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Faculty Senate, President Sullivan Discuss Money, Staffing and the Future

September 14, 2010 — In her first appearance before the Faculty Senate, on Monday University of Virginia President Teresa A. Sullivan floated the idea of a four-year bachelor's/master's degree combination as an efficiency measure in difficult economic times.

She also reassured the senators that they have nothing to fear from the Governor's Commission on Higher Education Reform, Innovation and Investment, a state commission on education created to find greater efficiencies and more productivity in the state higher education system. She said U.Va. is already efficient and has a 93 percent graduation rate.

"In the U.S. News rankings we are 25th overall in quality, but listed 64th in resources," she said. "That is a sign of how efficient we are."

She urged faculty members to engage the process.

"If you leave the ideas up to other people, you may not be happy with the choices," she said. "We need to put some efficiency ideas on the table."

She said there are some ideas to consider, such as ways to better utilize University facilities in the summer and opening January term classes to non-U.Va. studentss.

Expanding on the idea of offering a three-year degree – something that is being considered elsewhere – she said that many U.Va students are capable of earning their degrees in three years, in part because of Advanced Placement credits. , But because they do not want to miss the full University experience, many declare double majors. She said  a "three-plus-one program" would offer students a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in four years.

She promised to resist plans not in line with U.Va.'s mission. She said there will be a push for more online learning, and while she thinks that technology can provide supplemental instruction, it lacks a personal touch.

"I think Jefferson's model was more relational," she said.

Sullivan said she will value the senators' advice.

She said that now is not the time for more strategic planning, believing the University has already done a good job of it through initiatives such as the Commission on the Future of the University. "This is the time to implement as much of it as we can," she said.

She warned the senate of another $14.7 million reduction in state funding to the University next year. Sullivan wants to create a budget advisory panel, using expertise from the administration and faculty, including economists and business professors. She also wants a more understandable, transparent, predictable and flexible budget process that will shift more financial responsibility to academic units and away from the central administration.

Describing people as the University's greatest asset, she said the University must be able to invest more to retain promising faculty and hire new faculty to replace those who are retiring. Sullivan said she also seeks adequate support for graduate students, saying they are the next generation of instructors and that enthusiastic graduate students can inspire undergraduates.

She assured the faculty that she knows they are unhappy with the pay freeze that was imposed in December 2007, but noted they will receive a 3 percent bonus in December.

She plans to pursue new financial models for the University. She said she is not opposed to differential tuition, wherein a higher rate would be charged for some programs, such as nursing, which require a lower student/teacher ratio, and engineering, which uses expensive equipment.

Nursing professor Ann Hamric said at the meeting that she worried that higher tuition for nursing students would leave them with a higher debt load, since they generally make less money than engineering graduates.

In response to questions, Sullivan noted the Commission on the Future of the University called for more support for basic sciences, and there are two new science buildings under construction. But she also noted that in many basic sciences, there are tremendous start-up costs for equipment and laboratories, and suggested approaching the legislature for one-time start-up funds.

Sullivan also rejected reliance on rankings.

"The U.S. News rankings put so much weight on resources per student," she said. "But that's not rational. U.S. News doesn't care about frugality. What is more important is academic reputation."

Several senators asked Sullivan about the Day of Dialogue: Toward a Caring Community, scheduled for Sept. 24, an event aimed at building community and preventing violence following the slaying of fourth-year student Yeardley Love last May.

One senator suggested that housing more students on Grounds could help build a stronger community, but Sullivan said that would go against the national trend. While U.Va. is unique in bringing many top fourth-year students to live together on the Lawn, she said most fourth-years live in the community.

Senate chair Gweneth West urged the senators to talk up the Day of Dialogue among their colleagues and students. West said while preventing violence is one aspect of the program, the intent is to open a space where students, faculty and staff can talk about issues that concern them.

"We need to remember that 25 percent of the students weren't here last spring when this happened," she said.

Among Sullivan's top priorities were finding replacements for Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Leonard Sandridge and Executive Vice President and Provost Dr. Arthur Garson Jr., both of whom will leave at the end of the academic year. She will name a search committee for the chief operating officer's post first and when that is filled, concentrate on the provost's position.

Sullivan wants to complete by October a new job description for the chief operating officer position. She now has Craig Littlepage, athletics director, reporting to her and plans to make additional organizational changes.

In other business, the senate endorsed a position statement drafted by the senate's executive committee opposing an effort by Virginia Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II to use the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act to investigate research performed by a former U.Va. professor. Though a judge dismissed two civil investigative demands that sought a broad range of records from the University, Hamric, the senate chair when the statement was drafted, said she does not believe the case is finished.

Garson, the provost, told the senate that he plans to propose to the Board of Visitors in November a plan for an "early action" admission program, as distinct from "early decision" admission, which the University abandoned in 2007-08 admissions cycle as part of an effort to promote accessibility for students from all backgrounds. Studies found that early decision programs tended to favor students who could afford to commit to a college before receiving financial aid notifications, which typically are made in the spring.

Early action is a non-binding commitment, and should generate a more diverse student population than early decision admissions, he said.

— By Matt Kelly

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