Arts & Sciences Dean Woo Outlines Her Priorities to the Faculty Senate

September 24, 2008

September 24, 2008 — Meredith Jung-En Woo, the newly appointed dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, outlined her goals for the next five years to the Faculty Senate on Tuesday.

Woo, who was marking her 100th day on the job, listed her five-year priorities as upholding the excellence of the undergraduate experience, putting a greater emphasis on research, expanding the college's commitment to global learning, stressing basic science and coping with funding issues.

"The bedrock of the college is the undergraduate education and experience," she said. "I have met hundreds of students and they are happy to be here. That speaks well of the faculty."

Woo said she is impressed with the diversity of the undergraduates in their "skill sets, backgrounds, ways of thinking and ways of looking at a situation." She added, "It is a new world and the students have skill sets we cannot comprehend."

She called for a greater emphasis on research, saying that excellence in research creates a mindset of excellence in other areas as well. She stressed the need for foundational science.

"There is a lot of applied science being performed," she said. "But we need the basic science for the applied science."

Woo also sees new opportunities to combine serious research with foreign study, suggesting that astronomy professors could bring students to use foreign telescopes and physics professors could bring students to work with the recently opened European particle accelerator.

"We want to combine worldly experience with true learning," she said.

This is in line with Jefferson's vision, she pointed out. "Thomas Jefferson was the most global of our presidents," she said. "The first faculty members of the University were either foreign or foreign-born."

Woo cited another, less felicitous, parallel between Jefferson's day and modern times: difficulty in financing the University. Money is still an issue; she said she has been asked to prepare for a 6.2 percent cut in her budget, which is forcing her to re-examine all the accounts and ask "hard questions about priorities."

In related business, President John T. Casteen III outlined some of the current state budget woes.

With the state's revenue shortfall projected to reach $2.9 billion, Gov. Tim Kaine has asked the University and other state agencies to submit contingency plans for budget cuts of 5, 10 and 15 percent. The governor is considering drawing $250 million from the state's "rainy day" fund, but that alone will not be sufficient to close the gap, Casteen said.

He warned that if the University must make all of the cuts the state is requesting, personnel could be affected.

Kaine has expressed the view that tuition hikes would be a specific tax on a subset of the state's residents. "The governor is concerned that students' families not be hit by the state's problems," Casteen said.

Casteen reported the value of the University' endowment as around $5.1 billion, and noted that in June the Board of Visitors loosened the payout formula, approving a 5 percent drawdown in the current fiscal year. Casteen said the endowment had earned a 25.2 percent return last year, and over five years it had a return rate of 13.9 percent. He said there was greater risk in these times of financial uncertainty and he said there was a risk of higher inflation.

The economic turmoil has not yet had an impact on the $3 billion capital campaign, Casteen said. The University has raised about $1.77 billion so far — 59 percent of the goal, with 58 percent of the campaign's time elapsed. University fundraisers are continuing as if there are no financial difficulties, and Casteen noted that the University had conducted campaigns through two recessions.

He also said that donors are increasingly receptive to faculty presentations. "Donors are getting more sophisticated about faculty work and are less concerned with bricks and mortar," Casteen said.
 
Casteen also noted the University's faculty salary rankings among all American Association of Universities members in the United States have risen from 35th to 19th over five years and he would like to see them around the 15th rank.

Casteen said that he is talking with the Robert Earll McConnell Foundation about creating another Thomas Jefferson Award to recognize lifetime scholarship. He said it would be a companion to the current Jefferson Award, which recognizes service to the University.

Susan Carkeek, vice president of human resources, presented an overview of the new University staff human resources system being implemented at the beginning of the year.

The changes come out of the restructuring agreement the University worked out with the state in 2005. Many employees had complained about the state's classified staff system, which she said was largely unchanged from the original plan laid out in 1883.

Terms of the new University staff system will apply to all employees hired after June 30, 2006, and to current members of the classified staff and general faculty who opt into the system during a three-month open enrollment period that begins Oct. 1.

The three biggest changes in the new human resources system, according to Carkeek, come in the areas of career development, performance evaluation and compensation.

Under the current system, classified staff had to apply for vacant positions as a way of advancement, she said; the new career development system will "allow employees to advance, but stay on the same job in the same department."

Carkeek said surveys of the classified staff showed 90 percent support for performance-based pay. "To do this right, we need a good evaluation system, with feedback for the employee," she said.

Two smaller additions to the system involve providing some employer contribution toward health insurance for part-time workers and a $300 benefit credit for employees earning less than $40,000 a year.

Carkeek said the new system would also have an impact on administrative and professional faculty, who work under a system that she said was filled with complexity.

The current categories of employees eligible to be governed under the new system are classified and University staff, and administrative and professional faculty. Under the new system, the classified staff and A&P faculty groups will become much smaller categories, while the ranks of University staff will grow to include operational and administrative staff, managerial and professional staff and executive staff.

Carkeek said the senior executive and administrative staff members will be employed on limited-term contracts. A&P faculty who elect to move over to the new system and become managerial and professional staff will be governed by the terms and conditions of the University staff system, and will no longer hold faculty appointments.

"The University of Virginia is known for its undergraduate experience," Carkeek said. "My goal is to have it equally known for the quality of employee experience."

— By Matt Kelly