August 25, 2009 — The 19-member Special Committee on the Nomination of a President held its inaugural meeting Monday and its first public forums on Tuesday to begin what committee member and former rector Gordon F. Rainey Jr. said "might well be the most important thing a lot of us have done in our lives."
The committee agreed that the extraordinary leadership provided by University President John T. Casteen III over the last 20 years has positioned the University to attract an incredibly strong and broad-based candidate pool. Casteen will retire on Aug. 1, 2010.
In fact, R. William Funk, the University's consultant and a veteran of more than 300 presidential searches, told the committee that U.Va.'s search "has created more excitement and interest among higher education leaders than any in the last five years.' The firm has been involved in presidential searches for 30 of the Association of American Universities' 62 members.
"People understand how important your institution is to this country," Funk said. "As we move through this process you will have the opportunity to consider some of the very best candidates in the nation."
Rector John O. Wynne said the University is in a "sweet spot" that he expects will make the job appealing to serious candidates.
He explained that despite state budget cuts and the global financial crisis, the University has continued to flourish under strong financial management and that "we continue to be blessed with great faculty, staff and students who are committed to excellence."
The search process will be as comprehensive and inclusive as possible. After the committee studied the last three presidential searches and looked at best practices around the country, a plan was created to reach out to all members of the University community, including students, staff and faculty, as well as alumni, parents and friends.
"We want to hear from as many people as possible what they believe are the important qualities of the University's next president," Wynne said. "This is a historic moment in the University's history and certainly the most important thing the board will do for the University. We are committed to getting it right."
In order to reach all these constituencies, the presidential search plan includes:
• E-mails to all members of the University community;
• Six public forums open to everyone, including those in the Charlottesville community;
• Meetings with student, staff and faculty leaders; with deans and vice presidents; and with several ad hoc advisory groups led by members of the search committee.
"We don't want anyone to think they have been overlooked," Wynne told the committee. "If we missed something, let us know. We want to listen to or hear from anyone who wants to give us their thoughts."
Wynne and Vice Rector Daniel R. Abramson have made themselves readily available to meet with groups and individuals over the past several weeks. "It is important as well as symbolic," Wynne added, "that our first meeting was with the leaders of the University's Employee Councils."
In addition, the committee will talk with numerous higher education leaders across the country, seeking their input on the qualities needed to lead a modern research university.
While the Board of Visitors makes the final decision and elects the next president, Wynne stressed the importance of the entire committee – which includes nine board members, six faculty members, two students and two prominent alumni –doing the heavy lifting of researching, interviewing and finally narrowing the candidate pool. He asked members to get to know one another and collaborate to add depth and understanding to an effective search.
He thanked committee members for their willingness to serve. Describing them as an "extraordinary group of people who bring wonderful skills, years of experience, judgment and deep love for this place," Wynne then asked them to make introductions and talk a bit about their connections to the University.
As the 19 members told their stories, the words "fortunate," "honored" and "privileged" were used over and over again. There is also an understanding that they are to represent not one group, but as Wynne has said on numerous occasions, "all those who know and love our great University."
Warren M. Thompson, a Board of Visitors member and chairman of its Special Committee on Diversity, told of being the first in his African-American family to be allowed to attend U.Va. and of his commitment to championing diversity since being appointed to the board.
"I have been so impressed," Thompson said, looking around the table, "by the character, experience and diversity of this committee. We have a tremendous opportunity to build on rich traditions . . . and the possibility to create new ones in this process."
International Focus, Diversity and Staff Concerns Emerge at Forums
Here is a selection of comments from students, staff, faculty and alumni who attended Tuesday's two forums. About 45 people attended each forum. Complete audio of all forums will be posted on the presidential search Web site as it becomes available.
• Maurice Apprey, dean of African-American affairs, emphasized that students' educational needs are changing in response to globalization. "At least 25 to 50 percent of our students should get international experiences," he said. "The world is shrinking. Domestic and international issues go hand in hand."
He recommended the creation of more and longer-lasting interdisciplinary programs. "The new president will need flexibility, the capacity to work with the in-between areas of disciplines, and the capacity for fundraising to make these programs work," he said.
• Chew-Mee Kirtland, parent of a U.Va. student and 1981 Darden graduate, said the University must walk its global talk. She and her husband, Gordon, provided the idea and original funding for the UVaExpress, which greets international students at Dulles International Airport, brings them to the Grounds and provides hospitality.
"Whoever is selected to be the eighth president of this wonderful university needs to be able to deal with a global environment that is becoming more challenging," she said.
• Several students from the Minority Rights Coalition observed that, while the University has come a long way from its all-white, all-male history, they see much work still to be done.
Seth Kaye, a second-year student in the School of Engineering and Applied Science and co-president of Queer & Allied Activism, said more students and faculty must be drawn from the ranks of minorities – not just racial, ethnic and socioeconomic, but also sexual minorities.
An attack on a student and his friend last year still resonates with gay students, he said. "I feel sometimes I have to wear blue and orange to cover up the pink," he said. "Should the queer community still have to put up with the 'not gay' chant at football games? I challenge the University to improve this atmosphere with a strong-willed, friendly and open-minded president."
Bias-based incidents against gay, minority and women students still occur, said Neal Fox, systems engineering graduate student. "We're not saying U.Va. is failing in its duty, but these issues need to be brought to the forefront in this search," he said, asking that the committee hire a president who has experience with such issues.
• Amanda Perez of the Latino Student Alliance, a fourth-year English and Spanish major in the College of Arts & Sciences, said a new president needs to continue to support students' efforts to fight against sexual assault and "create more initiatives to prevent sexual assault from happening."
• Not only should U.Va. keep its academic institutions strong, but it should also keep its community strong "because the learning environment extends outside the classroom," said Nana Amoah, a third-year theater and art history major in the College. He also applauded strides in the arts this past year, such as choreographer Bill T. Jones' weeklong residency.
• Brad Sayler, a computer systems engineer in the Engineering school who called himself "the resident radical," said staff salaries have not kept pace with employees having to learn more skills and working harder than ever. He also expressed disappointment that there are no staff members on the search committee.
• Carey Reinicke, School of Continuing and Professional Studies, would like to see some focus on staff members who "hold the University together." She praised the recent changes in the University HR system and the new opportunities for career advancement. "I'd like to see a president who holds these same values and who will be interested in new initiatives to attract and retain good staff members."
• Susan Pott, also of the School of Continuing and Professional Studies, would like to see a president focus more on recognition of staff work – as well as more University outreach efforts in the local community.
• Archie Holmes, professor of electrical and computer engineering, urged the search committee to delve into the caliber and organization of a new president's leadership team. "Who's going to report directly to the president; what sort of things are they going to leave to the deans, provosts, vice provosts, etc., because a new president can't pull this off by him- or herself," he said.
• David Carr, class of '50, talked about finding a president who is a "good fit" – one who "understands the deep love and loyalty that people have for the University. If he or she does not, all that loyalty could slip away."
• Brydie Ragan, who works in Housing, proposed this question for the presidential candidates: "Ask them what their creative habits are and whether they know how to engender creativity in others."
• Mary Chee of the School of Continuing and Professional Studies would also like to see innovation and creativity as part of the new president's portfolio. "We have great opportunity to make innovative changes – including to the curriculum. Do we want status quo or do we look at our current situation to see where the University can go from here? We need to balance of innovation, tradition, and creativity."
• Stuart Gamage, director of the Morven Project, asked that a new president understand what the University gained through restructuring with the state and be able to find new ways to expand self-sufficiency and decrease reliance on the state funding. "We remain linked to the state, yet state support continues to fall," she said.
• Nancy Iverson, an assistant dean in the School of Continuing and Professional Studies, asked that the new president be a distinguished academic. "Always at the heart of what we need is someone committed to the pursuit of knowledge."