Senate Playing Strong Role in Shaping University's Future

February 06, 2007

Feb. 6, 2007 -- Faculty senators discussed a 10-year academic plan, the president’s proposed committee on the future of the University and collaboration among disciplines at their Jan. 30 meeting.
Senators will give feedback on a draft of a 10-year academic plan, developed over the past year by Gene D. Block, vice president and provost. The plan, drawn from conversations with and among faculty, students, deans, senior administrators and Board of Visitors members, is to be a guide for the University’s activities for the next decade.

The plan identified three goals — increase the number of tenure-track instructional and research faculty, adding 300 new positions and replacing 277 who retire, develop and renew classroom and research facilities and increase funding for graduate education — and sets out five initiatives to accomplish these goals.

The initiatives are: increasing prominence in science and engineering research; providing the best undergraduate experience in the nation; expanding the professional schools’ capacity to produce public leaders; strengthening the library and information technologies; and expanding the University’s ability to influence society’s response to problems.

Senate Chairman Kenneth A. Schwartz said the senate would be working on the “evolving draft” throughout the spring, and he encouraged senators to “harness their insight” and respond to the report. The 10-year academic plan will become part of the future planning process.

Senators questioned how the 10-year plan fit into the University’s 2020 report, a planning process launched in 1998 to position the University to enter it’s third century. It earmarked initiatives in science and technology, the arts, public outreach and international activities as the areas in which the University needed to excel. The 2020 report is the foundation for many of the initiatives currently being undertaken at the University. Marcia Day Childress, chairman of the Planning and Development Committee, reminded senators that many goals from previous studies had been met and described the University as “dynamic,” with plans subject to continuous change. The commission planning the future will use all of the previous planning efforts, such as the 2020 report.

President John T. Casteen III told senators that routine, ongoing planning is necessary.

Houston G. Wood III, from the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, said some of his colleagues are concerned about the emphasis on teaching faculty in the plan and they want to stress research faculty more.

Some faculty were concerned about the plan’s audience and the lack of detail on some points. Block said while the document was primarily internal, parts could have other uses, such as working with donors. The 10-year plan also deals with a broad vision, with specific details to be worked out later.

In telling the senators about his committee to study the future of the University, Casteen said “wide-ranging faculty consultation” is needed in mapping the road ahead. He noted other major studies that helped shape the U.Va. of today, such as the 1960s study to accommodate the admission of women, and a study conducted in the early 1990s during a budget crisis. He said the latter became the foundation of the $1.5 billion capital campaign from 1993-2000. He said the committee on the future of the University would present a report to the board in mid-fall.

The senate is also working closely with administrators on searches for a new dean of the College of Arts & Sciences and a new vice president and provost. Casteen said the dean search will be completed in May or June, while the vice president and provost search should be completed by mid-April. With both positions, internal and external candidates are being considered. The board is involved in the vice president and provost search, he said.

Chair-elect Ricardo Padron outlined to senators the need for more collaboration among disciplines as the University studies its future and more awareness of the work other professors and departments are doing.

He cited a U.Va. language graduate student who was translating a foreign poet and found out, several months into his project, that three buildings away, in another department, there was an expert on that poet. He said when the graduate student approached him, the expert was very willing to help in the project.

Padron said while this showed that intellectual collaboration works at U.Va., when it happens it is usually by accident. Collaboration now takes extra work from people passionately interested in a topic, overcoming the institutional barriers in the system.

The senate is uniquely positioned, he said, to “cut horizontally” through the separate silos of disciplines at the University. Padron said the senate can work at this on many different levels, from the big-picture ideas to discrete solutions. This will be an initiative during his chairmanship.

In other business, the senate unanimously approved a new master’s of science degree in commerce.