As the University of Virginia prepares to celebrate its bicentennial, “the future looks exceptionally bright,” President Teresa A. Sullivan declared Monday in a “State of the University Address” to members of the University community and the Faculty Senate.
“We’re approaching a monumental period in our University’s history, one that will draw together every member of our community – those of us here in Charlottesville, and others across the nation and around the world,” Sullivan told those in attendance at the Harrison-Small Auditorium.
“The bicentennial gives us an opportunity to look back at UVA’s past 200 years, and we’ll do that in appropriate ways,” she said. “But also – and more importantly – this is our chance to look forward.”
As Sullivan reflected on UVA’s past, she noted the expectations that were placed on the University from the time of its establishment, citing the words of John Adams in a letter to University founder Thomas Jefferson: “I congratulate you and Madison and Monroe. … From such a noble triumvirate, the world will expect something very great and very new.”
According to Sullivan, the University will continue its record of excellence while focusing on the progress that is yet to be made by combining traditions with innovation.
“The world will continue to expect something very great and very new from UVA,” Sullivan said. “Those two qualities – greatness and newness – are mutually dependent. UVA will continue to be great in its third century only if we commit ourselves to make it new, again and again, in a continuous cycle of innovation and reinvention.”
Sullivan offered several examples of how UVA is following through on that mission. She noted the 2013 establishment of the President’s Commission on Slavery and the University and its continued efforts to explore UVA’s historical relationship with slavery.
She also highlighted the completion of renovations to the Rotunda, a significant accomplishment that will contribute to an improved University experience for students. About 20 courses are being held this fall in the building – the centerpiece of the University’s original, Jefferson-designed “Academical Village,” which now also includes student study spaces.
“The Rotunda is once again serving as a center of student life and learning,” Sullivan said. “Not many students get to attend class in a UNESCO World Heritage site and acknowledged masterpiece of American architecture.”
Another step in advancing the future of the University is in the hiring of bright-minded scholars who will join UVA’s faculty – an endeavor that has already started and will continue for years to come. As many of the University’s veteran faculty members prepare to enter retirement, it will be up to a new generation to continue UVA’s tradition of excellence, Sullivan said.
For fiscal year 2016-17, 107 tenure-track faculty members were hired through a pan-University, interdisciplinary hiring initiative. Of those faculty, 40 percent were women and 31 percent were underrepresented minorities – a group that represents UVA’s most diverse new class of faculty.
“We know that UVA will be neither great nor new unless we successfully recruit and retain an excellent faculty for the University’s third century,” Sullivan said.
To support the faculty, Sullivan pointed to the need to create research opportunities and improve infrastructure.
“Just as building a great third-century faculty is an urgent priority for us, enhancing the research enterprise is one of our top goals,” she said. “We also want to enhance our research infrastructure so that we’re able to support the work of our extraordinary faculty.”
Sullivan noted that UVA’s research awards increased by more than 8 percent in the last fiscal year, and that a number of research projects that have been borne out of the University – spanning the areas of medicine, business, the arts, education, engineering and more – have significantly impacted lives for the better.
One example, which draws together faculty from across departments and schools on Grounds, is the new UVA Brain Institute.
“These colleagues are developing better methods for understanding the brain, seeking new ways to prevent, treat and cure brain diseases and injury, and teaching our students what they learn,” she said.
Sullivan said she has no intention of remaining complacent. Instead, she aims to broaden the horizons for University research through teamwork and collaboration, locally and worldwide.
“We are working aggressively to expand our network of research partners, and to strengthen our research capacity. Succeeding in this effort will be essential to the University’s future,” she said.
Current endeavors to enhance the undergraduate curriculum will also contribute to the great and new future of UVA, Sullivan said. In May, faculty from the College of Arts & Sciences – the University’s largest school – voted to pilot a new curriculum, beginning with a cohort of students in next year’s entering class. The curriculum will be based on three components: engagements, literacies and disciplines.
“The changes are designed to build on UVA’s historic academic strengths, while better preparing our students to succeed as professionals and as active, articulate citizens,” Sullivan said. “Constant reinvention, including curricular reinvention, will be an essential part of our effort to prepare students for success in the careers and communities they will enter after graduation.”
Sullivan also highlighted achievements that resulted from the University’s blueprint for the future, the Cornerstone Plan. She highlighted the creation of a Strategic Investment Fund from the proceeds of wise stewardship of the University’s reserves, which will allow for significant, ongoing investments in projects that will enhance the quality of the University.
“To keep UVA new and great in its next century, we must continue to make strategic investments that will keep our University affordable while strengthening the faculty and expanding research programs,” Sullivan said. “UVA has a long-standing record of prudent financial stewardship, and that history of careful management – together with strong investment earnings – enabled us to create the new Strategic Investment Fund.”
Sullivan made it clear that UVA has plans to continue on a path toward excellence, and that she has the utmost faith in the University community to shape the future of the institution.
“As we prepare to embark on a uniquely momentous period in the University’s history, I’m grateful for the commitment of the faculty, staff and students who help us advance the mission of this University every day,” Sullivan said. “As we approach the bicentennial and reflect on UVA’s first and second centuries – the first two chapters in the UVA story – we understand that we are the ones who will be responsible for creating the next chapter. That is, the hard work we do together now – today and tomorrow – will become, in later years, the history of UVA’s third century.”