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Comments by Faculty Senate Chair to UVA Board of Visitors

Margaret F. Riley — March 3, 2017

I would like to begin my remarks by thanking you once again for the Visioning Session in which more than 60 faculty members participated during the August Retreat.  I’ve now had a chance to speak with many of the participants and can confirm what I think we already knew—it was a resounding success.  A lot of credit goes to Mike Lenox—and of course, my colleague, Nina Solenski. And Susan Harris had a lot of organizing to do. But most of the credit probably goes to Mr. Goodwin—and I think Mr. O’Connor--who conceived of the idea and made it happen.  The faculty enjoyed getting to know you and having you get to know them.  Having Board members, the President and EVPs, the deans (I think Architecture had 2 deans present!) and faculty, all together was a unique experience.  I know it will help us help each other.

It would be foolish to assume that the results of an informal 1 ½ hour visioning session should govern future strategy, but I think that some of the themes that resulted from our time together are worth noting and thinking a bit about.

First, and this resonated across all of the tables:  We all care deeply about our students—both undergraduate and graduate.  We’re seeking ways to limit their debt and make education affordable.  We want to improve their residential experience and make that experience include learning outside the classroom by bringing faculty into many aspects of their lives.  We want them to participate in our research. We want to share community service with them. We want them to think hard about what the Jeffersonian ideal of the educated citizen might mean in the twenty-first century.

Although many institutions of higher education are drifting away from liberal arts, participants in our session wanted to “double down” on one of our strengths—our liberal arts curriculum.  That of course does not mean staying where we are but instead thinking about what a twenty-first century liberal arts education might mean. We talked about breaking down disciplinary boundaries and creating STEM and non-STEM collaborations and integrating liberal arts with professional certifications.  We seek more interdisciplinary collaboration.  We talked about flexible classrooms and pedagogy that would provide diverse experiences.  We emphasized that education in the twenty-first century must include considerable global experience and that we must continue to seek international partnerships.

We talked about redefining the role of the faculty and investing in supporting faculty so that they could capitalize on new funding mechanisms and research opportunities as they arise.  This may mean building new partnerships with entities like foundations, perhaps crowd-sourcing and other untapped sources.  This is a place where faculty can learn a great deal through closer collaboration with Board members.

We achieved all of this in a short 1/1/2 hour session.  I think that Mike Lenox said we were prodigies.  But I think one reason we could do it is that we’re all thinking about this all the time.  It’s in our Cornerstone Plan and we are building on it every day.  What was different is that we were given the opportunity to think about it together.  And that, these days, is a rare occurrence and one we cannot celebrate enough.

Faculty leaders were pleased to be at the hearing in Richmond on the Strategic Investment Fund on August 26.  I would have been there myself if I had not had a conflict—but I was there in spirit.  We were even more pleased with the result—and we hope that it means that we can now move forward.  We have urgent needs and we hope to get started.

That said, there is continued confusion among faculty about the Strategic Investment Fund.  This confusion tends not to center on the issues that have been in the press but rather on the future—how the funds will be distributed and used.  For example, faculty want to know whether there will be funds to build research infrastructure and IT support that are desperately needed now. Who will coordinate these efforts? I have been involved in some of this process myself, so I know how difficult it is, but I hope that we can bring greater clarity soon.  I also want to echo something that Nina emphasized last year.  While we think about future strategy, I hope that we will not forget the faculty we already have.  We have brilliant researchers and gifted teachers who must be recognized and supported even as we welcome new brilliant researchers and new gifted teachers to our grounds.

As we plan for the Bicentennial, I hope that you will think of the faculty as partners in that endeavor.  We have amazingly loyal alumni and much of that loyalty is founded on the relationships that they built with faculty sometimes many years ago.  Use us as partners as we build on those bonds and explore new opportunities.  We hope that we can learn from you in this process and that you will learn from us.

Finally, now that you know us better, come and visit us where we work.  Come to our laboratories and classrooms.  We will welcome you.