This will be my final Virginia Magazine column as president of the University of Virginia. My term will conclude on July 31, and UVA’s ninth president, Jim Ryan (Law ’92), will take office the next day. Leadership transitions are natural elements in the evolution of universities, and this reminds us that our University is stronger and more permanent than any individual leader. Over the years, leaders will come and go; the University of Virginia will endure.
Just as the transition occurring this summer is natural, it’s also natural for us, as a connected community of alumni, faculty, staff, students and parents, to reflect on our years of collaboration and the many things that we have accomplished together.In today’s hypercompetitive higher education environment, universities that are timid in the face of change will wither and die. UVA has changed in many ways since I took office in 2010, evolving and innovating over the years to better meet the needs of our students, faculty, and staff.
UVA’s student experience—which was already recognized as one of the nation’s best, long before I arrived—has become more robust and distinctive than ever. In one example, we have wholly rejuvenated UVA’s student-advising program. We call our new approach “Total Advising” because it blends academic advising, career counseling and personal mentoring in a seamless way to give students a comprehensive, total advising experience.
We recently opened the Dathel and John Georges Student Center at UVA as a home for our advising program. Located on the second floor of Clemons Library, this center allows students to find academic, professional and personal advising resources together in one central location. We have also enhanced the UVA Career Center and created an Internship Center to help students find their way to meaningful vocations.
In another effort to further enhance the student experience, four years ago we launched the Meriwether Lewis Institute for Citizen Leadership, and today the institute is going strong, with about 25 students enrolled each year.
In recent years, Lewis Fellows have made lasting marks on UVA. They developed the structure for an Honor Audit Commission; they increased mentorship opportunities for African-American students; and they designed a new student space at 1515 University Ave.
As a result of our efforts to attract more underrepresented minority students to UVA, our student population has grown more diverse. From 2012 to 2017, enrollment of first-year minority students increased by 38 percent; enrollment of first-year African-American students increased by 41.5 percent; and enrollment of first-generation students increased by 42 percent. Between 2012 and 2017, the overall undergraduate population grew by 9.5 percent, while the number of minority undergraduates grew by 22.4 percent. These increases in diversity are important for all of our students, because a more diverse UVA is a stronger UVA.
Just as the UVA student experience has become more distinctive in recent years, the University has become more global. We have done this by sending more of our students into the world and by bringing more of the world to UVA.
We launched a major in global studies that now allows students to choose one of four concentrations: global development; global public health; environments and sustainability; and security and justice. We increased UVA’s offerings in global- and service-learning activities, which include study-abroad, J-term, embedded semesters, internships, research and service.
For the first time ever, in the 2016-17 academic year, UVA had more than 3,000 students involved in education-abroad activities around the world.
We created a Global Internships program to place UVA students in internships overseas, and we launched UVA London First and UVA Shanghai First programs that allow first-year students to begin their undergraduate careers overseas. We opened the UVA China Office in Shanghai, and in recent years I have led major UVA delegations on two visits to Asia and another visit to India.
In recognition of these and other efforts, UVA received a 2015 Senator Paul Simon Award for Campus Internationalization. UVA was one of only five universities nationwide to win the award.
UVA’s faculty has grown stronger in recent years. Facing a generational turnover as the baby boomer generation steps down, we established a four-year schedule and funding methodology to recruit and retain talented faculty. Last fall, UVA hired 103 new tenured and tenure-track faculty members, and this was one of the most diverse groups of new faculty ever hired; 31 percent are members of underrepresented minorities and 32 percent are women. Aggressive hiring is continuing this year.
To enhance faculty diversity and to supplement schools’ hiring activities, we launched two strategic faculty hiring initiatives: cluster hires, and target-of-opportunity searches, or TOPS. In a cluster hire, we recruit multiple faculty members from across disciplines who are working in an interdisciplinary field that has the potential for broad societal impact. For example, we’ve made cluster hires in key areas such as global markets; biomedical data science; education policy; youth violence prevention; autism spectrum disorder; neuroscience; and traumatic brain injury.
With TOPS searches, we focus on high-profile researchers and scholars whom we would like to recruit to UVA, even if faculty openings are not available at that moment in that particular field.TOPS hires have brought us new star faculty, including, for example, Jayakrishna Ambati, one of the world’s leading researchers in macular degeneration.
As the faculty has grown stronger and more diverse, UVA has enhanced its research enterprise. Since fiscal year 2013, UVA’s sponsored research has grown more than 31 percent, with total awards of $372 million in fiscal year 2017; this represents 10 percent growth from the prior year. We reshaped our Licensing and Ventures Group to accelerate commercialization of faculty research. In 2017, the LVG executed 204 invention disclosures and 81 commercial transactions and was awarded 43 U.S. patents—the highest numbers in UVA history.
UVA Health System has seen remarkable improvements in recent years. We introduced the Be Safe initiative with the goal of making UVA Health System the safest place in the country to work and to receive care. As a result of these and other efforts, UVA’s hospital was named the No. 1 hospital in Virginia by US News & World Report each of the past two years. In the most recent rankings, six specialties (ear, nose and throat; cancer; diabetes and endocrinology; cardiology and heart surgery; orthopedics; and urology) were rated among the top 50 nationally. Four additional specialties (gastroenterology and GI surgery; neurology and neurosurgery; nephrology; and pulmonology) were rated among the top 10 percent nationally. Key factors in these rankings are quality and safety.
In 2016, we announced that UVA would launch a research and education partnership with Inova Health System in Northern Virginia. The relationship includes a research partnership to develop a Global Genomics and Bioinformatics Research Institute at the Inova Center for Personalized Health; a cancer-research partnership; and a regional campus of the UVA School of Medicine on the Inova campus.
As UVA has evolved in so many ways, and as we began to celebrate the school’s bicentennial in 2017, as a community we have become more open to exploring the University’s past, including the uncomfortable parts of our history. In 2013, I formed the President’s Commission on Slavery and the University. As a result of the commission’s diligent work, we established a nationwide consortium named Universities Studying Slavery, which now has 35 institutions working together on research and commemoration projects. The Board of Visitors has approved plans for a Memorial to Enslaved Laborers to be built at UVA, and two of our buildings, Gibbons Hall and Skipwith Hall, are now named for enslaved laborers.
This spring, we launched a second commission—the President’s Commission on the University in the Age of Segregation. This new commission will explore the period of segregation between 1865 and 1965, and it will be part of our ongoing effort to tell the full story of the University’s history over the past 200 years.
Perhaps the finest physical symbol of UVA’s recent enhancements is the restored Rotunda. We began work to restore the Rotunda in 2012 and completed the $50 million project in 2016. More than a quarter-million visitors have passed through the Rotunda since its reopening in September of that year. And the Rotunda is now serving as a center of University activity, as Thomas Jefferson intended when he created it. Students come to the Rotunda to study, attend classes, defend their dissertations, participate in meetings and lectures and hold social events. The Rotunda, once again, is the heart of the University.
None of the achievements that I have described here could have occurred without the commitment of our faculty and staff, without the excellent work of our students and without the dedication of alumni, parents and friends—those of you who support the University with your time, your talents and your gifts. Your support has grown stronger year by year: Philanthropic cash flow increased from $203.8 million in fiscal year 2010 to $283.4 million in fiscal year 2017. We live in a period of constrained financial support for public universities, and in this context of constraint, your support has provided the margin of excellence that enables UVA to thrive.
So my final words, in this final column, in the final months of my presidency, are thank you. For your steadfast support over the years, for your many acts of kindness and friendship, and for your commitment to the University that we cherish so dearly, I will always remain grateful.