State of U
Casteen cites protests, touts progress in address
By Matt Kelly and Jeff Hanna
Photo by Dan Addison
|President Casteen refers to student protests at the State of the University Address.
During his annual State of the University address on April 21, University of Virginia President John T. Casteen III referred to recent protests by students for changes in the compensation of classified staff by calling their proposition “so revolutionary in its implications that it deserves to be understood by every citizen.”
Speaking to a crowd of approximately 300 in Old Cabell Hall, including about 50 student protesters who identified themselves with sashes, Casteen wove comments about the ongoing discussion on compensation into a wide-ranging speech that touched on both recent accomplishments at the University as well as plans for the future.
Observing that “revolution or at least contemplation of it, ought to be a constant prospect” at the University, Casteen said that the arguments the students have made require careful consideration.
Casteen said that the students’ call for a “living wage” would not only reduce government’s accountability but would relocate responsibilities with employers.
“We need to understand whether there is to be a devolution of responsibility for controlling poverty from the government to individual employers,” Casteen said. “We need to understand the nature of the public mandate. The General Assembly needs to take positions; it needs to declare what the law is to be.”
Casteen closed the speech by returning to workplace issues, which he cited as a source of strength for the University. “The demographics of our workforce — classified employees, faculty and so on — tell a story about an opportunity. They say that the capacity to make dramatic differences in people’s lives is out there and not far away. They say that the opportunities for advancement as employees take advantage of the educational programs that we offer, the opportunities for better and fair compensation, and the opportunities for impact on the world around us are larger at this point than at any time in my recollection or knowledge. That’s the job. That’s what we do for the future.”
Earlier Casteen cautioned that the governor and the General Assembly had reached an impasse on the state budget, and this will have an impact on every level of government, including support for the University. Among the key areas put at risk are research initiatives and classified-staff pay.
The inability to rely on the state makes the University more reliant on its $3.4 billion endowment, private giving and tuition to fund its operation. While tuition will increase at a “measured pace,” the University has introduced AccessUVA, a program that limits student debt for college.
More than 700 students in the Class of 2009 fall under that program, Casteen said, with about 200 of them receiving loan-free scholarships. U.Va. is also accepting more students from community colleges.
The graduation rate of students over the past six years has been 92.5 percent, the highest for public universities, he said. At the same time, U.Va. had the highest graduation rate for African-American students among all public colleges.
But while he praised students’ academic and public service achievements, he sounded the alarm about violent altercations and excessive drinking among students.
“Almost every serious incident of physical assault, sexual assault and property destruction among students involves excessive use of alcohol,” he said.
While he said there is a trend toward having fewer incidents, these incidents are more severe. Emergency Room visits by students have increased,” Casteen said.
He also cited the dangers of Web sites at which students post personal and intimate data, attracting predators.
Faculty members were praised for their accomplishments, but Casteen cited pending retirements which will provide “challenges” and “opportunities.”
“We have many retirements on the horizon among faculty and among classified staff,” Casteen said. “Fifty-one percent of our tenure-track faculty are between the ages of 50 and 69.”
The University is trying to address these issues in its long-range planning, which has included expanded undergraduate offerings, such as the January term, expanded study abroad opportunities and increased undergraduate research.
Also part of its long-range planning is the University’s $3 billion fund-raising campaign, which would fund $1 billion in capital projects, $1 billion for faculty positions and student aid and the final billion for general endowments. Casteen said about $901 million had been raised by the end of March, six months in advance of the national kick-off on Sept. 30.
“In the days ahead we will need to focus on creating endowment proposals,” Casteen said. “Despite its brisk beginning, a campaign of this kind is a marathon, not a sprint, and planning for academic programs is its core.”