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An Eye to the Future

Summer 2007

Summertime in Charlottesville this year will be a respite between semesters and also a time of hard work as we continue a significant planning project that has to do with both the ongoing capital campaign and the University's longer-term future. In March, the Commission on the Future of the University, a group charged with proposing directions for the University for the next decade, picked up assignments pursued for over a year by departing Provost Gene Block, who becomes UCLA's chancellor in July, and a special committee of the Board of Visitors. Tim Garson and Leonard Sandridge are serving as commission co-chairs. Bob Sweeney is advising the commission on non-state resources and the means to obtain them.

The commission is conducting its business through four committees that concentrate on four distinct but related areas: Schools and the Medical Center; Programmatic Initiatives; Faculty and Student Life; and Funding and Other Resources. Committee members include vice presidents, deans, faculty members, students, and others with valuable expertise. These groups are charged with defining strategies to enhance excellence and to distinguish the University from competitors in teaching, research resources, faculty and student affairs, global programming, including instruction and research, opportunities and obligations related to our public mandates, and service to Virginia.

Planning of this kind has a long and honorable history here. In at least two prior committees on the future of the University, one formed to assess the issues of the late 1960s (coeducation, desegregation, enrollment growth, graduate programs) and a second created in the early 1990s to plot our course after cuts in state tax appropriations that led eventually to the Campaign for the the University of Virginia (1995-2000) and the restructuring or charter bills of 2005 and 2006, faculty members, alumni, and others have done similar work that did indeed predict our future.

Perhaps needless to say, managing and directing an enterprise with some 20,000-plus students here in Charlottesville and another 2,000 or so elsewhere, an estimated 13,000 employees, and total annual expenditures that exceed $2 billion now, requires considerable and systematic planning. The commission was created to deliver the ten-year academic plan sought by the Board of Visitors as a mechanism to empower future boards and presidents to assess and no doubt alter directions set now under several strategic plans that are shorter in term and more tightly tied to predictable revenues and other resources. Under the 2005 and 2006 restructuring legislation, we have developed and now operate under a different kind of six-year plan that deals with enrollments, tuition charges, and similar matters that interest the state.

We are still implementing some parts of the Virginia 2020 plans that alumni helped devise in the late 1990s. These have proved uncommonly successful because (perhaps for the first time) they gave us strategic directions for strengthening then-weak programs. Gertrude Fraser, the vice provost responsible for faculty development, has completed and begun implementing plans for faculty recruitment and retention. Her early successes have included orderly progress toward diversifying faculty backgrounds and training department chairs in the managerial elements of their assignments, with more to come. Accreditation and licensure authorities now require plans in our submissions to them, and we are now implementing an accreditation plan that has to do with improving student access to faculty members. And of course the Capital Campaign is driven by planning, including essentially all of the efforts mentioned here. The commission will draw on all of these planning efforts, and its eventual product will assemble all of them in a coherent whole.

Timing is important. The restructured relationship with the state, a stable financial base for the first time since the early 1980s, triple-A bond ratings, investments from the last capital campaign, and an endowment that stands among the top 20 in the nation let us plan now from a position of strength that we may not have had when similar initiatives began in the past. Provosts are central to what universities of our kind can accomplish. The transition in that post makes it timely to assess our academic purposes and directions. Leonard Sandridge's retirement in three or so years and my own departure, somewhat later, make planning at this time an essential tool for the Board to use in ensuring smooth and positive transitions from one leadership era to another. Perhaps more so than in most times, wise and comprehensive planning now can predict a sound future for the University.

The timeline for completing this work is tight, not least because planning is an enabler rather than an end result. The committees will deliver drafts by May 15. The new provost will consider and no doubt amend these plans during the summer, and return them for review to the committees in September 2007. By the end of the fall semester, a complete draft will come to me, and then to the Board's Special Committee on Planning, and the full Board. The commission members will work with the Board and me to finalize the plan and publish it following Board action on it, probably in February 2008.

During its April meeting, the Board of Visitors passed a unanimous resolution commending Virginia's General Assembly for enacting its 2007 resolution expressing regret for the history of slavery in Virginia, and it included in its resolution specific acknowledgment that enslaved persons worked extensively within the University during the period between 1825 and 1865. The Board's resolution also reaffirmed the University's commitment "to the principles of equal opportunity and to the principle that human freedom and learning are and must be inextricably linked in this Commonwealth and in this Republic."

The Board passed its resolution on Thomas Jefferson's birthday, the day we celebrate as Founder's Day. That human slavery is incompatible with the ideals of human freedom upon which this University was founded will resonate with anyone who has thought deeply about the institution and its origins. Earlier in the year, the Board authorized a memorial marker to remember and honor the mostly anonymous persons, enslaved and free, who constructed our first buildings. The marker is now installed in the pavement on the south side of the Rotunda.

Board member Don Pippin of Wise perhaps stated most succinctly and best the general community sentiment that makes these actions timely and significant. As he voted on the resolution, Mr. Pippin said, "It's about time."

John T. Casteen III