In August 1818, Thomas Jefferson and several prominent colleagues gathered in a Rockfish Gap tavern in the Blue Ridge Mountains to produce a comprehensive plan for the University of Virginia. The Report of the Commissioners for the University of Virginia, commonly known as the Rockfish Gap report, spelled out the broad purposes of the institution, the location and physical arrangement of its buildings, the academic courses that would be taught by its professors, and other details of the University's future. Virginia's General Assembly reviewed the report that winter and, on January 25, 1819, formally established the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.
Nearly 200 years later, stakeholders from every corner of the UVA community are coming together to collaborate on a new planning process, one that will enable us to re-examine and re-imagine the University as we approach its third century. In an era of increasingly constrained resources, we need to formulate an institutional plan that candidly assesses our strengths and weaknesses, sets priorities, and charts a bold, but achievable, course for the University's future.
This work is happening in two phases: an academic assessment phase and a planning phase. We hope to begin receiving the results from the assessment by the end of January and to deliver a draft plan to the Board of Visitors by the beginning of the 2013-14 academic year. An experienced consultant, Art & Science, is assisting with the assessment phase, and the Board of Visitors' Special Committee on Strategic Planning, co-chaired by former James Madison University president Linwood Rose and Richmond attorney and author Frank Atkinson, is providing valuable guidance throughout the process.
We have formed several working groups drawn from faculty, staff, students, alumni and parents to tackle a series of topics and questions that are fundamental to the new plan. Of course not everyone in our far-flung University family can come to Charlottesville to participate in planning meetings, but everyone can consider the issues we are facing and offer advice. We want the process to be as inclusive as possible as we consider the following questions.
Student life: The increasing availability of online education has raised questions about the advantage and value of residential education. Our alumni, faculty and students know from first-hand experience that the undergraduate education in Charlottesville cannot be reproduced in cyberspace, but we need to make a strong argument to others for UVA's signature product. What is the intrinsic value of the strong student-faculty interactions that characterize the UVA learning experience? What should our students be learning now, and how can we effectively measure how well they learn? How can we continue to make a UVA education affordable for all qualified students? Do we need new or different academic programs to adequately prepare students for careers and public life? How can we generally improve the student experience at UVA?
Technology: Even as we affirm the value of residential education, we need to explore ways to enhance teaching and learning through the use of technology. Our partnership with online learning pioneer Coursera is allowing us to offer six UVA courses to anyone, anywhere in the world, in 2013. Should we offer more classes and degree programs online? What information-technology resources do we need to have at UVA to support innovation in teaching and research? What technologies are making a difference in the organizations where you work?
Public university: What does it mean to be a public university in the 21st century? Following the progressive collapse of state support over the past two-decade period, how do we define our public mission in an era of diminished public resources? How can we make a compelling case for re-investment in public higher education to our legislators and to the citizens of the Commonwealth?
Faculty: We have reached a generational turning point for the University's faculty. With a large, looming wave of retirements over the next 10 years, we will be hiring UVA's next generation of teachers and scholars. What should the faculty of 2020 and beyond look like? What capabilities and areas of expertise should they have? What are the best practices for effective recruiting, hiring and retention?
Synergies: UVA is greater than the sum of its parts. How can we identify and align the shared interests of our individual schools so they can effectively work together to distinguish the University? What are the barriers to collaboration within UVA, and what best practices have you seen in your organizations that might apply to cross-school collaboration at the University?
In addition to these questions, we are looking for ways to streamline the University's operations and to generate greater resources through private support. We welcome your advice in these areas, too. As the planning work begins in Charlottesville, I invite you to send your comments and ideas about all of these topics and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Updates about the planning work will appear regularly at virginia.edu/strategicplanning.
As we approach the University's bicentennial and the beginning of its third century, we, the stewards of this University, have a great obligation to prudently plan for the future. Our obligation extends back in time to the moment when Mr. Jefferson and his team of collaborators met at Rockfish Gap to conceive a new kind of university for the American republic, and forward in time to the future generations of students who will come here to learn in UVA's third century and beyond.