A New Leader for the University
Michael Strine joined the University of Virginia July 2011 as the new executive vice president and chief operating officer. He succeeds Leonard W. Sandridge, who stepped down on July 1 after forty-four years at U.Va. Mr. Strine was vice president for finance, chief financial officer and treasurer for the Johns Hopkins University before coming to U.Va. He oversees the financial affairs of the University and each of its schools and divisions, including the Medical Center. In addition, several key operational and administrative areas, such as human resources, facilities, real estate, and public safety, report to him.
Q. You've only had a short time to become familiar with the University. What have you been doing to get up to speed? Who have you been meeting with and have you had a chance to get to know your way around the Grounds and the Medical Center?
I have visited U.Va. throughout my life as it has grown and changed. Much is familiar and there is always something new to learn. Building strong relationships based on trust and transparency is critically important to the important work ahead of us. So spending time with the deans, faculty, and staff in places across the Grounds and Medical Center has been the highest priority during my transition and will continue to be so. Understanding the programmatic goals and needs of the faculty, staff, and students of this University is essential to my role in helping to coordinate resources and energy in support of those goals. I will be forever grateful for the thoughtful transition that people like Leonard Sandridge provided in being so generous with their time in orienting me physically, culturally, and otherwise so that I could sustain momentum and begin adding value on strategic priorities.
Q. What are your impressions of the University so far?
I am continually impressed by the strategic focus and quality of the dialogue of the Rector and Board of Visitors on the core issues facing excellent public institutions of higher education, the strong and deep relationship that President Sullivan has quickly established in every corner of the University and greater Charlottesville community, and the quality, thoughtfulness, and warmth of my colleagues as I transition and we begin working together. But ultimately the distinct values of honor, service, and self-governance that exude from every member of the faculty, staff, students, parents, and alumni make the strongest impression of this great University. That distinctiveness is priceless.
Q. What is U.Va.'s current financial picture? What are the challenges it faces and what strengths can it draw on going forward?
It is a critical time in our nation's history, where some are questioning the public value of University-based research, the cost of undergraduate degrees, and the outcomes of our investments in health care. The University of Virginia is not alone in facing financial challenges ahead. With the headwinds in the global and national economies and the political stalemate in Washington, we must expect pressure on the key revenue sources that support our mission. That said, the stakes are in many ways higher in a public institution because the public investment and all else is much more transparent and therefore more highly accountable, as it should be. The key for us is putting our best foot forward and making clear our record of serving the public with effective and efficient use of resources to deliver high-quality education, patient care, and research that leverages that investment with great returns to our society.
Q. Part of what you do is lead the financial and capital planning and budgeting processes. You'll be working with the provost to develop and implement a new responsibility-based budget model for the University. How would you describe this process and can you tell us a little about your approach for a model that recognizes changes in state funding levels, research support, philanthropic giving, and investment returns?
Our collective capacity to discover, educate, and care for patients and communities and to extend our commitment to public service will advance when we can better and more sustainably align our aspirations with resources. The new internal financial model should be transparent, provide incentives to extend our mission, and be grounded in sound stewardship of the University's resources. We are unique, so it is not possible or wise to transport the budget model of another institution to Virginia. We can learn from others, but must create a model that serves the distinctive mission and fits with the special culture of honor, service, and excellence that defines our institution and its people. This work affects us all and the work we do together. The provost and I are committed to regularly communicating across the Grounds, in groups large and small, in person, and through other means, to ensure that we move together through this important time of empowerment and change. Given the complexity and importance of this undertaking, we anticipate implementing a new budget model for the 2013 -14 fiscal year.
Q. What's ahead for the Health System, which is a growing source of support for the University and faces a different set of financial challenges?
The environment for health care in the country is undergoing significant change. Health care reform, financial pressures, and changing demographics are among the forces that have made strategic planning for the future of our academic medical center to be among the highest priorities this year for leadership across the institution. The Medical Center is poised to advance the quality of care for patients and their families while extending its capacity to translate discovery into improved medical practice. With the strength of faculty, facilities, and its balance sheet, the Medical Center is well positioned to execute on these emerging strategic priorities.
Q. What is your early assessment of the University's relationship with the Commonwealth?
From all that I have seen and heard, it is apparent to me that the University is well respected in Richmond. Many individuals at the University have worked to build respectful, credible, productive, professional relationships with government officials, legislators, and state agency personnel.
The Restructuring paradigm has laid the foundation for further progress, and in 2011 the governor and the General Assembly enacted the Virginia Higher Education Opportunity Act. This legislation complements the Restructuring Act and signals the Commonwealth's recognition of the importance of higher education. One of the many objectives of the HEOA is to consider how the principles of Restructuring might be further enhanced. We are working with other institutions to propose additional ways in which we can simplify our work with state agencies. I am pleased that the Commonwealth recognizes the success of Restructuring to date and is open to considering additional ways to further the autonomy-accountability model.
The governor and other key policy leaders value the University's role in preparing a highly qualified workforce, creating jobs, contributing to economic growth, and improving the health and welfare of citizens. The University has demonstrated its commitment to the goals of the Commonwealth by our willingness to grow the number of students, especially in fields of science, technology, engineering, math, and health fields; our consideration of new and creative ways to educate our students; and the diversification of our research agenda. For the University to fulfill these commitments, however, the state will need to provide its share of funding to support faculty and student services. State financial support is a vital component to achieving excellence. The Virginia Higher Education Opportunity Act legislation provides a strong framework for the Commonwealth and public higher education institutions to work together to advance the good of the Commonwealth and its citizens.
Q. Are there other priorities on your "To Do" list?
As our strategic priorities and resource allocation model change, it is critical to ensure that we develop and align the capacity of people, systems, and operations to support the mission. In such a dynamic period, we will be investing energy and time in building and maintaining relationships, enhancing the culture of customer service, and making sure our faculty, staff, and students feel supported in the work they do. At my core, I am an educator who believes that great things come through the thoughtful application of time and effort together with others. So my approach is pretty simple. Do my best. Find committed and excellent people. Help them do their best. Together we can serve those who teach, learn, discover, care for patients, and contribute to the community.
Q. Faculty salaries are now falling in relationship to our peers. Do you foresee the University being able to raise salaries for faculty and for staff?
People are our biggest investment. Therefore, recruiting and retaining the highest quality of faculty, clinicians, staff, and students is the single most important strategic objective and risk. The commitment of our people to this University is unparalleled and has sustained our excellence through years of no pay increases. Recognizing that this cannot continue, the president set as a priority identifying funds to deliver merit-based pay increases. Going forward, I expect that we will continue to prioritize rewarding performance and investing resources in retaining and attracting faculty and staff of the highest quality.