Faculty Senate Hears Reports on Technology, Siren Alert System and Budget

September 27, 2007
Sept. 27, 2007 -- The message to the Faculty Senate was clear: technology is changing higher education, and the University must determine where it fits in the new marketplace.

James L. Hilton, vice president and chief information officer, addressed the Senate at its Sept. 25 meeting, outlining the impact that he believes technology will have on the business of education.

New technology disrupts existing industries, Hilton said, citing how computers and the Internet have transformed individual banking and music marketing. Where once record companies primarily bundled songs on albums and compact discs, which would sell on the strength of a few popular tunes, now consumers purchase individual songs online, he noted. “My children won’t buy an album,” he said. “Technology has disrupted the industry.

"Are we immune? No.”

Computers are continuing to change research methods, Hilton said, and this changes how professors teach. Technology has hastened vast amounts of calculations, and has allowed researchers to visualize complex images, such as the DNA double helix, and to simulate a variety of conditions.

“This changes the scale of communication and collaboration,” he said. “Professors will identify themselves more with their discipline than with their school.”

The impact of this change is clear in the natural sciences and will soon be felt in the social sciences and the humanities, he said.

The technology will also lead to “commoditization,” Hilton said, citing online universities where professors in a discipline all use the same textbooks, exams and class notes.

“It’s not about online education,” Hilton said. “It’s about driving the cost of education down.”

As technology has changed the landscape for the music industry, Hilton said technology will change the definition of higher education. U.Va. will have to assess its place in the market, and determine what a high-tech Academical Village would look like. In an era of online schools, Hilton suggested, U.Va. could promote its “hand-crafted education” experience.

The University will need to experiment and spot trends, he said, as well as jettison things that are not working. He called on U.Va. to invest in more information technology for research and classroom use, while also bolstering administrative technology.

In other business, President John T. Casteen III updated the Senate on potential security measures and on the state budget.

About 9,000 people have signed up to receive text-message alerts on their cellular telephones in the event of an emergency, out of a potential 40,000 University community members, Casteen said. The University is also looking at installing large, liquid-crystal display screens for emergency notifications, as well as basic siren systems. However, siren tests at other universities found some flaws, including the inability of sound to move around corners, he noted.

On the state budget, Casteen said there was a state revenue shortfall driven by the deteriorating value of real estate. Gov. Timothy Kaine has said he would dip into the state’s revenue stabilization fund, Casteen reported, while directing state agencies to submit spending reduction plans. In response, the provost has required schools to submit plans to reduce their spending by 5 percent, with the possibility of using reserve funds and unrestricted gifts to cover expenses.

Casteen also said the Campaign for the University of Virginia has hit its halfway point of $1.5 billion a few months ahead of schedule. The $3 billion campaign began Jan. 1, 2004, had its public launch in September 2006, and is scheduled to end Dec. 31, 2001.

Executive Vice President and Provost Arthur Garson Jr. updated the Senate on the Commission on the Future of the University, outlining the framework developed by the steering committee to be applied to all the committee and subcommittee reports. This framework comes down to three priorities and five core elements. 

The three priorities are: building on the University’s strengths to enhance the student experience; bolstering international education to provide research and service at home and abroad; and encouraging the use of science and technology in research and teaching.

The University's five core values, Garson reported, are: honor and ethics; innovation and collaborative work; faculty support and development; racial, international, economic and intellectual diversity; and leadership for public good and education for freedom.

Garson said the reports from the other seven and sub-committees of the commission should fit into these frameworks. The Senate has a work session scheduled for Oct. 3 to review and discuss the committee reports.

The University community is invited to attend a meeting on Oct. 11 or 12 to hear commission leaders present preliminary recommendations and respond to questions. The Oct. 11 meeting will be held at 1:30 p.m. in McKim Hall Auditorium; the Oct. 12 meeting is set for noon in the Rotunda Dome Room. For more information, visit www.virginia.edu/planningdocuments/commission.