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Letter to Alumni and Friends of the University

May 2002

Springtime came on Charlottesville and the University with a note of uncertainty this year. Our winter was mild and dry. As the days lengthened, the redbuds and daffodils appeared at about the usual time, but their blossoms (nipped by an April freeze and probably somewhat parched) were less plentiful and perhaps thinner than usual. The last two weeks of April, however, turned wet, and the spring we thought we knew suddenly became a green riot. Our Garden Week visitors found the Grounds wearing their most splendid colors. At Carr's Hill, the mountain laurels on the west side of the stone oval garden came in as a purple blaze, and—prompted by the rains—seasonal flowers suddenly appeared everywhere.

So in one sense this is the best of seasons in Charlottesville. Mild springs seem to whisper "celebration" to the residents of our end of Rugby Road, as they break out shorts and sandals, savor the additional daylight hours, and make plans for the summer vacation just ahead. This year, the pre-exam festivities have included a day-long concert in Mad Bowl, complete with student-run entertainments for neighborhood children and dogs chasing Frisbees; the customary end-of-year social events in sororities, fraternities, dormitories, and other places where students gather; and each weekend at least two or three formal events that have had students lined up in long dresses or tuxedos waiting for the buses they now charter to take them off-Grounds. For better or worse, springtime also whispers "big papers" and "exam time," and the libraries have been filled with students doing final papers, studying, working the long evening hours that become for many the fondest memories of life and learning here. All in all, an agreeable and affirmative season.

My annual State of the University address was on April 24 in the Old Cabell Hall Auditorium. Addressing the themes that matter to faculty and students this year, I gave an overview of the state's financial condition, which is once again (or perhaps in our times, as usual) poor, and its impact on the University, which is fairly severe. I discussed progress on the Virginia 2020 plans and similar designs for the University's future; our continuing movement toward self-sufficiency—defined in several ways; and a set of issues involving students and their well-being, a topic on which we now have more good news than bad news to report.

The financial news from Richmond resembles what we heard in 1990–92 when Governor Wilder ordered temporary cuts that became permanent cuts and ultimately, a massive stand-down from prior levels of state support for Virginia's public colleges. In this period, state support for the University dropped from approximately 28 percent of our revenues, which it had been for a generation, to about 12 percent. As a consequence, state tax support for faculty salaries has met the Commonwealth's own guidelines in only one year out of the past twelve. And state tax support per in-state student is now no higher than $13,000, compared to $24,000 at Chapel Hill, $22,000 at Berkeley, and $17,000 at Ann Arbor.

This year, the problems look somewhat like those of 1990: A recession (albeit less severe this time) has combined with unhappy decisions about managing the state's resources to create an historically unprecedented structural deficit in the state's finances—one now calculated at no less than $3.8 billion over the course of two and a half years. As required by law, the Governor and the General Assembly have taken the first steps in response to this circumstance by cutting allotments and appropriations. The budget for the year beginning on July 1 has been cut by $25 million, or 16 percent below the budget with which we began the current year. Of this total, $12 million has been cut from the academic budget.

Partial remedies: Students will replace about half of this money by paying higher tuition (a 9 percent increase for in-state undergraduates, 8.5 percent for out-of-state undergraduates). Prices will remain well below what they are in the universities with which we commonly compete for students, and indeed below what they were for in-state students in 1993–94. But these increases are real, and they matter to those who must budget the dollars to pay them. By cutting the base budgets of academic departments by 4.35 percent and administrative departments by 4.6 percent, we will make up the other half. Essentially all parts of the University will feel the sting of these price increases and budget cuts.

That said, I can recall no legislative session of the last decade that matched this one for its willingness to face hard issues. Not every problem got solved, but the General Assembly made good beginnings on many fronts. For the first time ever, Virginia has a long-range capital plan for construction of public buildings, and Governor Warner has undertaken with legislative leaders to back a General Obligation Bond measure (the fourth in Virginia's history) that will go to the voters in November. The General Assembly and the Governor found means to provide limited, but heartily welcome, relief in the form of small bonuses for state employees (including faculty), who had no pay increases last year. The enacted budget contains no increases (other than the one-time payment in the range of 2.5 percent of salary) for them for two more years. Commentators say Virginia is still learning how the two-party system works, and the newspapers have played up discord when it appeared—and sometimes when it did not appear, at least to my eye and ear. But I believe that in the longer view the state has turned an important corner.

One might expect that the news from Richmond would create panic here, and indeed people are disturbed about the sudden change in the Commonwealth's financial health. Yet the panic that we confronted in 1990, when the last recession caught Virginia unawares, has not occurred this time, perhaps because the tragic events of last year have taught us lessons in proportions. The Cavalier Daily has editorialized in favor of raising tuition to retain top faculty. CD headlines this spring have included "Raise It!" and "Raise It More!" And we are holding our own and even gaining our share in the annual battle for top faculty talent. In a year that has seen the return of activism of various kinds, students and faculty remain upbeat, and our Board of Visitors is actively at work on planning for the next giant step toward financial self-sufficiency—a capital campaign that we will open in mid-decade to fund the models of excellence contained in the Virginia 2020 plans.

Not all of the news is ominous. Indeed, wonderful reports have come from sources other than our state in its financial distress. In April, we announced a $52.6 million bequest from the late Ward Buchanan (Law, 1914) to create an unrestricted endowment for the Medical Center. This gift, the second largest ever, is the result of estate plans made more than sixty years ago by Mr. Buchanan, a retired Procter & Gamble executive who died in 1942. Like a notable recent gift from Board of Visitors member William H. Goodwin, Jr. (Darden, 1966), to accelerate clinical trials of promising cancer vaccines and the longtime support of David A. Harrison, III (College, 1939; Law, 1941), who has made significant commitments to medical education and research, Mr. Buchanan's gift sustains essential advances in patient care and medical science.

In another gesture remarkable for both its timeliness and its thoughtfulness, an anonymous donor has created a $5 million challenge fund to spur completion of new buildings for the fine and performing arts. The fund will match contributions of up to $1 million from other donors for facilities on the new Arts Grounds, including theaters, recital halls, galleries, and teaching studios. Carl Smith (College, 1951), whose gift set the stage for rebuilding and expanding Scott Stadium here in Charlottesville, has recently added $3 million to an earlier gift of $2 million to complete the football stadium now entering its final building phase at the University's College at Wise.

Earlier this year, we began formal planning for eventual use of Morven Farm, the core property in John Kluge's unprecedented gift of real estate last year. With its historic structures, stunning landscapes and gardens, and varied terrain, Morven holds great potential for teaching, research, and public outreach related to diverse fields, including architectural history, landscape architecture, and environmental sciences. Morven may someday become a center for visiting writers and artists and perhaps corporate leaders, distinguished scholars, government officials, and others who will gather there to share ideas and find common ground for work to improve life for those who follow us. These and many other possibilities are being explored now. Mr. Kluge intended for us to sell the non-core properties in his gift to fund activities and maintenance at Morven itself. In recent months, six of the eleven farms in Mr. Kluge's gift have been sold to purchasers (including Charlottesville's own Dave Matthews) who plan to preserve their rural character.

Although we are not our students' parents, many here think about students in ways that echo Cicero's question, "Of all nature's gifts to the human race, what is sweeter to a man than his children?" The student experience continues to be every faculty member's and every staff member's concern here. A current issue: I have been reading statistics on alcohol use and abuse among young people. The National Institutes of Health has just published a report to the effect that each year 1,400 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die, 500,000 are injured, more than 600,000 are assaulted, and 70,000 become victims of sexual assaults or date rapes in alcohol-related incidents. Yet here at the University, data are beginning to indicate signs of positive change—for once, we are not leading the trend. In 2001, surveys showed that our students consumed 6.6 drinks in an average week. In 2002, the surveys indicate our students consumed 3.6 drinks in an average week, a 45 percent decline.

Much of the credit for this gain, which probably marks the midpoint of a genuine trend, belongs to the students themselves. Life in the new International Residential College in Mumford and Gwathmey halls, in the sororities and fraternities that are my own nearest neighbors, and in student residences and gathering places across our Grounds and out in the community reflects what I think is the wholesomeness and growing resilience of this generation of young people. Shocked into sudden adulthood by 9-11 and the events since then, and drawn into the realm of global reality far more brutally than young Americans have been since Vietnam, today's students live nonetheless the convictions that grow out of their experiences in their home communities and their experiences here with the Honor System and the Judiciary System. They have had a lot of help from their families and from faculty and staff, but they do the most important things on their own.

To my mind, our students are making the most of life and learning here, and I continue to be delighted and impressed by their desire to explore fresh intellectual territory. Undergraduates nowadays pursue independent research projects in close collaboration with faculty mentors. The Faculty Senate has fostered this work through a competitive research awards program, funded in part from Mr. Harrison's charitable lead trust. The College now promotes and supports undergraduate research through a dean dedicated to this purpose, and the students have created their own research network and even their own scholarly journal, The Oculus, named for the skylight in the Rotunda.

In our attention to undergraduates, we do not forget about our graduate students, who are vital participants in the academic enterprise. The need for competitive levels of financial support for graduate students has existed for many years, but was made even more clear by a new survey of graduate students who declined our offers of admission. Better than half the respondents cited inadequate financial aid as an important or very important factor in their decisions to go elsewhere. The Faculty Senate has taken its own steps to meet this need with a new competitive fellowship program to support graduate students during the dissertation year. Recipients are selected both for the quality of their research and for their performance in the classroom as graduate teaching assistants. The Senate has just awarded eleven fellowships (out of sixty applicants) providing tuition, fees, and insurance, as well as stipends of approximately $17,000. The need for support of this kind has now become a central University concern to be addressed in fund raising, in budgets for funded programs, and in requests for state appropriations.

The Health System continues to strengthen its clinical, research, and educational missions. Two recent appointments should help a great deal. I have just named Arthur "Tim" Garson, Jr., now senior vice president and academic dean for operations at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, to become dean of our School of Medicine and vice president, effective in late June. Earlier, on February 25, I appointed R. Edward Howell, formerly director and CEO of the University of Iowa's hospitals and clinics and managing partner of University of Iowa Health Care, Inc., to be CEO of our Medical Center (i.e., the hospitals and clinical enterprises) and vice president. Together, these two new leaders will strengthen collaboration between the School of Medicine and the Medical Center. The goal is to build atop foundations that are already excellent: a future of first-rate medical care for patients, groundbreaking research in the basic sciences, and medical education second to none.

In addition to the budget, other difficult issues have arisen this spring. Several were addressed in various ways by persons who posed questions at the end of my State of the University speech. A consortium of environmental activists and San Carlos and White Mountain Apaches in Arizona oppose a proposal that we invest in a new high-powered binocular observatory now nearing completion on Mt. Graham, considered sacred ground by many Apaches. Their representative came to speak following my presentation. Gene Block, the provost, is now working with parties on the several sides of this issue in an effort to resolve the conflict. We have a local variant of the national debate about the living wage issue. Activists have located in Charlottesville in recent years to seek support for a minimum wage higher than the legal minimum wage. This spring they have urged us to require contractors who do business with us to pay their lowest-paid employees a minimum of $8.65 per hour. I acknowledged this issue in the speech, but said also that Virginia law does not enable us to dictate the wages paid by contractors, and that so far I see little momentum within the General Assembly to change this. The living wage issue did not arise separately in the comments after my speech, but related issues having to do with local efforts to organize workers into labor unions did. Various speakers addressed other issues—the number of women and minority faculty and the number of minority students; the need for adequate financial aid for research and teaching assistants; and more. Important issues in our time and within the University.

Whatever he might think about the issues themselves, Mr. Jefferson would, I believe, admire the discourse for the spirit and decency with which participants have conducted it. Addressing questions from persons who are not happy or likely to be happy with one's responses is not easy. One participant compared it to fielding hardballs with bare hands. But I understand, as no doubt you do, that free speech really is free, and that people have the right to ask even the hard questions of those who are responsible to them. Not all agree on the hard issues. Not all are certain of their positions. But discourse of this kind is democracy's lifeblood.

My morning walks these days take me to the new baseball stadium built atop the old one near the soccer stadium, to the construction fences that surround the yard in front of Alderman Library and the new labs at the back of Clark Hall, to the colonnades along the Lawn where early in the day students say hello as they walk along (some wearing bathrobes and carrying towels on their way to morning showers), and then on down to the Corner, where somehow all things change and all things stay the same, and sometimes up around Observatory Hill, where even with the leaves back on the trees I can make out the gleam on the Rotunda's and Monticello's domes.

May this season find you and yours well and happy, and may you soon come back this way. The invitation to come and drink of the cup of knowledge with us is as open today as it was in 1825. Soon middle-schoolers will appear in groups to begin the summer's academic and sports camps, alumni will come for Reunions or Summer on the Lawn or a dozen other programs, and buses full of senior citizens will stop by the Chapel and wait while their occupants walk through the gardens and the central Grounds. Already, the spring season of weddings in the Chapel and receptions in the gardens has begun, and each day I see brides and grooms and families and friends posing for photographs under Mr. Jefferson's sycamores and alongside the serpentine walls.

Say hello when you come, and thank you for your concern and support for the University and for the people and things it holds dear.