We’ve made some headway on attracting great faculty, a little in the technology arena and a great deal in the communications function. We won’t know about academic quality improvements until we see updates to the proficiency stats we were briefed on in early 2012 — an issue that should be of real concern to accrediting bodies like SACS.
The main accomplishment over the last year has been working with the president to create a blueprint for the future — which is what has always been the board’s driving focus. Truly substantive planning for the long-term welfare of any college or university is a primary governance responsibility.
In creating our plan, I believe we have to recommit to our mission as a true public institution, a product of nearly 200 years of public investment and an asset that belongs to the Commonwealth. Therefore, tuition increases are not and cannot be the primary way we maintain quality; otherwise, we simply buy into the pervasive myth that excellence is only for the elite.
We shouldn’t consider any strategies that don’t lead to affordable excellence. Instead, I think we should maximize other sources of income, set priorities based on this institution’s unique strengths, and direct our spending accordingly. Recent studies by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission and the American Council of Trustees and Alumni both confirmed that college and university spending on non-educational expenses is out of control in Virginia. We have to do much better to make U.Va.’s academic experiences more accessible to all.
You seem to have gained confidence following your confirmation by state lawmakers in January. Is that true? What did you learn from that process?
I just decided to continue fighting for what I believed. And during the confirmation, I heard from a lot of lawmakers privately that while they didn’t care for the messiness of the process, they understood the need to solve the big challenge of keeping world-class education affordable and that governance boards should govern.
Does the board operate differently now than it did in previous years? Has it, in any way, gained more power?
Effective board operations are way more important than people’s speculation on “power.” And I think we’ve made real strides to improve the way we work. We now live-stream our meetings — which a local citizen suggested to me — and we are more transparent in our decision-making. Faculty members now serve on every committee. I broke a tradition of reappointing committee chairs year after year, so we now look to see if someone on the board might arise as a better choice. Overall, we are much more engaged in setting the long-term course of the university and creating meeting agendas focused squarely on important policy issues. I think all of this makes us a better governing body.