Sullivan: U.Va. Positioned To Lead Higher Ed Into a New Era

February 07, 2013

President Teresa A. Sullivan told members of the Faculty Senate on Wednesday that the University of Virginia has an opportunity to define a “new model for the 21st-century university in a period of tremendous challenges for higher education.”

“By meeting these challenges, U.Va. can take a position as a national leader,” she said.

Sullivan’s comments at the auditorium of the Harrison Institute and Small Special Collections Library came during a speech in which she provided updates to the University’s strategic planning process and invited the Faculty Senate to help hone the plan. She also outlined her thinking on the characteristics that put U.Va. in the position to lead.

“Public higher education is at a very critical point in the United States,” she said, adding that many in this country appear ready to “tear down” the elite public research universities while competitors in other corners of the world are working feverishly to emulate those very institutions.

U.Va. is best qualified to lead among public higher education institutions because of its distinctive history, its tradition of innovation, its “unusual” scale and size, and its strong values, Sullivan said. “They’ll be looking to us for a solution for how it can be done.”

U.Va. has both the resources of a research university and the strengths of a smaller-size liberal arts college – a unique combination.

“At large mega-schools, faculty focus on their own research,” she said. “At small liberal arts colleges, faculty mainly reproduce knowledge. At U.Va., our faculty produces knowledge, and our students and faculty are partners in discovery and innovation.”

The University’s commitment to values – honor, self-governance, leadership and diversity – provides moral and ethical backbone to the academic enterprise, she said in citing another of U.Va.’s traits that position it as a higher-education leader and model.

Sullivan said U.Va’s future will include multidisciplinary teams of faculty and students who find solutions to the complicated problems of the day. The University will re-focus its research to create areas of strength such as “big data,” biomedical sciences and global health. Curricula will see continuous review and revision to respond to the changing job market. And U.Va. will focus on offering “the very best residential education in the country.”

“You may find one or two of these qualities in other universities around the country, but you will only find all of them here at U.Va.,” she said. “They make U.Va. greater than the sum of its parts.”

Sullivan said she has compiled personal beliefs about U.Va. At the same time, a work group of the Faculty Senate is drafting an update to the University’s official mission statement, which last was updated in 1985. Any changes would require approval by the Board of Visitors.

The work accompanies ongoing development of a new University strategic plan. For the past four months, seven working groups and a steering committee have been meeting and gathering ideas that will guide development of a set of institutional strategies.

The Board of Visitors’ Special Committee on Strategic Planning is scheduled to meet Friday to hear updates on the strategic planning progress. Committee members also will hear details on the key ideas that emerged from each working group, some of which could ultimately be refined into specific components of the new strategic plan.

During her Faculty Senate remarks, Sullivan called on faculty members to sharpen the work of the strategic planning process by providing “intellectual direction” that can help guide the final form of the plan.

“You are well-positioned to do this, because you see the intellectual strengths within your respective schools, and also opportunities for collaboration among all the schools,” she said. “These two perspectives can give us the intellectual direction we need in our planning.”

The Faculty Senate is scheduled to meet again March 4 to take a closer look at the ideas from the working groups.

“This really is a time for us to provide meaningful impact that can shape the final product,” said Faculty Senate Chair George Cohen, a law professor. “This is our moment to do that.”

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