Strengthening the Academic Enterprise

Much of the credit for the University's emphasis on the intellectual community that Jefferson envisioned goes to a series of educational programs pioneered by the Faculty Senate. In conjunction with the Office of the Provost, the senate this year awarded its second set of grants to promote excellence in teaching. This year's initiatives support thirty-one activities that were judged to have a long-term impact on undergraduate education. They will allow faculty to tackle such projects as launching a new art history class in Chinese painting, integrating information technology into foreign language instruction, and creating an archive of photos from American history since Reconstruction. The provost's office has agreed to fund these grants for another year, and the University's Teaching Resource Center sponsored a forum in the fall to highlight a sampling of these innovative ideas.

Faculty members here have also created a seminar series to cross boundaries between disciplines and promote collaboration. This year's seminar topics included Moral Character and Action, The Changing Cultures of Race, and Cellular Imaging Microscopy. 

 

David T. Gles,
Chair of the Faculty Senate

A Forum for the Entire University

The resurgence of intellectual pursuits at the University owes much to the vigorous leadership of the Faculty Senate. Former senate chairs Rebecca D. Kneedler and Jahan Ramazani were among the first proponents of expanding intellectual and cultural activities at the University, and their work has been carried on by their successors, Edward L. Ayers and David T. Gies.

Among initiatives sponsored by the senate is the Forum for Contemporary Thought, which brings scholars from around the nation to discuss important issues of moment. Another initiative is the Faculty Senate Speakers Bureau; more than fifty faculty members have volunteered to participate in this service, which offers talks by U.Va. faculty to alumni and citizen groups around the Commonwealth.

The Faculty Senate was a driving force behind moving the Interfraternity Council's rush from first to second semester. The change has given first-year students time to acquaint themselves with the University and become acclimated to student life.

Projects this year are being organized under the theme "Teaching, Research, and the Creation of Knowledge."

As part of the faculty's effort to broaden areas of expertise, the University launched a number of new degree programs this year. With the introduction of a program for high school physics teachers, the University of Virginia became the first in the nation to offer a master of arts in Physics Education. The Faculty Senate also approved a new doctoral program in music. If approved by the Board of Visitors and the Commonwealth of Virginia, it will be the only music Ph.D. program offered in the state.

Gaining New Perspectives

The University community gains new perspectives from the leadership of individual faculty members. History professor Gary W. Gallagher, one of the nation's leading experts on the military history of the Civil War, brought eight other authorities on the Civil War to the University for a conference on military, political, and cultural aspects of the conflict.

Karen Van Lengen, an award-winning architect and former chair of the architecture department at the Parsons School of Design, was named dean of the School of Architecture. She replaces another innovator, William A. McDonough, who was one of five people Time magazine named as a "Hero of the Planet"for contributions to environmental design.

Discovering Knowledge

The quality of the research and investigation that is done at the University of Virginia is underscored by record funding for research, which reached $188 million in fiscal year 1998-99, a 15 percent improvement from the previous year.

• The Howard Hughes Medical Institute awarded the Department of Biology a $1.2 million grant to strengthen its undergraduate program. The grant was matched by $550,000 from the University's provost's office.

• With a five-year, $4.2 million grant from the National Cancer Institute, researchers led by microbiologist Michael J. Weber will study the factors that produce aggressive forms of prostate cancers. They hope to prevent malignancies from occurring.

• Dr. William Petri, an infectious disease specialist, is leading a team of researchers from the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech who are creating strains of food that contain edible vaccines, an outcome of particular interest to health officials in developing countries. The project is supported by a five-year, $3.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.

 

Giving People the Skills to Make a Difference

One of the most satisfying activities for University faculty is sharing their knowledge with those who can use it immediately. In many cases, these activities occur far from the traditional classroom. For instance, the Center for the Study of Mind and Human Interaction has successfully adapted the principles of psychoanalysis to help resolve conflicts that can cripple, not only an individual, but an entire society. With the support of the Pew Charitable Trusts, the center has pioneered programs in Estonia and elsewhere that have reduced ethnic violence.

In other cases, faculty members help educators increase their effectiveness in the classroom. Former astronaut Kathryn Thornton is heading a program that offers cross-disciplinary courses to student teachers in math, science, and engineering. In the process, she is exposing them to a hands-on model of education that goes beyond simple rote memorization.

Another example of public service is the Thomas C. Sorenson Institute for Political Leadership, which prepares aspiring civic leaders for the rigors of campaigning and elected office. Fellows selected for the program meet one weekend a month for ten months, gaining skills as they refine their positions on the issues.

Kathryn Thornton, Director of the Center for Science, Math, and Engineering, has developed programs for high school and middle school teachers on using school yards and athletic fields to illustrate the principles of biology, chemistry, and physics.

• School of Nursing professor Barbara Parker's research demonstrated that a structured intervention program succeeds in reducing violence against women during pregnancy. Her research was funded by the Centers for Disease Control.

• Mary E. Ropka, associate professor of nursing, coauthored a book on HIV and symptom management that was recently named one of the best books of 1998 by the Nurse Practitioner Journal.

• Faculty members at the Curry School of Education received a grant of almost $675,000 to help doctoral students gain a better understanding of the ethnic and cultural issues in special education.

• With the help of a $2.5 million award from the National Science Foundation, several University science and engineering departments are working with counterparts at other institutions in the state to create a multidisciplinary laser research and education program.

• An international effort led by William C. Keene, a research associate professor of environmental sciences, has produced the first gridded global inventory of harmful chlorine emissions in the atmosphere. 

Transforming Information into Knowledge

The quickening pace of research and teaching in virtually all fields is being driven by rapid advances in computing power and the kind of enhanced communication represented by the Internet. Together they offer the possibility of diffusing knowledge widely and almost instantaneously, of creating virtual research groups and classrooms, and presenting information in new, more easily understood forms.

The new information technologies have already had a pervasive effect on every aspect of the academic enterprise at the University. The Internet has allowed the Bayly Museum, for example, to overcome its size constraints--it can display only 5 percent of its collections at any one time--by mounting a virtual art gallery on the Internet. While it cannot compare to viewing the actual works of art, the online exhibits come close, featuring three-dimensional "tours"of works on display.

With 40,000 texts in twelve languages and more than 19,000 related images, the University's Electronic Text Center is one of the leaders in making texts in the humanities available online around the world. With support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the center and the library's Special Collections Department are digitizing original editions of nineteenth-century American fiction, thus aiding in the preservation of these valuable resources.

Information technologies are creating new opportunities in the classroom as well. John A. Griffin (Com '85) taught a course for future hedge fund managers this year from his New York office. The broadband technology that makes Griffin's class possible is also being used extensively by the Division of Continuing Education. This year, the division debuted a new communication system that can accommodate simultaneous real-time, two-way video and audio communication. An instructor in Charlottesville can teach students gathered in regional centers around the Commonwealth.

Information technologies, while no substitute for the shared experience of the classroom, have the advantage of fostering new communities of learners by allowing more people to benefit from knowledge the University has to offer.