July 12-25, 2002
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Grainger’s year as Faculty Senate chair yields fruit in research, other key areas

Grainger’s year as Faculty Senate chair yields fruit in research, other key areas

Rob Grainger

Photo by Peggy Harrison

During Rob Grainger’s term as chair, the Faculty Senate

• helped create the Office of Undergraduate Research

• awarded 11 dissertation-year fellowships of $17,000 each

• co-sponsored the Science & Society Lecture Series

• revised its grievance procedure

The Faculty Senate is a representative body which is responsible for faculty participation in University planning and governance. Full Senate meetings are open to the public. For upcoming meeting dates and other information, go to http://www.virginia.edu/

By Matt Kelly

Rob Grainger is glad to be back at his research.

Grainger, 53, has returned to his biology lab after a year as chair of the Faculty Senate. During his tenure, that body addressed undergraduate research and graduate students’ concerns.

“There are certain traditions, and one is that the Senate do something to enrich the intellectual life of the University,” Grainger said.

This year, the Senate was a driving force in creating the Office of Undergraduate Research, originally conceived by Grainger and undergraduates Shadi Kourosh and Lauren Purnell, who helped create the Undergraduate Research Network.

Working with College of Arts & Sciences Dean Ed Ayers and Vice President and Provost Gene Block, Grainger brought the idea across the finish line, combining it with the College Fellowship Office under the direction of Nicole Hurd.

“We wanted a permanent office for undergraduate research. It seemed that every door we went through people said it was a great idea and something that we must do right away,” Grainger said. He praised Block and Ayers for their support and willingness to find money in their budgets, along with some money from President John T. Casteen III.

It was a logical extension for the Senate since it screens applicants for the prestigious David A. Harrison III Undergraduate Research Awards.

“It’s a pleasure to read those applications,” Grainger said.

The Senate also focused this year on the plight of graduate students, many of whom teach and perform research.

“There’s the out-of-state tuition question, and then there’s the stipends that do not compete with what [other universities] are offering,” Grainger said, noting that the quality of graduate students the University is able to attract has a major effect on faculty research. “If you have one exceptional graduate student, that can propel your research. But if you have a poor one, that steals time.”

Out-of-state graduate students are charged higher tuition than in-state graduate students. The Senate was able to award 11 dissertation-year fellowships, at $17,000 each, but Grainger fears budget woes may hamper future awards.

An endowment of $100 million is needed to generate the money needed to pay graduate students, said Grainger, who said he now better understands the effort that goes into raising private money for education.

The Senate was also active in generating the Science and Society Lecture Series, sponsored jointly with the Institute for Practical Ethics, to make complex ideas and problems more accessible.

The series featured Nobel Prize winners, biotech specialists and speakers on global health. While much of the series was scheduled before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, with topics such as exploring stem cell research, later lectures featured speakers on bio-terrorism and global health.

In conjunction with the lecture series, an undergraduate course on science and society expanded the audience to about 150 students each semester.
The College also created a human biology major during Grainger’s watch, addressing many of the science and society areas. This helps satisfy the Jeffersonian mandate of building the sciences at U.Va., he said.

Aside from the intellectual issues, the Senate also handled two governance matters. It approved a revised grievance procedure and worked out a policy on terminations and suspensions. The policy is now being reviewed by the provost’s office.

After his year in office, Grainger can better appreciate the complexity of running a university the size of U.Va. and how well some people are doing it. It is easier for faculty to criticize the administration than see the challenges it faces, he said, adding that he is grateful for the response he has gotten from administrators.
“Even with the budget cuts, we said we needed raises for the newly promoted faculty members,” he said. And he got them.

The chair’s post is a three-year term, with the first year as chair-elect, learning the ropes, and the third year as past chair, giving advice to his or her successor. Grainger credits his predecessor, Patricia H. Werhane, with guiding him and hopes he can provide valuable advice to Michael Smith, the current chair.

Despite the one-year preparation, Grainger was surprised how much time the job took. “There were requests from so many directions that it took a good fraction of my weekly schedule,” he said. “I’ll be very happy to have no more 7:30 a.m. cabinet meetings.”


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