Innovation, Re-invention Stressed as Way of the Future

April 29, 2009 — The University of Virginia's top research official stressed the importance of innovation as he outlined to U.Va.'s Faculty Senate an ongoing effort to promote cross-disciplinary research.

Thomas C. Skalak, vice president for research, spoke at Monday's meeting in the Harrison/Small auditorium. He specifically cited the Virginia Research and Innovation for Science and Engineering program, a strategic plan for research across disciplines and part of the Commission on the Future of the University.

The program stemmed from a recent meeting of about 200 people drawn from around the University, including from the provost’s office, the deans’ offices, the development office and Facilities Management, that was focused on devising a plan to promote enduring excellence in the sciences.

Skalak said the future would involve continuous innovation and re-invention. He challenged the faculty to seek more entrepreneurial innovation to move the entire institution forward.

“Research creates new knowledge across all units,” Skalak said. “About 40 percent of the economy comes from innovation, such as clean energy technology and public health.”

The University's potential donors understand collaborative research, he said, and there has been an increase in emphasis on fundraising for graduate students, who are integral to the research process.

Skalak said that John O. Wynne, the incoming rector of the Board of Visitors, understands the importance of research. He further suggested that all graduates should have some research experience. 

The social sciences should be more active with and help shape technical research, he said. As an example, he cited U.Va.'s recently unveiled "Bay Game," a sustainability simulation based around the Chesapeake Bay watershed created using the resources of eight schools.

“We need to leave our comfort zones and take risks,” Skalak said. “We need to create the future, not just be stewards of old knowledge.”

Elizabeth Powell, an assistant professor at the Darden School of Business and chairwoman of the Planning and Development Committee, touched on research as she reviewed the contributions senators have made to the work of the Commission on the Future of the University.

The senators, she said, participated in several work sessions, pooling ideas and contributing them to the commission. She cited the senate’s concerns about the commission’s core issues: the student and faculty experience, international initiatives and strengthening core sciences. 

Powell, whose senate term is expiring, said that the committee had established good relationships throughout the University. “I want those relationships to flourish,” she said.

In other business, the senators approved, without opposition, a revised grievance procedure. The procedure, devised by the Grievance Committee, will replace current policies and procedures.

Committee chairman Herbert F. "Chip" Tucker, in a written message to the senate, said the new version contains “dozens of small tidying changes made to the former language,” and makes only three substantive changes.

The new version contains an expanded category of disputes over which the Grievance Committee has jurisdiction, deleted a clause giving the University Counsel power to remove a case from the committee’s jurisdiction and restored an aggrieved party’s right to demand a hearing panel.

The senate also approved changes in the policy on disciplinary suspension or termination proposed by the provost, Dr. Arthur Garson Jr. He suggested altering wording to state that an advisory panel would be formed in a procedure unless the subject of the procedure waived his or her right to the panel.

The senate also approved a slate of six candidates seeking three open seats in the senate’s executive committee. The candidates are Kandioura Drame, an associate professor in French; William Keene, a research professor in environmental sciences; Dr. Susan Kirk, an associate professor in medicine and obstetrics; Brian Pusser, an associate professor of education at the Curry School of Education, Herbert F. “Chip” Tucker, John C. Coleman Professor of English; and Alfred C. “Alf” Weaver, a computer science professor in the School of Engineering and Applied Science.

The senators will vote via e-mail for new members of the executive committee.

Gweneth West, a drama professor, was nominated without opposition for the post of Faculty Senate chairwoman-elect.

Jack Brown, chairman of the senate’s Faculty Recruitment, Retention and Welfare Committee, urged senators to join the committee. He also recommended that they reacquaint themselves with a 2008 report on faculty opinions and interests and suggested they re-introduce it in their home departments to “keep the report alive” and use it as a factor in decision making.

— By Matt Kelly