Science & Technology Commission
Anita Jones, Chair
Presentation to the Board of Visitors
October 15, 1999
Why science and technology at the University of Virginia?
There are three primary reasons to strengthen science and technology
- Technology is the largest single cause of change in todays
society. Information technology is changing how business is conducted,
the buying patterns of the American public, and our processes of democracy.
Entire new fields have emerged, such as micro- and nanotechnology. These
areas will put tiny sensors and computers in every object imaginable
planes, trains, doorknobs, finger rings, and the human body.
Another emerging field is genomics, which promises to deliver improvements
to our health but which also will raise a difficult set of moral and
Yet, despite the prevalence of technology in the world today, students
graduating from American universities are often technologically illiterate.
This must change.
- Basic research in the United States is carried out in universities.
New knowledge coming from university researchers is a critical fuel
that fires our economy. There is exceptional change in the research
landscape today; new discoveries are coming at an ever-increasing rate.
In addition, knowledge is coming in multi-disciplinary areas, where
experts from multiple fields come together. Virginias programs
must adapt to meet these challenges.
However, Virginias programs must adapt to meet the challenges
of the increase in the rate of new knowledge and the movement toward
In the sciences and engineering, as in other fields, education and
research reinforce and improve one another. The better the research
we conduct in our labs, the better the material we teach in the classroom.
- Where there is change, there is opportunity. As one of the
nations leading public institutions, we must have an excellent
science and engineering program. If we plan and invest wisely, we can
take advantage of emerging opportunities to be better than the institutions
we compete with. Our students will be educated to take their rightful
place as knowledgeable citizens in the Commonwealth and in the nation.
The University of Virginia is a quality research university in the
sciences and engineering, but it has not been known for these programs
to the extent it is known for its humanities and professional programs.
However, there is a solid base to build upon, and the opportunities
How should U.Va. proceed? That is the question this Commission is addressing.
A Multitude of Alternatives
Our first conclusion is that the University must make choices in order
to focus faculty, students, education programs, research programs, and
funds on endeavors that will make a difference.
The S&T Commission is considering many alternative areas, especially
the multi-disciplinary areas that span departments, even schools. We ask:
- What is Virginias competitive advantage?
- What is appropriate for the University of Virginia today, in
Charlottesville, and in the Commonwealth of Virginia?
Our inquiry lends itself to quantitative evaluation. We have compiled
"Vital Statistics" that quantitatively describe the science
and engineering activities in the University today. We also look at comparable
benchmark measures for our competitors:
- Critical mass of faculty;
- Computing, laboratory, and teaching infrastructure;
- Number of students in the education programs, both undergraduate and
- Instruction and research space required;
- Research grant income levels;
- Industry partnerships current and potential;
- Intellectual property potential; and
- Potential for improvement in the rankings.
In addition, we will forecast federal research funding trends. Funding
levels are growing in selected areas. We want to assure U.Va. is positioned
In summary, we are evaluating alternatives. We are comparing ourselves
to our peers and our competitors, both qualitatively and quantitatively.
The Science and Technology Commission has met biweekly during the spring
and fall semesters. In addition, the commission recently held two important
- Commission members met with the presidents of the National Academy
of Science and the National Academy of Engineering here in Charlottesville.
We discussed possible futures for university programs in science and
engineering in the 21st century.
- In September, the commission held a two-day workshop. Faculty from
a dozen other universities discussed initiatives and programs in science
and engineering. We heard from university presidents, deans, and institute
directors. They each discussed a specific scientific area, their strategy
to achieve excellence, the resources required to field their initiative,
and the success and failure to date of the endeavor. We inquired about
the quantitative benchmark measures that I mentioned earlier.
Among the universities represented were the University of Illinois,
Stanford, Virginia Tech, Penn State, the University of Pennsylvania,
Cornell, the University of Florida, and Rutgers.
Today, we are distilling lessons learned form the workshop. We are
building straw-man business cases for each of several potential focus
areas. Each business case defines what it would take to be world-class
in that area.
During the Next Year
In the coming months, this commission will refine a set of recommendations.
In doing so, we will enter a dialogue with the stakeholders: students,
faculty, you the Board of Visitors, alumni, and the University
The Commission will define a set of fundamental principles that can guide
University decision-making and priority-setting, as well as the strategic
investment that will be required to advance in science and engineering.
I will be back to discuss with you a set of recommendations. Those recommendations
will define how this University can excel in education and research in
science and engineering. These recommendations will chart a course so
that Mr. Jeffersons University can:
- Produce new, profound knowledge in some areas of science and engineering
that will substantially advance society; and
- Prepare students to lead and to contribute to a society propelled
forward on the wave of technology.