January 29, 2009 — The University of Virginia Faculty Senate discussed flexible tenure, excellence in scholarship and the faculty's evolving role with several University officials on Wednesday.
Wednesday's discussion at Newcomb Hall was a follow-up to its meeting Monday with members of the Commission on the Future of the University, who updated the faculty on each of the commission's three areas of emphasis: student and faculty initiatives, international programs, and science and research.
On Wednesday, senators discussed several faculty-related elements of the commission's recommendations with Dr. Arthur Garson, executive vice president and provost; Thomas C. Skalak, vice president for research and graduate studies; J. Milton Adams, vice provost for academic programs, and Meredith Woo, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences.
Referring to plans to hire 400 new faculty members over 10 years — 200 to replace retirees and 200 to fill new positions — Senate chairman Edmund W. Kitch stressed the need to uphold standards of scholarly excellence.
Several of the commission's initiatives are aimed at providing improved support for faculty. Garson said, such as the Center for Faculty Advancement, which would help faculty members move into leadership positions, as well as the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning, which will work with faculty members to improve their teaching skills based upon in-depth studies of teaching methods and outcomes.
"We are going to be better than excellent," Garson said.
In response to requests from some senators for more flexible tenure and advancement structures to accommodate younger scholars who may have a different approach to research or teaching, Adams said the University will look at innovation to support new faculty. Tenure committees should weigh interdisciplinary research, he said, and be more flexible, such as "stopping the tenure clock to allow excellence to come through."
Senators asked about the commission's recommendations to support the University's core academic strengths while making new investments in targeted growth areas.
The schools themselves need to identify current centers of excellence, Garson said, and from there move into cross-school and pan-University initiatives.
In the sciences, the University is looking for "excellence in perpetuity," Skalak said, with funds coming from private philanthropy, foundations, interest groups and corporations. Universities have become the "innovation pipeline," he said. "Corporations want relationships with universities in basic and applied research."
The commission is stressing the need for graduate students who increase the quality of research and teaching at the University. Skalak said an endowment of $200 million is needed to properly fund graduate students.
"Money for graduate students is a high priority for fundraising," Skalak said, "The top universities are doing this."
After a general discussion, the senators broke up into work groups to consider specific commission objectives, such as international programs, student and faculty initiatives, science and technology, and the role of the senate in the commission process.
In his regular address to the senate, University President John T. Casteen III offered updates on the University's finances and budget, and action taken by the Virginia General Assembly, which is meeting in Richmond.
He said the University has made permanent budget cuts, is assessing managerial changes and is examining all discretionary funds, such as travel budgets. The schools, he said, are setting priorities, focusing on teaching and research.
Casteen said the University would be in worse shape had it not been part of the 2006 restructuring agreement under which the state granted more autonomy to U.Va., Virginia Tech and the College of William and Mary.
While there has been no salary increase in two years, Casteen said, the University still needs to compete with other schools for top faculty. "We intend not to lose people," he said. "We are not giving up."
There is also an emphasis on promoting from within the University . "We want to take advantage of internal opportunities and not run as many national searches," he said.
Casteen noted that while the University has suspended planned construction projects funded with state money, he said private- and fee-funded construction, such as residence halls or parking facilities, is continuing apace and he noted there may be construction money in the proposed federal economic stimulus package.
Casteen asked for more faculty involvement in identifying and targeting new revenue sources and said the University will have to look closely at operations that bring in money, such as distance learning.
Casteen said the University's $3 billion capital campaign was still "on time and on target."