Letter From President Casteen
April 12, 2005
Dear University Colleague:
The Higher Education Restructuring Bill has been the subject of much
discussion this past year here and across the state and even the
Virginia became the focus of national attention as it grappled with
how to address necessary changes to its system of higher education.
If you attended one of the six University briefings held through the
fall and winter, you perhaps got a good sense of what was happening
and of the many voices that were heard throughout the process. You
also would know that we are on the brink of changes that can
transform higher education and at the same time preserve the
character and quality of Jefferson's great legacy, the University of
I am grateful for the work done on the University's behalf by the
many people who helped guide these changes to coincide with the best
interests of the Commonwealth, its citizens, and all members of our
own community. While you may not have been involved yourself, many of
our colleagues and our Board members worked hard for two years to
achieve this result, and their work will have a lasting impact.
Governor Warner and the General Assembly also are to be thanked for
going beyond the call of duty to bring varied perspectives to the
table as the details of the bill were hammered out and voted into
law. Governor Warner recently called the bill "the most sweeping
change in our outstanding system of public higher education in
decades." Many have said that it is the most important legislation
on higher education in Virginia since 1819.
In summarizing, Governor Warner said: "In the effort to provide
colleges and universities with more predictability and flexibility,
we have worked to ensure that Virginians see tangible benefits, like
improved access, affordability, and quality. And in return for
additional autonomy from the state, the institutions must remain
committed to enterprise-wide government reforms . . . We worked to
make sure all employees are treated the same in areas like retirement
and health insurance, and that existing employees have an initial
choice - and then regular opportunities - to enter a new university
As you know, we plan to make application to become a Level Three
institution, a classification that gives the Board of Visitors full
responsibility for managing the University's operations in several
key areas that directly affect our capacity to accomplish our
mission. These include capital outlay, procurement, information
technology, and human resources. This bill reiterates the Board's
authority (already stated in the Code, but frequently ignored in
recent years) to set tuition and fees and adds specific authority to
set salaries at market levels. Along with this responsibility will
come full accountability to be written into a management agreement
with the state in the course of this calendar year.
These management agreements, which both the Governor and the General
Assembly will eventually approve under the new law, expect a good bit
of sophistication from school faculties and their deans and of our
academic officers because they require six-year operating plans. The
General Assembly's intent in setting up this six-year calendar is to
introduce discipline onto planning for new programs so that both the
institutions and the state can reasonably predict what is going to
happen. These plans will include financial, academic, and enrollment
What follows is a brief summary of the bill's highlights that I
believe will interest you.
- The University will remain a state agency.
- We all will remain state employees.
- Faculty employment practices will be unaffected.
- Classified staff employed prior to the effective date of the
management agreement will have a choice of whether to participate in
the new human resources system or remain under the current state
- Classified employees will get that same choice at least every two
years from the initial effective date of the management agreement.
- There will be no change for classified staff from current
retirement plans, workers' compensation insurance, or the grievance
- The University will have the ability to develop new human resource
programs governing compensation practices, leave, disability or life
insurance and severance.
- All staff hired after the effective date of the initial management
agreement will fall under the University's new human resources system.
In addition to what is in this restructuring bill, the state budget
for 2005-06 now calls for a special base budget increase to
classified salaries. Academic division employees who have been rated
at least "contributor" on the state's rating scale, and who have
worked for the state for at least five years, are entitled to a $50
increase for each year of service. This is above any other increase
to which they may be entitled. (We are awaiting details from the
state on how years of service will be calculated and we will inform
you once we receive word.)
The Higher Education Restructuring Bill provides a framework for
change. Details will emerge as we develop the management agreement
with the state, and as these details are developed they will be
communicated on a regular basis so that we can get advice from
members of our community.
I think it is important that this legislation ties our increased
autonomy to the state's goals for higher education. This link brings
responsibilities we all share. The goals include the University's
commitment to: access and affordability in higher education; a broad
range of academic programs; high academic standards; uniform
articulation agreements with community colleges; stimulation of
economic development; increase in externally funded research; and
partnerships with local K-12 schools in order to improve student
achievement. The results of these new commitments ought to be felt
in every public school in Virginia.
This year's developments are grounds for optimism about the future of
higher education in our state, and especially about the University's
future. We have a lot to do, both within the University and beyond
it. Together, with the good work and dedication of all members of
the University community, we have the opportunity to take Jefferson's
early vision and carry it forward for generations to come.
We are in the process of updating the University's Higher Education
Restructuring web site (http://www.virginia.edu/restructuring/) to
reflect recent changes in the legislation. Please visit the site from
time to time for news on the management agreement as well as to
continue to submit your questions as we move forward.
I thank you for your steady support and thoughtful queries over this
past year. Your good counsel helped to shape this legislation and to
make it better at every step along the way.
John T. Casteen III