Wednesday, July 30, 2014

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Sullivan: Challenges Exposed by Ouster Give U.Va. A Chance to Show the Way Forward

 

The University of Virginia has an opportunity to emerge from a tumultuous summer as a leader on a range of issues confronting higher education nationally, U.Va. President Teresa A. Sullivan said during a press conference Tuesday.

Speaking to media from her home at Carr's Hill, on the eve of the new academic year, Sullivan profiled the incoming class, spoke about the recent Board of Visitorsretreat and detailed ways in which faculty are embracing technology as a teaching tool. She also addressed issues raised by her ouster and reinstatement in June, and said she is working closely with the board to move the University forward.

"What happened here was unique, but the issues that surfaced during the controversy are not unique," Sullivan said. "They are the same issues that face nearly every university in America, but particularly the public universities. These issues include the erosion of state and federal funding, a focus on efficiency and productivity, the question of how to use emerging technologies appropriately, and other risks and other opportunities."

Eyes across the country will be watching U.Va.'s response, and the University's progress over the next few years will be a bellwether for all of higher public education, she said.  

"Although the events in June brought our challenges into sharp focus, the reality remains that U.Va. is one of the strongest and best-managed universities in the country," Sullivan said.

The president cited rankings recently released by Forbes magazine in which U.Va. was named the top state university in the country. The methodology behind those rankings is designed to determine whether a degree is worth the cost, she said.

"At U.Va., the answer is yes," she said. "That's why we consistently sit at or near the top of the rankings for quality and affordability."

Regarding the recent Board of Visitors retreat, Sullivan praised board members for having a public discussion on the question of whether a reduction in the number of board committees would allow members to engage with the administration on key issues in more detail. She said a new committee on governance offers a promising opportunity.

Sullivan also profiled the incoming class, which has 3,390 first-year members and about 600 transfer students. Half of the new class will arrive Friday, the other half Saturday. The University had 28,200 applications this year, a new record.

"Every new class gets to enjoy being the strongest class in school history for exactly one year, and that's until the next class arrives with stronger credentials," she said. "So the class of 2015, which was our strongest class in history last year, now makes room for the class of 2016 this year, which is our newest strongest class in history."

About 65 percent of the incoming students are from Virginia. The rest come from 41 states and Washington, D.C., as well as from 65 countries around the world. The median SAT scores are 666 for the reading portion, 684 in math and 674 in writing. Seventeen students scored perfect 800s on reading and math, and four students got perfect 800s on all three sections. About 93 percent of the class members were in the top 10 percent of their graduating classes in high school. About a third of the students will participate in the AccessUVa financial aid program.

Sullivan also praised the Faculty Senate for working with the Teaching Resource Center to set up a hybrid course challenge in which faculty members submitted plans for courses that combined technology and face-to-face learning.Ten courses selected from the 41 proposals will begin this fall, each funded by a $10,000 grant.

Going forward, Sullivan said she is in close contact with members of the Board of Visitors and that she is actively looking for opportunities to keep lines of communication open. She said she's had several productive discussions with Rector Helen Dragas.

In response to a question on whether she waffled on her decision to accept reinstatement this summer, Sullivan said she "wasn't very hard to persuade."

"I felt I still had work to do here," she said. "So I was more than ready. And besides, I just have to say, the outpouring I had from all the stakeholder groups persuaded me that I could be successful at Virginia – that people shared my goals for the institution and wanted this to be a great institution. That made it a lot easier to say yes."

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