The United University

by HEYWOOD FRALIN (COL '62), Former Rector and Board of Visitors Member

Heywood Fralin Cole Geddy
My position regarding Terry Sullivan's resignation and my strong support for her reinstatement has been well documented and therefore there is little need to restate it here. In conversations with alumni and friends over the last two years, I have explained her knowledge and significant experience regarding higher education issues at the University of Texas system and at the University of Michigan. It has been and still remains my opinion that when she retires, she will leave the University of Virginia a far better and stronger university than she found it.

While acknowledging that mistakes were made, there were many positives resulting from the events of June and it is my desire to focus on the positives and the future. The University community has never been more united than it is today. Many expressed their support for the president by standing on the Lawn during Board of Visitors meetings, and reportedly thousands watched the June 26 BOV meeting on the Internet. There is no problem the University may face that we can't solve together.

The University faculty is a major component of this unified community. They are distinguished and have served far too long without adequate compensation. Many have reached retirement age and cannot be replaced with young rising stars unless the University finds the necessary dollars to hire the distinguished faculty our students deserve. Addressing adequate faculty salaries should be UVA's No. 1 priority.

UVA has a strong financial base, one that is better than almost all public universities and even better than most private universities. It is one of only two public universities that has an AAA bond rating from three rating agencies. However, the recent events have further publicized a major reason for the University's funding challenges. Funding support for all of the colleges and universities in Virginia has been reduced significantly. The current governor has been very supportive of higher education by not only analyzing the issues facing all public colleges, but also by increasing the funding for the state's public colleges in an amount that exceeds $100 million annually.

However, even with the funding increase, Virginia's public institutions are not receiving today the level of support they received 20 years ago. The reduction to UVA's funding has caused major issues. Tuition has risen to levels that make it difficult for some to attend the University while at the same time scholarship support has been challenging to raise. Coupled with faculty salaries remaining flat, these issues have become a major problem for the University.

We all understand the University has to operate in an efficient manner and costs must be controlled. However, UVA is routinely recognized for being one of higher education's best buys and for its efficiency. Nevertheless, many reforms should be considered, such as more effective utilization of technology, combined degrees, partnership with other universities in research and better utilization of our community colleges' two-plus-two programs. There are many more possibilities, and the faculty has recognized them and demonstrated a desire to be a part of the solution. In the end, however, cost savings cannot be allowed to jeopardize the quality of education. UVA competes with the best universities in the world and the maintenance of quality is paramount.

While we all hope otherwise, it is likely that state financial support will continue to decline in the coming years. There are not enough state dollars to adequately fund all of the needs of the commonwealth and it is unknown if higher education will remain a top funding priority. So what is the solution to the funding issue? As previously stated, the faculty at UVA have been great. They recognize the necessary changes coming to public colleges and are willing to implement them. However, the ultimate answer lies with our alumni and friends who have provided enormous financial support in the past. If the case for what the University needs to retain its position as a top university is effectively articulated and if priorities are established for the utilization of additional support, I'm confident that UVA supporters will answer the call. We all believe in the mission of this university and wish for future generations to benefit from the quality education UVA provides.

The last point of discussion is the necessity of making the College of Arts & Sciences a funding priority. The majority of students attend the College; in fact it educates 69 percent of UVA undergraduates and 42 percent of its PhD candidates. All of the schools at the University are important and each has been successful. In my opinion, however, the College is the heart and soul of the University. As goes the College, so goes the entire University. The public perception and ratings of the University are very reflective of the standing of the College. Many of its needs have not been adequately addressed in recent years and most of those needs result from inadequate funding.

The recent events at the University have caused all of us to better focus on the higher education issues facing all public universities. UVA's president recognizes the issues. When she prioritizes solutions to these issues after seeking input from BOV members, faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends, I am confident that all of us will step forward to answer the call. It is our University and we are rightfully very proud of it. However, the past funding model is broken and we all need to help fix it. United, we can and will regain our position as the No. 1 public university in the country.