February 14, 2012 — University of Virginia President Teresa A. Sullivan outlined to the Faculty Senate on Friday the steps her administration has taken to improve wages for the University's lowest-paid employees. Sullivan said she had recently received a petition signed by about 300 faculty members, urging the University to adopt a minimum hourly wage of at least $11.44 plus benefits.
"I am – we all are – concerned about all our employees: faculty, staff and hourly-wage employees alike," Sullivan said. "Our challenge – mine, yours, our Board of Visitors' – is to consider all of our priorities, and to try to balance all our financial demands, including funds for faculty salaries, staff salaries, hiring additional faculty, providing financial aid to students, providing health services, upgrading facilities and much more."
Sullivan met last spring with students advocating $11.44 as an hourly minimum. "They made a compelling case in presenting their concerns," she said. Afterward, she committed to improving the workers' pay.
The University has increased its minimum hire rate to $10.65 per hour and accelerated increases for those hired before July 2010 who earned less than $25,000. Since 2006, the minimum rate has been increased 65 percent, while the cost of living index has gone up 21 percent. The number of employees earning less than $25,000 is about half of what it was a year ago.
In addition, funds approved by the Board of Visitors provided strategic, merit-based raises for some University faculty and staff in December.
The supplemental benefit credit was raised to $450 per year for U.Va. staff earning less than $42,000 to offset the cost of benefits, including the state-mandated 5 percent contribution to the Virginia Retirement System. The University also provides an annual $2,000 education benefit, as well as formal and informal training. "The commitment I made has a prominent place on my Web page and I intend for that to remain there until our work is done," Sullivan said.
Addressing another issue, she said medical students learning to intubate premature infants will continue to perfect their skills by training on cats after first becoming proficient on simulators.
"The procedure, intubation, prevents perinatal asphyxia and requires great skill," Sullivan said. "Physician experts agree that the airway simulator does not adequately replicate the airway to replicate the procedure used to intubate a premature newborn."
She said the three cats used in the training are anesthetized during the procedure and receive post-procedural pain medication. The same three cats have been used in this training for seven years, and Sullivan said the University is not involved in breeding or buying cats for medical training, nor does it use kittens.
"We treat our cats well," she said.
Sullivan also told the senators the magnolia trees around the Rotunda will not be removed to accommodate repair of the dome.
"Scaffolding will be erected in a way to minimize impact on the trees," she said. "Some pruning will be necessary, and we will work with a qualified arborist on assessing and maintaining the long-term health of the trees."
The restoration work should not hamper graduation ceremonies. "Work will not begin until after 2012 Final Exercises," Sullivan said. "With luck, it will be completed before Final Exercises in 2013, but if it isn't, the scaffolding will be removed for the ceremony and then reinstalled."
In other business: University of Virginia Executive Vice President and Provost John Simon addressed senators about his vision of education and what he has found at U.Va. His talk took the form of a letter he wrote to founder Thomas Jefferson and the first Board of Visitors.
Since taking office six months ago, Simon said he has sought opinions from faculty members and found them proud of the combination of teaching, research and service in which the faculty members engage; how students are taught to solve problems; and how U.Va. is a special place with special people.
In his "letter," Simon said that if the current generation can achieve Jefferson's vision of the University, "We will continue to attract faculty 'of the highest grade' as well as excellent students, and we will also distinguish ourselves as an institution that best meets the challenges of education, discovery and service, which together must be hallmarks of the University of this century."
The existing structure isolates schools into silos, he said, and big problems cannot be solved by a single school.
He said the University, as well as higher education in general, is challenged to protect, nourish and renew "core" programs while building bridges between disciplines to prepare students and produce research that addresses contemporary topics, at a time when research funding is uncertain and many of the biggest challenges are politicized.
"These two issues – assuring our commitment to our core disciplines, and enabling scholarship and education across boundaries that address the challenges and opportunities of our time – form the modern yin-yang of the University," Simon said.
Fostering collaboration is one of the goals of the new internal financial model, which is intended to better align University resources to its missions, provide deans with more opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship, and create more financial transparency.
Brandt Allen, James C. Wheat Jr. Professor in the Darden School of Business and the senate's liaison with the financial model committee, said the deans would have more control over revenues and expenses, central services would line up better with the schools, and there would be more transparent governance from the central institution.
During a robust discussion, senators expressed concerns about the transition to a new system, the anxiety surrounding such a change and the impact on them as individual faculty members.
Michael Strine, executive vice president and chief operating officer, said faculty participation is welcome in the task forces that are developing the model, but cautioned, "The new financial model is the future, and we also need to focus on what is right in front of us." Strine said he and Simon are immersed in meetings around Grounds to develop the 2012-13 budget.
Sullivan also updated the senators on state budget and legislative issues, noting she has addressed several legislative committees on science, technology, engineering and mathematics education and financial aid.
"The dialogue has been constructive, and our legislators appear to be listening to the case we are making," she said.
Sullivan said Gov. Robert F. McDonnell has made education a priority, but noted that of the $200 million in additional money for higher education in his proposed budget, the University would receive only an additional $1.8 million in base operating money, $1.5 million in additional STEM financing and $321,000 per year for enrollment growth.
She said that U.Va.'s requested budget amendments for the 2012-14 biennium include new faculty start-up packages, capital renovations, cancer research and reimbursement for indigent care. She said the University is also seeking to increase the size of the Board of Visitors from 16 to 17. The membership would include at least one physician who has administrative and clinical experience in an academic medical center, 12 alumni and five members from out of state.
— By Matt Kelly