Envision sessions bring
goals into focus
by Andrew Shurtleff
Sweeney (left) and Gene Block stroll past Lawn rooms, perhaps
discussing their visions for U.Va.
By Anne Bromley
Gene Block became vice
president and provost last fall, he planned to meet with faculty
about which projects from the Virginia 2020 planning commissions
could be put on a fast track.
Block discussed his plans with Robert Sweeney, senior vice president
and public affairs, the two realized they had an opportunity to
broaden the discussion to learn more about each school
the characteristics that define their excellence, the areas they
want to strengthen and the obstacles that may stand in their way.
Block would have the chance to hear from deans and faculty in
each school about their academic plans, and Sweeney could understand
better their fund-raising and communication needs.
the two brought together deans and other representatives from
each school, in a process called Envision, some unexpected
pictures came into view.
meetings have been a catalyst in helping people realize common
interests, Block said, calling the level of discussion so
had a template for the meetings, but each school had the flexibility
to conduct it as they felt most useful for them, to make sure
to cover what they felt most important, Sweeney said.
and Block wanted to listen to each schools aspirations to
see how they fit with University-wide planning and to find out
where each school wanted to grow.
their own three-year planning processes, schools had already begun
meetings involved groups of faculty and academic leaders who dont
often get together.
was extraordinary turnout, especially when four or five other
deans and directors voluntarily attended [another schools
meeting], Sweeney said.
meetings began in October, themes have emerged that show a greater
consensus than they expected about University life. They found
a burgeoning support for and dedication to reinvigorating the
Universitys strengths and overcoming barriers to progress,
despite state financial problems.
of the student experience
way U.Va. provides education is its top priority and distinguishes
it from other public universities.
by Jenny Gerow
and faculty sometimes hold seminars outside on the Lawn.
can be responsive take whats cutting-edge, absorb
it and pass it along to students, whether its state-of-the-art
classroom technology or breakthroughs in particular fields.
programs and faculty-student interaction, the University is committed
to developing students leadership qualities. Faculty members
pride themselves on being good mentors to students.
pervades the education process from school to school, in
teaching and public service and in research and scholarship. Besides
programs in individual schools, the Institute for Practical Ethics
is already up and running with faculty across disciplines participating
in its ventures.
provides an intimate undergraduate experience. Although schools
and programs might be small, especially as public flagship universities
go, that gives the University the aura of a private college.
departments or schools can excel because their close physical
proximity to each other makes it easier to work together, even
if its not through formal means. The proposed South Lawn
project should help facilitate collaborative efforts, especially
those already under way between departments in the basic sciences,
medicine and engineering. At many institutions, participants noted,
medical and engineering schools are far removed from the core
academic areas. The College should do more to exploit the contiguity
of these schools at the University.
E. Grasso, associate dean of Arts & Sciences planning and
operations, pointed out that the potential to achieve critical
mass is greater in areas of expertise such as biomedical technology
or ethics when faculty and schools work together. But ways to
accelerate and reward these efforts need to be explored.
the Envision process, members of the University community
internally and externally have consistently defined key
elements of what makes the University distinctive and what will
help it achieve future success. They recognize a unique sense
of place and a strong sense of values, grounded in Thomas Jeffersons
ideals for this university.
and Block said they also heard a strong willingness to work together
to realize the Universitys aspirations.
unity on who we are. The faculty thinks in the same way as the
alumni about the University of Virginia experience, Sweeney
indicator of the apparent success of the process is that leaders
from other areas have sought their own meetings. There have been
sessions to envision the library, the Miller Center,
and the student experience. Meetings are being planned to address
diversity, concerning both faculty and staff issues.
two leaders found other benefits.
meetings helped me begin to understand the culture of each school,
uncertain financial times, this is a clear call to arms,
Sweeney said. Its a recognition that Development has
a role in achieving the institutions aspirations. More people
realize that philanthropy is the only financial option for reaching
our goals, and the faculty want to be actively involved.
continues to be a major issue. Even with the building projects
in the works, multiple needs for expansion remain.
a more diverse University workforce still challenges schools and
departments as they work to recruit and retain minority faculty.
schools are making efforts on diversity, but much remains to be
done, Sweeney acknowledged.
and Block found the Envision sessions useful in the context of
the Virginia 2020 planning commissions work.
though we heard many faculty voice concerns with Virginia 2020
initiatives or the process as a whole, most actually understand
and embrace the four areas, Sweeney said. Were
seeing many aspects of Virginia 2020 in the individual school
plans because areas or initiatives overlap.
activities and technology are already being integrated in humanities,
sciences and social sciences. Public service is ingrained in the
culture of many areas of the University, involving and benefiting
students, patients, state residents and members of the global
and Sweeney also asked Envision participants to propose ideas
that would transform the institution and could attract
interest from donors.
addition to continuing the attention to ethics, some other areas
and programs could be created in a relatively short time because
almost all the elements exist right now.
example, a Leadership Center or curriculum could be put together,
building on the Universitys Jeffersonian foundations and
its emphasis on nurturing student leadership. The center could
involve faculty from all of the schools of the University and
offer courses in ethics, medicine, law, history, business, politics
and other areas of strength.
an umbrella program or major in public policy could be formalized,
bringing to bear the expertise of the politics department, the
Miller Center of Public Affairs, the Sorensen Institute for Political
Leadership and the Center for Governmental Studies.
Shannon Center for Advanced Studies, which was originally established
to recruit and retain the best faculty, should be revived, according
to Envision participants. In other meetings, such as the Virginia
2020 planning commissions, faculty repeatedly endorsed this idea.
The University needs to dedicate fund-raising efforts, however,
to make it viable once again.
Architecture looks to create new ties to U.Va. community
Arts & Sciences planner looks forward to more esprit de corps