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Senate Chair's March 2017 Remarks to Board of Visitors

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.

Margaret F. Riley
UVA Faculty Senate Chair
March 3, 2017

Faculty Senate–General Faculty Council Statement on Immigration Executive Order

The President’s recent executive order banning entry to the United States of citizens from seven predominately Muslim countries, as well as refugees from all countries, is a moral outrage. It threatens lives and divides families, including those of students, staff, and faculty of the University of Virginia. It also threatens the basic values of inclusiveness, equality, and respect for human dignity that we stand for as a university in the public trust. Rather than addressing legitimate security and safety concerns in a responsible and measured way, this drastically overbroad policy needlessly harms decent and talented people who have already been strictly vetted and who pose no demonstrable risk. Despite recent court orders staying parts of the order, much of it remains in effect, and it is therefore an active threat to refugees, immigrants, and Muslim-Americans, including those in our community. We condemn it unequivocally.

We condemn it not only as an offense to human decency and the Constitution, but also because it harms our ability to do our jobs. We are scientists and engineers, physicians and lawyers, historians and philosophers, and business innovators and public servants. We come from all corners of the world to this great University to learn and share knowledge. We depend in turn on communities of learning across the world to enrich our own scholarly endeavors. This discriminatory executive order imperils these relationships, even as it threatens our students and shames our nation.

We call on all faculty to contact their legislators and ask them to condemn this executive order and to urge the President to withdraw it.

As faculty we stand with our students and colleagues who might be harmed by this order, and we resolve to defend their rights and safety to the best of our lawful ability.

Faculty Senate Executive Council & General Faculty Council Executive Council
February 1, 2017

Senate Chair's December 2016 Remarks to Board of Visitors

This afternoon I would like to talk about the social climate at the University.

I have been at UVA for more than twenty years and there is more tension on grounds now than at any time that I can remember. Of course, this is not only here at UVA, but is being experienced at universities throughout the country. Recently, many of us have described this as relating to the “Run up and aftermath of the election.” I am coming to believe that description misplaces cause and effect. There were already climate issues at many universities before the election heated up. That may have been a harbinger of what has come since then. All of these issues, including the discourse of the election, reflect deep fissures in our society. I therefore don’t believe that this is going to go away soon and we are going to have to work our way through it.

As much as there is increased tension, there is also a welcome increase in community engagement here at UVA. Students, faculty, administrators, staff—and some of you here on the BOV—have all come together in sustained dialog. I am proud to say, that at least so far, new challenges have been bringing us together, not pulling us apart. We have had teach-ins. As he described this morning, the Provost sponsored a charrette on community values. Last Friday, the students held a five-hour town hall focused on diversity and inclusion. On Wednesday, the faculty senate held a town hall on free speech and helping faculty engage in difficult conversations.

Most important, the hallmark of all of these events has been respect.

I believe that the role of higher education has never been more important. We need places where we can have authentic and profound discussion among people who may disagree. And this institution, which was founded on notions of public education, free speech, and producing educated citizen leaders, has a special role to play. We need to lead the national discourse on what public education means for this generation. We need to think about who gets to be a citizen leader in this century and how to train our students—of all religions, ethnicities and genders-- to aspire to that role.

Faculty have a crucial role in this and it is one that is at times fraught. It is our role to foster free speech, but at the same time recognize, as Geoff Stone, a noted first amendment scholar, has recently reminded us: the benefits of free speech are shared by all of us, but the burdens are more often disproportionately borne by minorities and marginalized populations. It is our job sometimes to be provocative, but we also need to create a safe place to learn. At the same time, we need to teach our students that safe does not necessarily mean comfortable. At times we need to be advocates, but we also need to allow people who disagree with us to be heard and to teach our students to do the same. And we also need to recognize that our role extends beyond our research and teaching. The inspiration for the American experiment in residential higher education is the idea that as much learning takes place out of the classroom as in it.

Last June, I suggested that UVA’s success in this era of turmoil will be dependent on trust, communication and some luck. I still think that—just more so.

I am now cautiously optimistic. My optimism is based on the lines of communication that we have built. It is hard to demonize people that you know. Dinners like the one we had last night that bring the Board, faculty and administrators together and provide opportunities to get to know one another are important. Phoebe Willis’ work with the newsletters—which not only give information but provide students a view of Board members as people—is also crucial. I have confidence that we can all work together to bring many more such opportunities to UVA."

Magaret F. Riley
UVA Faculty Senate Chair
December 9, 2016

Senate Chair's September 2016 Remarks to Board of Visitors

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.

Margaret F. Riley
Chair of the Faculty Senate
September 15, 2016