November 18, 2009 — One year after the University of Virginia's Board of Visitors endorsed the report of the Commission on the Future of the University and provided seed funding to put its proposals into action, board members heard a glowing one-year progress report Monday during a meeting of the board's Educational Policy Committee.
During its two-day meeting, the board also reviewed the impact of state budget cuts on the University and considered future funding models; took in a preliminary briefing on the work of the University's Presidential Committee on Sustainability; and received updates on several planned construction projects.
In introducing the Commission of the Future on the University's progress report, Dr. Arthur Garson Jr., U.Va.'s executive vice president and provost and co-chairman of the commission, told committee members they would be seeing the same PowerPoint slides that they saw last year, containing the same one-year objectives for each of the report's six areas of concentration. The objectives that have been achieved would be denoted with a check mark; those yet to be achieved would be designated with an open box.
The tally: 23 check marks, five open boxes.
"The real key is putting one person in charge of each initiative, and letting them run with their passion," Garson said.
"Leonard Sandridge and I, as co-chairs of the commission, and Justin Thompson as the commission's director, were extremely fortunate to have dedicated leaders for truly innovative ideas in each of the six areas," he added. "Many of these ideas have already done what the president asked, 'to further distinguish the University' for our students and faculty."
One success story involves the Jefferson Public Citizens program, which connects academic work with public service.
In one aspect of the program, interdisciplinary teams of students formulate a proposal that centers on a service project – local, national or international in scope – that includes a research question. Once the proposal is approved, the teams work with a faculty adviser to tackle the project.
In the first year, 16 projects involving 77 students were approved. The projects were undertaken in locales from Albemarle County to Argentina.
Milton Adams, vice provost for academic programs and leader of the Jefferson Public Citizens implementation effort, described one project in which students planned to set up Internet kiosks in three Honduran communities, and train the residents to use them.
Once on the ground, however, they realized that they would have to scale back their plans. Instead of three kiosks, they opted to set up a computer lab in a school that served students from kindergarten through 12th grade, and to provide bilingual computer training for teachers and students.
The project drew newspaper coverage in one student's hometown, Stamford, Conn., in August. As a result, the Royal Bank of Scotland committed to providing 1,000 additional computers to expand the students' Honduran initiative, Adams said.
The board heard similarly encouraging reports from the leaders of the other initiatives, including efforts to expand international programs; foster major growth in areas of science, technology and research; mentor and diversify academic leadership; establish a Center for the Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning focused on higher education; and build the University's capabilities to perform computation-intense research and scholarship.
"Every one of the leaders has been contacted by other universities asking for information on these programs," Garson said.
With State Funds Flagging, Board Moves On
The numbers are stark: The ongoing recession has led to state revenue shortfalls of more than $7.1 billion since August 2007; of that total, cuts to higher education have amounted to nearly $500 million.
U.Va. has returned $51.5 million to the state in four rounds of cuts since the 2007-08 fiscal year, said Colette Sheehy, U.Va. vice president for management and budget. The state now provides 6 percent of the budget for all divisions of the University, and 10 percent of the Academic Division's budget, she reported to the Finance Committee.
Federal stimulus funds offset about $20 million of those cuts, but those funds will run out in the 2011-12 fiscal year, she noted.
Sheehy outlined the areas hardest hit by the cuts. The elimination of vacant faculty and staff positions alone has yielded $9.2 million – more than a quarter of the University's total reduction.
The news is not all bad, she noted. Spending on other priorities has continued, with outlays of more than $174 million on new initiatives since 2006.
Nonetheless, Sheehy said the state revenue picture will likely get worse before it gets better. "The picture doesn't look too bright for the immediate future," she said.
Rector John O. "Dubby" Wynne agreed. "There's lots of pain coming" for higher education, he said. Even when revenues begin recovering, the state will face many competing priorities, both from mandated programs like Medicaid, K-12 education and the Virginia Retirement System, and from other political priorities, like transportation.
"We can't afford to continue to reduce our operations" and still fulfill the University's mission, said Leonard W. Sandridge, U.Va.'s executive vice president and chief operating officer. "It's unlikely that the state is going to come back to the table in a way they did 15 or 20 years ago."
After the board spent several months examining future models for financing the University, it appears that the most promising revenue sources are increases in tuition and private support, Sandridge said.
Though tuition rates have climbed steadily in recent years, U.Va. remains a relative bargain in higher education, he said, adding that any increase in tuition must be accompanied by increases in financial aid to ensure access and affordability.
On the fundraising side, "We still have some opportunities to do more," Sandridge said, particularly in the area of annual giving.
Wynne said the board's planning committee will begin implementing the recommendations in January. "Now is the time to draw the curtain on the exploratory stage and get down to business," he said.
Sustainability Committee Eyes Greenhouse Gas Reductions
The Presidential Committee on Sustainability made its first report to the board Tuesday during the Buildings and Grounds Committee meeting, offering a preliminary look at the first phase of its work – reducing the University's greenhouse gas emissions.
The goal is a 20 percent reduction in the University's 2008 emissions by 2020, though its population and physical plant will continue to grow.
Currently, about 83 percent of the University's greenhouse gas emissions are generated either directly by University-owned equipment and facilities or through the production of electricity purchased by the University, reported David Neuman, the University architect.
There are three strategies to achieve the targeted reductions, he said: minimize and mitigate emissions growth from new construction by better utilizing existing buildings and by designing more efficient new buildings; catalyze efficiency and conservation efforts, like retrofitting and recommissioning older buildings; and increase renewable energy generation and use.
Without further action, the University could see an approximately 33 percent increase in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, according to a chart Neuman provided.
Though the measures the committee recommends will save money in the long run, there will be as-yet-undetermined upfront costs, Neuman acknowledged. "The key is the payback," he said.
Battle Building Plans Unveiled
The Buildings and Grounds Committee also got its first look at plans for the Barry and Bill Battle Building, part of the U.Va. Children's Hospital.
The building is being developed by the U.Va. Foundation and thus does not require board approval. The foundation is working closely with the city of Charlottesville on the plans, Neuman said.
The building will be located on West Main Street near its intersection with Jefferson Park Avenue, on a parking lot between the Blake Center and the 12th Street Tap House restaurant. Long-range plans call for the U.Va.-owned Blake Center – once known as the Towers – to be razed and replaced with green space, though the demolition is not necessary to build the Battle Building, Neuman said.
Renderings depict a six-story brick-and-glass building set back from West Main by a two-story entrance structure that may contain appropriate retail space, Neuman said. The setback prevents the mass of the building from overwhelming the historic structures across the street, he noted.
Groundbreaking on the project, which is projected to cost $75 million, is not expected until 2011, and construction could take 2 1/2 years, Neuman said.
Board Backs Phase IV of Alderman Road Residence Hall Replacement
While the recession has dealt a blow to the University's operating budget, it has been a boon to its capital outlays. With contractors eager for work, construction projects are coming in ahead of schedule and under budget, Sheehy said.
With that in mind, the University is aggressively advancing its plan to replace the outmoded Alderman Road first-year residence houses, which date to the 1960s. On Tuesday, the board approved the fourth phase of the project, which involves three demolitions – of Tuttle, Lile and Dunnington houses – and the construction of a sixth new dorm.
Phase I of the project was Kellogg House, which opened in 2008.
Phase II began this summer with the demolition of Balz, Dobie and Watson houses, making way for two new residence halls and a commons building, scheduled for completion by summer 2011. The project is currently 36 percent under budget, Sheehy said.
Phase III, which is being designed, calls for the demolition of Maupin and Webb in 2011, followed by the construction of two additional residence halls.
In Phase IV, Tuttle and Lile will be leveled in 2013, making way for another new dorm. Once that building is complete, Dunnington will be taken down and replaced by outdoor recreation facilities, including basketball and sand volleyball courts.
When the four phases are complete, the University will have approximately 1,041 additional beds. It will leave just three of the original 1960s-era Alderman Road dorms still standing: Courtenay, Dunglison and Fitzhugh.
While the board unanimously endorsed the plans, board member Susan Y. "Syd" Dorsey expressed concern about losing the heritage of the demolished dorms, all named after professors who were prominent in University history.
U.Va. President John T. Casteen III said that University officials are looking into appropriate ways of remembering the professors whose names adorn the doomed dorms. Casteen suggested that markers could be erected to allow former residents to locate their first-year homes and memorializing their namesakes.
• Nursing professor Ann Hamric, who currently chairs the Faculty Senate, and law professor Edmund Kitch, the non-voting faculty representative to the board, both lauded the efforts of the presidential search committee to solicit input from faculty, which Kitch called "new in the history of the University."
Wynne, who chairs the search committee, returned the favor. "The engagement has been wonderful," he said, and expressed his interest in further widening dialogue between faculty and board members.
• The board gave its final approval to the $10.6 million expansion of the University Bookstore, located atop the Central Grounds Parking Garage. The project will add 16,000 square feet along the western side of the current bookstore, above the top deck of the parking structure. Construction is expected to begin in May or June, and the project has an estimated August 2011 completion date.
• The first two buildings of the South Lawn Project, Gibson and Nau halls, are expected to be ready for occupancy in December, Sheehy reported. Only a limited number of classes will be scheduled in those buildings in the spring semester, as the terrace spanning Jefferson Park Avenue will not be finished until July.
• The Buildings and Grounds Committee was briefed on the ongoing restorations of the pavilions in the Academical Village, and then toured the work. The work includes the restoration of the original 9-foot-high parapet on the roof of Pavilion X.
• The board approved the renaming of the Nuclear Reactor Facility to become the Observatory Mountain Engineering Research Facility. The building housed a small nuclear reactor from 1960 until June 1998, when the nuclear fuel was shipped from the site; the reactor was formally decommissioned in 2005. According to the renaming resolution, "Changing the name to more accurately reflect the facility's current use will make clear to the University and local communities that this is no longer a nuclear reactor facility so no unique precaution for entry and use are required."