research and financial aid, while rapid changes in the health care industry could affect the Medical Center.

Earlier Thursday, board members continued their review of governance-related issues, a discussion led by facilitator Terry MacTaggart, senior fellow with the Association of Governing Boards for Universities and Colleges.

In a discussion about how to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the board, members discussed the pros and cons of recasting how committees work and reconsidering the number of committees, so that board members might deliberate issues in more detail and engage with the administration in more depth.

The board also discussed the work ahead for a new Special Committee on Engagement and Governance.

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