Commission on the Future of the University Charged with Creating An Aspirational Plan

March 30, 2007 — The University of Virginia is at a pivotal moment in its history, and University President John T. Casteen III plans to seize that moment.

He believes that the time is right to develop a plan that takes the University beyond other recent planning initiatives, and to create one that will clearly articulate the University’s aspirations — with a goal of further distinguishing the University.

Timing is everything, Casteen told the newly created Commission on the Future of the University’s steering committee at its first meeting on March 12.

To make his point, he ran through a checklist of things that are aligned to make this commission’s work timely: “A new relationship with the state, strong investments that are the product of the first campaign, an endowment that is among the top 20 in the United States, a stable financial base, and triple AAA bond ratings.”

Casteen also talked about the needs of the current campaign, the impact of Gene Block’s departure, and succession planning, including the eventual retirement of a number of key University leaders, including himself and Leonard Sandridge — all of which have the power to influence the future of the University.

Casteen charged the commission members with leveraging the University’s distinctive characteristics and challenged them to create a sophisticated, aspirational plan that will look at state-of-the-art projects, cultural change and best-in-class analysis.

“This commission is about the University and the Board of Visitors setting the institution’s direction for the next decade,” he said. “It is about institutional change. It is about getting better. And it is about understanding what makes other institutions better.”

The formal charge reads: “The commission will consider the University’s position among institutions of higher education in the commonwealth, the United States, and the world now and over the next 10 years. It will consider strategies to further distinguish the University in teaching, research resources, faculty life, student life, global programming, including instruction and research, opportunities and obligations related to the University’s public mandate, and service to the commonwealth. It will also consider concomitant internal organizational improvements. If necessary, the commission may propose changes to the University’s statement of purpose and goals.”

Casteen encouraged the commission to draw from a number of parallel planning efforts in their own work. These include the recently drafted 10-year academic plan, the six-year financial plan from the Restructuring management agreements, the plan for recruitment and retention of faculty, the series of Virginia 2020 planning initiatives, as well as the SACS accreditation documents.

“The University has been a model for planned success,” Casteen said. “We have always planned for our future and set priorities. While universities look slow and deliberate, the truth is the pace we have moved in the past was news. Together, through the work of this commission, we can make news once more.”

Casteen was referring to two earlier institutional planning initiatives that guided the University through pivotal periods in the institution’s history. The first committee helped plan the University’s desegregation, co-education and expansion of graduate programs in the 1960s. The second, in the 1990s, responded to the state’s request for budget reductions by creating plans that became the foundation for the last capital campaign. This new commission’s work will be similarly critical to the University’s future, as it will examine ways to distinguish the University among its peers in the nation and in the world, and will assess the resources needed to support the University’s aspirations.

“This is a significant undertaking,” Casteen told the commission. “Our survival as a top tier institution depends on your work and the work of your subcommittees.” He said he is looking for the commission to come up with “big ideas” that will put in motion a new course toward greatness.

To lead the commission, Casteen appointed two of the University’s top administrators as co-chairs — Leonard W. Sandridge, executive vice president and chief operating officer, and Arthur Garson Jr., vice president and dean of the School of Medicine. In the first phase, Sandridge and Garson will work with the deans to produce summaries that outline two-, six- and 10-year plans for each school. As the commission develops and refines its strategy, the deans may eventually revise their plans to integrate emerging strategies developed by the commission.

Sandridge and Garson also will oversee the work of four committees: the Committee on Schools and the Medical Center, chaired by Carl P. Zeithaml, dean of the McIntire School of Commerce, and James H. Aylor, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science; the Committee on Programmatic Initiatives, chaired by Robert D. Sweeney, senior vice president for development and public affairs, and J. Milton Adams, vice provost for academic programs; the Committee on Student and Faculty Life, chaired by Gertrude J. Fraser, vice provost for faculty advancement, and Rachel Most, associate professor, College of Arts & Sciences; and the Committee on Funding and Other Resources, chaired by Colette Sheehy, vice president for management and budget, and Karin Wittenborg, University Librarian.

Casteen asked commission members to engage faculty and students, in particular, in a collaborative process of envisioning and planning the future. “This should be an open and transparent process,” he said. “We want to encourage a constructive, rich and enthusiastic dialogue.”

While the commission’s work will create a new plan for the University’s future, it is not being charged with tackling all aspects of University life. “Its primary focus,” Sandridge said, “will be on those parts of the University directly related to teaching, research, students and patients. This process is about making both the difficult and the thoughtful choices. It will zero in on priorities that elevate the University, it will not be all-inclusive at all levels.”

Casteen reinforced Sandridge’s description of the process, adding it was about leveraging existing strengths, creating a portfolio of tangible ideas that fit U.Va., and, in the end, becoming a better institution of higher education.

To complete this historic task, he said that commission members would have access to a number of first-rate consultants, including former university presidents of leading public and private institutions, and he encouraged their use.

Sandridge and Garson believe that the aggressive timeline outlined for completion of their work will, in fact, enhance focus and encourage efficiency. “There’s already an incredible amount of valuable and timely research for members to rely on,” Garson said. “Schools and the Medical Center will update their strategic plans; the campaign ‘big ideas committee’ has had a number of proposals to consider; the retreat on students and faculty yielded important information; and the data on academic, architectural and financial support will be brought forward.”

He added that soon after the May 15 deadline for drafts is reached, reports would be posted online so the members of the University community can review them. “We hope that folks will take time over the summer to check in to see what we’ve done — and to give us honest feedback.” Garson and Sandridge will then edit the reports and turn over to Casteen by mid-fall. The final report will go to the Board of Visitors in January 2008.