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Comments by Faculty Senate Chair to UVA Board of Visitors

Margaret F. Riley — March 3, 2017

This afternoon I would like to start by once again talking about the social climate at the University. When I spoke to you in December, I noted that that there was more tension on grounds than at any time that I can remember—but also that the University community has risen to the occasion with a welcome and remarkable increase in community engagement. That is still true. We continue to participate in difficult conversations. We have had protests, but they have been respectful. We have also engaged in ways that many people don’t expect. For example, some of my colleagues are deliberately seeking scholarship opportunities with people with whom they may philosophically or politically disagree. The academy has become one of the few places for such debate.

Faculty are very concerned about how immigration issues affect us. We aspire to be a global academic leader of universities. One of our missions is to take the Jeffersonian model of public education to the world. That means that we must be able to freely travel in the world and invite the world in to our community. Our research depends on our ability to collaborate with scholars both here and abroad. As Silvia Blemker told you yesterday, many of our post-docs and graduate students are foreign nationals. Many of them, including many from countries that are not the seven directly implicated, are now re-thinking their futures. In the past, many of those students have become productive citizens of this country. Others have become our best ambassadors to the rest of the world. It is incumbent upon us not to lose this very important form of diversity. Our standing as a global institution depends on it.

In the midst of this turbulence, we have not lost sight of our daily work. When I started in this position, one of my goals was developing real partnerships to build research at UVA. We as faculty have recognized that we can’t just complain about the difficulties of doing interdisciplinary work; it is up to us to help find solutions. This morning, Lisa Messeri spoke about becoming cognizant of the processes involved in becoming a better teacher. We need to think broadly about research in the same way. Last month, Jeff Walker and Nina Solenski did a presentation to the faculty senate about the BOV research committee. The faculty senate has been working with the Provost’s office in many different ways to build research potential. We are excited that the new VPR will be starting in August. We look forward to some of the initiatives to teach faculty to be better partners in development. Yesterday Terry mentioned some of the really innovative networking tools that are being developed by the library. Those are essential to identifying potential outlier collaborations. For example, from my own experience—speaking of “vexing problems”—yesterday we spoke of the opioid crisis. We heard about a program at Wise; Rick Shannon then spoke about addiction work in the health system. I can tell you that Chris Ruhm, at Batten, is working on economic aspects. In the law school, Richard Bonnie and I are working on a National Academies committee on opiate regulation. So far, we’re all working in parallel; but it might be really exciting if we could work together. Without effective tools we cannot find each other. We also need to find tools that help us work together. That may mean additional collaborative space. In this “new century” that may be both physical and virtual. The research enterprise is changing rapidly, and we as faculty have to be able to change with it.

After the way I started this afternoon, it may seem odd for me to say, but I am now encountering remarkable optimism on grounds. As you know, I am now engaged in a great deal of faculty outreach; and I have been seeking views on what the University should look like in the next decades. There is an appetite to be not just the best public institution in higher education but to be a beacon for all universities—and a sincere belief that if we are bold, we can succeed. Faculty have told me that UVA is one of the jewels of this country and we should embrace seeking to be the best. As President Sullivan has noted in the past, we live in a time that absurdly allows us to talk about being “elite” only in the context of our sports teams. We have allowed others to capture what that means. For many people, “elite” now means exclusive. We need to take it back; “elite” means excellence. Our faculty are proud to be part of this elite institution.

Finally, I want to thank you. Last June, when I first spoke to this body, I asked you to get to know us better. And you have done just that. We had the retreat in August, the dinner with another set of faculty in December. Many of you come to grounds so often that I’m a little worried about your jobs and families. I know that getting to know each other has helped us work together. And I am proud of what we have—and what we will—achieve together.