Thursday, October 30, 2014

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Sullivan: U.Va. Unwavering in Commitment as Public University

University of Virginia President Teresa A. Sullivan on Friday strongly reasserted the University’s commitment as a public institution during remarks to the Board of Visitors, which held two days of meetings last week. Sullivan also stressed that development of a strategic plan builds on the mutually beneficial relationship between the University, the state and the nation.

“We believe that being public means offering an excellent, affordable education to students from all backgrounds; making new research discoveries to expand knowledge and improve the human condition; engaging in public service on the local, national and global levels; and offering superb clinical care to all who need it,” she said. “Being public also entails a high level of accountability for the funds entrusted to us, whether their source be state or federal taxpayers, tuition payers or generous donors.”

The University’s new strategic plan, currently nearing a final draft status, was the focus of sessions on both days of the board meeting. On Thursday, Sullivan outlined the progress made in the past year, and expanded on the definition of “public” for the University.

On Friday, board members heard in-depth presentations on three of the 15 strategies in the draft plan. They included:

  • Further building of infrastructure and services that provide a foundation on which faculty and students pursue research, scholarship, creative arts and innovation;
  • An emphasis on ensuring even more students have opportunities for “high-impact” educational experiences, including meaningful research with faculty members, service learning, entrepreneurial experiences and internships; and
  • Development of a strategy of “continuous active recruiting” to more accurately identify high-potential faculty, build stronger relationships with targeted candidates and close recruitment efforts successfully.

At its August retreat, the board heard details about the draft plan’s strategies for pursuing strategic research opportunities in “big data,” a comprehensive new approach to student career consulting called “total advising” and a major push to advance the academic mission through an institutional program of “Organizational Excellence.”

Those strategies represent specific plans and goals that will be used to carry out the broader aspirations of the University, known as the plan “pillars.” Together, the pillars and strategies will support a new long-term plan designed to build on U.Va.’s unique strengths while identifying new areas through which the University can offer national and international leadership.

The pillars are:

  • Extend and strengthen the University’s distinctive residential culture;
  • Strengthen the University’s capacity to advance knowledge and serve the public through research, scholarship, creative arts and innovation;
  • Provide educational experiences that deliver new levels of student engagement;
  • Assemble and support a distinguished faculty; and
  • Steward the University’s resources to promote academic excellence and affordable access.

“This is not a plan to solve a problem, or to fix a failure,” Sullivan said. “This is a plan to fortify and further distinguish what is already one of the strongest, best managed, most financially stable and most affordable universities in the country.”

Development of a new strategic plan has been ongoing for more than a year. Sullivan kicked off the process by establishing seven working groups charged with engaging the University community to hone in on proposals that will allow U.Va. to stand apart from its peers and competitors. Through working group meetings, public forums and other avenues, thousands of students, parents, alumni, faculty, staff and others have participated in the plan-development process. The work has been guided and assisted by both the Strategic Planning Steering Committee and the Board of Visitors’ Special Committee on Strategic Planning.

Several key steps remain: Finalizing the draft for board review; developing cost estimates; and implementation, pending board approval. The draft plan is expected to be presented to the board in November.

As she introduced speakers who offered details on several of the plan strategies, Sullivan reminded the board that U.Va. has plans in place to increase enrollment of Virginia residents, and she debunked the notion that U.Va. has any intention to become a private institution.

“We do see the importance of extending the University beyond the borders of the Commonwealth to be a national institution with global reach. Being public does not mean being parochial,” she said. “Our commitment to our public mission is infused throughout our strategic plan. The pillars and strategies directly address the various facets of our institutional mission.”

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