Economy Won't Derail Future Commission's Plans, Faculty Told

January 27, 2009

January 27, 2009 — Recommendations of the Committee on the Future of the University are advancing despite the economic meltdown, members of the University of Virginia's Faculty Senate were told Monday.

"This is one of those opportunities at this institution where we will determine what the future will be," Leonard W. Sandridge, executive vice president and chief operating officer, told members of the Senate and the commission, who gathered in the auditorium of the Harrison Institute/Small Special Collections Library to hear an update on the commission's recommendations.

Sandridge pledged to continue making "thoughtful, careful" investments in the report's initiatives. "If we do that, we will emerge a stronger institution, and will remain a stronger institution in the years to come."

After Sandridge's assurances, faculty were updated on each of the commission's three areas of emphasis: student and faculty initiatives, international programs, and science and research.

The Board of Visitors in October approved $4 million in initial funding for commission programs. Continued funding, the board made clear, would depend on progress.

As might be expected, the programs are in widely varying states of implementation.

In the international programs area, Gowher Rizvi — hired less than five months ago as the vice provost for international programs — is working on defining goals and ways to measure outcomes. He's also leading a review of the curriculum to determine which courses have international content, with an eye toward the possible establishment of a global studies major and minor program.

Meanwhile, construction has begun along Whitehead Road on two new science research buildings, one for the School of Engineering and Applied Science and one for the College of Arts & Sciences. The additional laboratory space will help support the hiring of new faculty members and researchers, said Thomas Skalak, vice president for research.

One initiative that seemed to capture the attention of the faculty was what Skalak described as a "serious game," designed to examine issues of sustainability from a variety of angles.

One thousand students or groups of students from several disciplines will be assigned to play the roles of interested parties within the Chesapeake Bay watershed — farmers, fishermen, suburb dwellers, policymakers — in the computer-enabled game. They would make decisions based upon their roles and be able to see how those decisions affected the ecosystem.

The game is an example of a cross-disciplinary approach to "big ideas" that the University hopes to identify and implement. Skalak said he hopes to launch the game this spring.

Not all of the recommendations are curricular in nature. Sharon Hostler, now heading the establishment of the Institute for Faculty Advancement, reported on her efforts to diversify the faculty, both in initial hiring and in promotion.

She praised the University's push to hire more faculty from ethnically and racially diverse backgrounds, but noted that more work needs to be done to seek out female faculty. She noted that while those awarded Ph.D. and M.D. degrees nationwide were almost evenly split between men and women, 62 percent of U.Va.'s offers of tenure-track positions are going to men.

A new wave of diverse leadership may be on the way, however. While the current crop of department chairs is overwhelmingly white (91 percent) and male (85 percent), the makeup of early-career faculty is much more diverse; only 71 percent are white and 56 percent are male.

A pilot program intended to cultivate the leadership talents of some of those young faculty, called Leadership in Academic Matters, recently attracted 188 applications for 30 spots, Hostler said.

One of the commission's highest-profile recommendations, the Jefferson Public Citizens program, is well on its way, reported Milton Adams, vice provost for academic programs.

The program seeks to expand research and service opportunities for undergraduates under the advisement of faculty members. First- and second-year students will take courses that build cultural competency and explore ethical engagement. Their third and fourth years will be spent developing, proposing, executing and reflecting on team projects with strong elements of community service and research.

The first round of project proposals will be solicited from students beginning in February, Adams reported.

Organizers of Monday's update session stressed the need for faculty input and involvement as the commission's recommendations continue to go forward. The session included several opportunities for faculty comment. The slides shown during the session are posted on the commission Web site, and faculty are encouraged to send in their reactions and ideas.

"It's very important for faculty to be assured that there is progress in this planning effort," said Darden professor Elizabeth Powell, who chairs the Faculty Senate's Planning and Development Committee and helped to organize the session.

— By Dan Heuchert