Board of Visitors Hears Reports on University’s Future, Diversity And Campaign; OKs Grounds Plan

February 09, 2008
February 9, 2008 — The University of Virginia Board of Visitors on Friday voted to adopt the recommendations of the Commission on the Future of the University, which Rector W. Heywood Fralin called "revolutionary."

The vote came after two years of gathering input from hundreds of faculty members, administrators, alumni, students and consultants, and committed the board to the commission's goals of boosting U.Va.'s performance in three main, often overlapping areas: the student experience; global education, research and service; and science and technology, with a particular emphasis on translational research.

University President John T. Casteen III introduced discussion of the report in dramatic terms, especially in reference to the goal of improving the University’s standing in the fields of science and technology. “This is the big game,” he said. “This is the one that distinguishes the top universities on a global scale. … I think it’s time for us to commit or not commit. This is the day.”

He added that the report sets the University’s agenda for the next decade. “It is a document that people will use in planning how to further distinguish the University, and to assure that we continue to move forward boldly.”

The report also identified five core values that informed its recommendations: honor and ethics; faculty excellence, innovation and collaboration in the pursuit of knowledge; diversity; and "leadership for the public good and education for freedom."

From here, the board's Finance Committee will determine how much funding is available in the 2008-09 budget to begin to implement the commission's recommendations, of which there are at least 70. Once the resources are in place, implementation teams will refine the specifics of the recommendations, creating timelines, budgets and metrics for measuring outcomes, and report back to the board in October.

Following Casteen’s opening remarks to the board, Dr. Arthur Garson Jr., executive vice president and provost, led the board in a lively discussion of three specific elements of the report.

One, the "Jefferson Track," engendered a particularly enthusiastic response. Administered through the new Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, it would be a four- or five-year process that includes a student being assigned a faculty mentor, identifying a public-service project, assembling and leading a student team, executing the project, then researching and reporting the results.

In remarks to the board's Educational Policy Committee on Thursday, Faculty Senate chairman Ricardo Padron said faculty were pleased with the input they had in the report's formulation, and said the final product reflected many of their concerns.

John O. "Dubby" Wynne, who chairs the board's Special Committee on Planning, praised the report for its focus, and for its establishment of a process for implementation. He warned, "Progress is going to be measured, and some of these things are going to be very hard to figure out. They are not your normal bottom lines in business."

The report itself declared, "In 10 years, the University will be a substantially different institution than it is today. ... Broadly stated, the University will strategically increase its size and diversity, increase the percentage of scientists and engineers among the faculty, attract and retain the best graduate students, build much-needed academic research and teaching facilities, increase the quantity and quality of international partnerships and claim the University's primacy in service to the public good."

Vacancies Offer Opportunity to Increase Diversity in Leadership

With eight major leadership positions now open – including six deanships, a vice presidency and a vice provost position – the University has an opportunity to improve diversity in its top ranks.

William Harvey, the University’s vice president and chief officer for diversity and equity, led the board's Special Committee on Diversity through a sobering presentation on the number of "people of color" in the top ranks of University's administration and the administrations of its schools.

One by one, the organizational charts of the University's vice presidential areas and schools were projected on a screen, with those positions held by minorities color-coded. Three schools had all-white charts, while in another three, the only top positions held by people of color were related to promoting diversity. In all, 90.4 percent of leadership positions are held by whites, Harvey said.

Casteen said that the figures presented had a "substantial deficiency," in that they did not reflect the University's progress in putting women into leadership positions; 55 percent of leadership positions are now held by females. He also noted that the University is somewhat impeded because one form of encouraging diversity that has proven effective in the private sector – "pre-hiring" minority candidates to shadow a retiring leader before a transition – is prohibited by law for public employers.

Regardless of the barriers, committee chairman Warren Thompson made it clear that he hopes the current round of leadership searches results in progress in diversity. "This committee is now looking for results," he said.

Garson reported that four searches that have reached the final stages included African-Americans or Asian-Americans among the final four candidates: the searches for deans of Arts & Sciences, Nursing and Law, and the vice president for research.

Hrabowski shares how he built a diverse student body

The University of Virginia is doing a lot of things right when it comes to increasing the diversity of its student body. But as the University works to strengthen its capacity in the sciences, there is an area that it has identified as a cause for concern: the limited success of African-Americans and other minority students majoring in mathematics, science and engineering who pursue graduate studies in science, technology and medicine.

That was the issue that Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, addressed before the board's Special Committee on Planning on Thursday. Introduced by Casteen as "almost a mythological creature" in higher education for his success in graduating minority students in math and science, Hrabowski talked about the challenges he faced when he took over 16 years ago, the approach he's taken since and the success his students have experienced.

When he took the helm, he faced state budget cuts and a student body of 12,000, many of whom — white and black — were not graduating. The university community ultimately decided to cut some mediocre graduate programs and focus on the undergraduate experience, particularly in math and science. There was also a strong push from the Maryland legislature for the university to serve as an engine of economic development in the state.

These pressures combined to concentrate the institution's resources on math and science and the idea of translational research, a drive to bring scientific discoveries out of the laboratory and into the marketplace. As part of this effort, UMBC faculty and administrators took advantage of their proximity to federal agencies in the Washington, D.C.,metropolitan area and sought to build partnerships with them. They wrote grant proposals for federal agencies, such as the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, expanding research opportunities for faculty and students on campus and creating new internship opportunities for students off campus. Space was made available on campus for 48 businesses.

At the same time, Hrabowski raised the academic standards of the school's undergraduate program, admitting better-prepared students and reducing UMBC's investment in remedial programs. High school students admitted with a 4 or 5 on their Advanced Placement exams in calculus were advised to retake the class in college. Students who received a "C" in basic math or science classes at UMBC were advised to retake those fundamental classes to improve their grades before advancing to the next level.

Grading curves were eliminated and study groups were established. Senior faculty were encouraged to become involved with freshmen, teaching introductory classes and including undergraduates, particularly undergraduates of color, in their research. Joint research programs were launched with other universities.

Another element of Hrabowski's success is the Meyerhoff Program, which was launched in 1989 at UMBC through the philanthropy of Baltimore residents Robert and Jane Meyerhoff. The mentoring program, first targeted black men and later was expanded to include black women and whites, has helped more than 200 UMBC students graduate. Many of them have gone on to graduate programs in the sciences.

While many of these changes were controversial, they have had a significant impact.  In 2004, 67 African Americans received undergraduate degrees in biochemistry nationwide, Hrabowski said. Of those, 22 — one-third — graduated from UMBC and all went on to graduate school, many to the top programs in the country. Subsequent years have seen similar results, he said.

"Our theme is that success is never final," Hrabowski told the board. "We've come a long way, but we have so much more to do."

Campaign Surpasses Halfway Point

Midway through its eight-year span, the Campaign for the University of Virginia has reached $1.6 billion in gifts and pledges — more than halfway to its $3 billion goal, reported board member Gordon F. Rainey, the campaign chairman and former rector of the board.

Robert D. Sweeney, senior vice president for development and public affairs, acknowledged that the deteriorating national economy may slow the campaign's progress, but said fundraisers will have to "fight through" the slowdown. He predicted that economic troubles would have less effect on those he called "mega-donors," but could give pause to those in the next tier down the income ladder.

The campaign has attracted more than 330,000 gifts, making it a "truly remarkable, broad-based campaign," Sweeney said. But, he noted, that the top 10 gifts account for 30 percent of the total raised thus far, and the top 1,000 gifts account for 80 percent.

In response to queries from the board's External Affairs Committee at an earlier meeting, Sweeney presented a report on how U.Va. fares in comparison to other peer institutions.

"When you adjust for size, we dominate public universities," Sweeney said, ranking first or second in the nation in cash flow and alumni, parent, corporate and foundation giving.

Grounds Plan Approved

The report from the Commission on the Future of the University was not the only multi-year planning effort heard and approved by the board. The board also endorsed the first revision of the Grounds Plan, a guide for planning future building projects, since 1999.

The new plan was four years in the making, and gathered input from throughout the University community. The board's Buildings and Grounds Committee received three updates on the plan while it was in process, and approved the plan on Thursday with no discussion.

The plan did not address specific building proposals; instead it identifies areas within the University's 1,135 acres where building will or will not be encouraged over the next two decades, and specifies what use is most appropriate for each area.

In other action, the committee approved $150.1 million in new projects that had not previously been included in the six-year capital plan, including $78.4 million at the Medical Center and a $35 million renovation of the U.Va. College at Wise's Greear Gym and construction of a convocation center.

Student Housing Rates Rise Modestly

After several years of double-digit percentage increases in student housing rates intended to build a war chest to replace the Alderman Road dormitories, the board approved increases averaging a more modest 5.4 percent.

Beginning next fall, the average per-student charge for a double-occupancy room will be $4,230 for the nine-month academic year, up $215 from this year's rates.

U.Va.'s current rates are just slightly above average among state public institutions, but well below those charged by peer institutions nationwide.

Roughly 44 percent of housing revenues are used to repay debt financing of construction projects or are held in reserve for future projects, according to materials presented to the University.

Board Briefs

• The Finance Committee participated in an extensive review of the University's debt financing program and offered few suggestions for improvement. Wynne, who chairs the committee, said, "Very few institutions have a program as well-thought-out as this one is."

• Wynne also praised the role that Leonard W. Sandridge, the University's executive vice president and chief operating officer, played in the state's landing of a Rolls-Royce jet engine plant that will directly create at least 500 new jobs. The project includes partnerships with U.Va., Virginia Tech and other state schools.

"We almost lost this right up to the last second," Wynne said. At one point, Rolls-Royce officials asked Sandridge to step in and reopen negotiations on part of the deal, leading to the final agreement, he said.

• The board approved architect selections for three building projects. Glave & Holmes of Richmond will design the renovation of the Rugby Road Administrative Building, formerly a faculty apartment building; and Bohlin Cywinski Jackson of Pittsburgh, in conjunction with Johnson, Craven & Gibson of Charlottesville, will design both the Information Technology Engineering and Arts & Sciences Research buildings.

•    Adom Getachew, a third-year student in the College, was appointed as the non-voting student member of the Board. Getachew, a native of Ethiopia who grew up in Arlington, Va., is a Jefferson Scholar, an Echols Scholar, and an Honorary Holland Scholar. She has been a resident advisor for the past two years, an officer in Sustained Dialogue, and a peer advisor in the Office of African-American Affairs. Getachew’s one-year term will begin in the Spring.

•    In closing the meeting, Fralin turned his remarks to praise for Gordon F. Rainey Jr., former rector and chairman of the University’s campaign, who would be leaving the Board after eight years of service.

The Board passed a resolution of commendation for Rainey that read, in part: “The Board of Visitors thanks Gordon F. Rainey Jr. for his dedicated service to the University of Virginia and above all for his superb and measured leadership of the board. The Board notes with regret his departure from its ranks, but is reassured by the sure knowledge that his love of, and devotion to, the University will in nowise be diminished by his leaving.”

The unanimous passage of the resolution was followed by a standing ovation. 

— by Dan Heuchert. (Charlotte Crystal also contributed to this report.)