Remarks to the Faculty Senate
Ricardo Padrón, Chair
November 28, 2007
When we met in September, I reported on our ongoing work with the creation of the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, the Commission for the Future of the University, and the survey of faculty satisfaction. It is my pleasure to report to you today about the Senate’s work with these issues over the course of a very busy Fall Semester, and to give you some idea of the agenda that is emerging out of that work for the spring.
First, the survey of faculty satisfaction. In September, Jennifer Harvey, the chair of our Committee on Faculty Recruitment, Retention and Welfare, distributed preliminary results of the survey that was distributed to all faculty during the spring of last year. Her committee has worked diligently this semester, analyzing the quantitative results of that survey and combing through the myriad qualitative answers. I am happy to report that her committee now has a draft of the full report, and should be ready to present to us at our next meeting. Jennifer, unfortunately, is out of town this week at a professional conference.
Second, the Commission for the Future of the University. Our Planning and Development Committee met the Herculean challenge of responding to the draft reports in a very short amount of time, producing a dense but cogent presentation that became the centerpiece of our October 3rd Work Session. In case you have not seen their work, the presentation is available as a PowerPoint presentation on the Faculty Senate website. Its overall theme is the importance of building strength at the heart of the University’s mission of research, teaching, and service, rather than focusing on new initiatives at the periphery. The report emphasizes the importance of hiring new faculty in central disciplines, properly financing graduate study, and developing our infrastructure in order to alleviate acute over-crowding in the classroom and to bring research tools and facilities of all kinds up to the challenge of a contemporary, vigorous research enterprise. The presentation by the committee members was followed by breakout sessions in which participants had the opportunity to address a variety of concerns, including graduate study, global studies, and the University’s public mission. Members of the Commission attended the work session and participated in the discussion. The presentation and the discussion notes were then turned over to the Commission to inform revisions that were currently underway in the report documents. Subsequently, a subset of the Planning and Development Committee was actively involved in suggesting structure and language for what will eventually become the lead piece of the final commission report, a document that will set out a general strategic direction for the University. The Commission has been extremely receptive to Senate feedback, and I am happy to report that the most recent iteration of this document incorporates many of the themes advanced by the Planning and Development Committee at our work session. A near-final version of this document, incorporating whatever further changes might be introduced by the upper administration, as well as the final reports of the Commission’s subcommittees, should become available on the web quite soon.
Third, the Batten School. As we all know, the Senate voted on October 30th to approve the creation of the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, and to transfer the existing BA/MPP program into the Batten School as its first degree program. The vote was 52 in favor and 8 against, with one abstention. The Batten School found support among Senators enthusiastic, among other things, about the way in which its mission dovetailed with the University’s Jeffersonian legacy. What could be more consonant with our founder’s vision for the University than a school designed to provide the nation with capable, forward-looking leadership? The decision approved by the Board of Visitors to house the Batten School in Garrett Hall gives physical form to that consonance of mission, placing Batten at the heart of the University, where its influence upon the institution on the whole will outweigh its small size, hopefully bringing questions of public leadership and service to the fore of our overall mission. Other Senators, however, expressed concern about the leadership curriculum, which they found only vaguely defined, and about the school’s possibly negative impact upon the College of Arts and Sciences. Now, a search committee has been convened to find the Batten School’s first dean. It will be the task of that committee to find someone who can provide the school with the vision it will need so that its emerging program in public policy and leadership will not only silence such concerns, but serve as a model for how publically-minded leaders can and should be trained. I should hope, too, that they will be able to find a collaborative individual, one who will be mindful of the ways in which Batten could negatively affect the College, and will be ready and able to collaborate with the Provost and the new Dean of Arts and Sciences in minimizing any potential negative impact.
With these three tasks either behind us or winding down, preparations are under way for next semester and beyond. I am happy to report that this work will be facilitated by the creation of a new and improved Faculty Senate website, provided to us courtesy of Nancy Tramontin and her staff. At first, the new website will feature the current content in a more attractive and accessible format. Eventually, it will incorporate new functionalities, like a voting module that will allow for the election of Senators and for Senate votes to take place online. Of course, this will also involve changes to our by-laws. My thanks to Ms. Tramontin for volunteering her help, and to the Cavalier Daily for their editorial complaining about our website and thus getting the ball rolling.
Some of the work that will keep us busy in the coming months is our ongoing commitment to the Harrison Undergraduate Research Awards and the Faculty Senate Dissertation-Year Fellowships. Amy Bouton, chair of our Research and Scholarship Committee, now has a full complement of committee members ready to read and assess applications for the Harrison Awards. Meanwhile, Stephen Macko, of the Environmental Sciences Department, has kindly agreed to chair our Dissertation-Year Fellowship Committee. He and Ann Hamric, chair of Academic Affairs, are currently finalizing the committee roster. I would like to thank all involved for their willingness to help out with these important projects.
Other priorities are emerging from our work with planning and development. All of you know that the development of science and technology at the University is one of the stated priorities emerging from the Commission for the Future of the University. The Senate is eager to facilitate faculty engagement with this priority. One possible mechanism would be to host a “Town Meeting on the Sciences” sometime next semester, organized by scientists and engineers on the Planning and Development Committee, but open to all faculty, but particularly aimed at faculty in the sciences, engineering and mathematics. This meeting would provide the occasion for a frank exchange about the state of these disciplines at UVa, and about what can and should be done to move them forward. We hope, too, that it would empower our colleagues in the STEM disciplines to further collaborate in the development of a shared vision for the future of the sciences at UVa.
The chair of our Planning and Development Committee, Lilli Powell, will not be able to join us today, but you will be hearing from her soon about future plans for her committee’s work. Among the directions that will be discussed at an upcoming Planning and Development Committee meeting are ways in which interested faculty can get more involved in development work, through presentations of their research to groups of alumni and continuing our ongoing conversations with the Provost about the implementation of the Commission recommendations. We look forward to further dialogue with him about how best to incorporate a faculty voice into the planning structure that is to emerge from the Commission’s work. Other possibilities include further work on the proposals that came out of our dinner series last year, the College of Global Studies, a revived Center for Advanced Studies, and a yearly University theme. It is also possible that you will see some attention paid to graduate study, and to what the Senate can do to highlight its importance among the many objectives that vie for the attention of our current capital campaign. Next month, the Senate leadership will be meeting to sort out committee objectives from larger Senate objectives, and to devise a working plan for the spring semester regarding these issues.
I would like to reiterate for the public record what every faculty member already knows: enhancing graduate study at the University is part and parcel of enhancing our research mission. In the sciences, graduate students serve as crucial members of a professor’s research team. Scientific research simply cannot go ahead without them. In the humanities and social sciences, graduate students function as crucial interlocutors in the germination and cultivation of ideas. Humanistic and social scientific research cannot aspire to great heights without them. For this reason, the Faculty Senate urges the University’s senior leadership to do everything they can to bring significant resources to bear upon the enhancement of graduate study at UVa. Moreover, if UVa is to measure up to Jefferson’s charge of providing the nation with publically-minded leaders, it cannot forget its responsibility to train intellectual leadership as well as leaders of other kinds. UVa is already famous for its alumni who assume important mantles in the worlds of business, government, media and public service. We should also strive to produce more agenda-setting alumni in the many worlds of research. This we can only do if we attract star-quality graduate students to star-quality graduate programs.
I would also like to reiterate something that I’ve already mentioned in my remarks about the Senate Work Session, particularly in light of the prospect that the Senate may soon be asked to once again review proposals for new schools. There is extraordinary work being done at our University, but it often suffers from painful shortcomings in human and material resources. The path to enhanced excellence, as some of our outside consultants have reminded us, involves addressing these shortcomings and building upon existing strengths. For this reason, the University should be wary about adding further schools to those that already exist. While it is true that the creation of a new school provides a clean slate upon which innovation might be easier than it would be with existing structures, it also draws upon resources that might have been directed to existing enterprises, and often duplicates existing infrastructure of all kinds in the process. It builds suburbs of strength, while leaving the city center to crumble. Moreover, whatever advantages the creation of a new school may present at other institutions, at our University, it is difficult to imagine how the creation of a new silo could be good for the culture of the institution as a whole, or for its ability to address the complex problems of our day. I have said before and continue to believe that UVa must work to develop institutional structures that cut across schools and disciplines, promoting collaborations of all kinds. This is something we must learn to do not just because it might enrich our own intellectual lives, or the lives of our students, but because it will better enable us to confront complex problems, like energy and the environment, that defy easy compartmentalization into separate departments and schools. Creating a new school may very well represent yesterday’s approach to solving the problems of today.
In any case, our experience with the Batten School suggests that such pivotal decisions should be made in ways that are as open, inclusive and transparent as possible, perhaps even more so than the process we as an institution and as a Senate followed in the creation of the Batten School itself. I should hope that the Senate can serve as a forum for just such a discussion.
In conclusion, I would like to thank all of you for the fine work that you have done this semester. We have had a lot of work to do, and I have watched with admiration as members of the Senate have repeatedly risen to the challenge of getting it done intelligently and effectively. My best wishes to all of you for the holiday season.