Science and Technology Focus Group Summary
1998 All-University Planning Retreat
September 18, 1998
Facilitator: David L. Brautigan, Ph.D.
1. Wide agreement exists that centers of excellence created by pooled resources could
be the most effective tactic for improving the sciences at U.Va. The Shannon Center was
cited numerous times as a model for how this could be successfully accomplished. Strong
faculty support exists for a revitalized Shannon Center.
2. There was wide agreement on the need for interdisciplinary cooperation between
science departments and programs within the College and those in the School of Medicine
and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS). Several comments were made
suggesting pooling of resources between schools and departments at the VP RPS level. This
would provide for matching funds and special incentives and support for new projects and
3. a. A suggestion was put forward that the creation of multi-disciplinary research
buildings along the lines of the Fontaine Research Park might be a wise strategy for the
future of the sciences at the University. Funding could be pursued jointly; teams would
compete for space in such a mixed-use facility.
b. Comment was made that the geographic proximity of basic science departments in the
College and SEAS should be of major benefit in future planning.
4. There is wide-spread frustration among faculty that their scholarly advancement and
career growth increasingly are resource-constrained, specifically: staffing; the high
demands of undergraduate instruction; and lack of physical facilities (labs, office
space). One prominent researcher in SEAS said that she could not accept any more funding
for her research, even though it was available; neither graduate assistants nor physical
space were available to accommodate further growth of her research programs. The same
situation exists in the School of Medicine.
5. There is strong sentiment that undergraduate instruction in the basic sciences is
extremely important. The point was made that such stars as Einstein and Feinman taught
first-year classes willingly, and that such involvement by senior faculty had the
potential to raise the level of entire departments.
6. Many felt there is a serious conflict between the goal of increasing the quantity
and quality of undergraduate activities in the basic sciences and the need for faculty to
conduct the high-level research that is the funding engine and reputation builder for
science departments. "U.Va. is at a crossroads: given the present size of the
faculty, it cannot accomplish both adequate undergraduate instruction in the sciences, and
broad research programs at internationally competitive levels."
7. a. It was suggested that any hiring of senior faculty should include offers to bring
a team with them, or the opportunity to have a major say in subsequent hires, in order to
build focused groups.
b. To attract top graduate students, additional research dollars, and build new quality
in the basic sciences, the University needs to develop a strategy that blends the tactics
of recruiting "star" scientists to be department leaders, and nurturing and
promoting top performers from the University's own ranks.
8. The point was made that great care should be taken before embarking on or predicting
a Silicon Valley or biotech emulation here in Central Virginia. Consensus opinion held
that the University should proceed with public-private partnership initiatives, but that
it should be cautious about its expectation for the kind of synergy and critical
technological mass present in those California models.