The Board of Visitors’ University and Student Life Committee heard presentations from Robyn Hadley, Vice President and Head of Student Affairs, on student success at the university and Provost Ian Baucom on research priorities, a approved the closure of the Slavic department’s doctoral program and established 11 new chairs at its meeting on Friday.
Brie Gertler, Vice Provost Academic Affairs, Stephen Farmer, Vice Provost Enrollment, and Hadley joined the meeting to present student success.
Baucom introduced the administrators and noted that recent conversations among administrators about how best to help students at the University have led to a discussion of the benefits that could come with linking advising systems to a growing number of offices. and university departments.
“[We came to a] recognition that infrastructure is strategic,” said Baucom. “[This] requires us to invest in the deep and often complex parts of our infrastructure and bring people and sometimes siled parts of our organization together.
Gertler said her view of a University student’s experience changed when she spoke to Farmer and Hadley, from seeing success as defined only in the classroom to something that is grown outside the classroom. Now, Gertler said she’s aware of the impact a student’s interactions with other entities — such as housing and residence life and student financial services — have on performance and well-being. of a student.
Hadley echoed a similar message, adding that she learned how interconnected the academic and social lives of students are.
“Everything that happens in the classroom impacts everything that happens outside of the classroom,” Hadley said.
The four trustees plan to work toward an enhanced comprehensive counseling system that incorporates other offices that affect student life, such as housing and residence life and student financial services.
The system will include advising software to facilitate advising-related communication for incoming and current students. Thanks to the software, students will not only be able to connect directly with their academic advisor, but also directly contact employees of all departments, allowing for more immediate and simplified assistance.
The push for a comprehensive and accessible counseling system came after internal surveys revealed that students find the University’s counseling system difficult to navigate, according to Gertler. Hadley said she has received feedback from students that the number of avenues for students to receive compartmentalized help at the University — by individually contacting Student Health and Welfare, the Career Center or d other resource agencies – can be overwhelming.
“Students are overwhelmed with an abundance of opportunities,” Hadley said. “Collaboration allows us to keep pace with our students, to make sure they don’t fall through the cracks.”
Farmer also broke the incoming class of 2026 for the Council, which is made up of approximately 9,522 students. Farmer and Gertler said the class of 2026 marks an increase of one-third for black students and one-quarter for Hispanic students, compared to the class of 2025. This year, the University Published 52% of offers to students of color – a record percentage and a 10 point increase from the previous year.
Gertler added that while this class mirrors previous classes in many ways in that students enter college wanting to get started in the college community, administrators should remember that most students in this class have spent the last two years of high school navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. Learning virtually or in non-traditional ways throughout the pandemic could impact a student’s willingness to commit to studies upon entering college, Gertler said.
“We have to make sure that when students come here, they’re willing and ready to take classes here,” Gertler said.
Baucom then discussed the University’s plan to make major investments of up to $15 million in priority research areas. The two main areas of investment will be Brain and Neurology and Environmental Resilience and Sustainability.
The goal of investments in brain and neurology research is to develop a holistic approach and understanding of the brain throughout its lifespan. By developing mechanisms, researchers will work to establish a new paradigm for neuroscience modeled on a comprehensive cancer institute.
Baucom also highlighted the University’s strength in understanding the conversion of liquid or light to energy and the potential creation of a green technology entrepreneurship fund as part of the potentially complementary nature establishment. entrepreneurial investment and innovation.
Concluding the meeting, Joel Hockensmith, faculty representative on the Board of Visitors and associate professor of medicine, raised concerns about the University’s treatment of postdoctoral fellows. Hockensmith noted that the University has never tracked postdoctoral fellows and does not provide postdoctoral fellows with adequate student services, noting that the group is excluded from mental health services.
“We shouldn’t treat postdocs simply as glorified, underpaid technicians,” Hockensmith said. “Historically, postdocs are part of the educational process. They are part of our culture and we need to ensure that we meet their educational needs just as we meet the educational needs of our undergraduates.
In response, Baucom said the University is modeling a new program for postdoctoral fellows on the existing Rising Scholars program, which provides fellows with professional development mentorship and the opportunity to become a tenure-track professor at the University. According to Baucom, the University offers a model in which postdoctoral fellows are recruited as a cohort with specific mentorship plans in place to place them on the path to a professorship at the University or beyond. Baucom said the model has been in place for two years so far, with this fall’s class of postdoctoral students making up the third.
Approved faculty positions spanned departments and schools, including the School of Engineering and Applied Science, the School of Law, and the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, as well as a directorate for policy and public engagement through the Democracy Initiative.
Baucom credited the recent expansion of the Bicentennial Teachers Fund as a big reason for the high volume of Chairs approved at this meeting. The Bicentenary Professor’s Fund, approved by the Board of Visitors in 2017, is an incentive system for donors to endow professorships at the University. Through this fund, the University matches 50% of donations of $2 million or more and 100% of donations of $5 million or more to create endowed chairs.
“The faculty matching fund has been absolutely transformative over the past few years,” Baucom said.
The committee also voted to close the Slavic Department’s doctoral program following an evaluation by the Virginia State Board of Higher Education in the spring of 2020 that identified the program as not meeting productivity standards.
In light of the guidance, the Dean of the Slavic Department, along with the Associate Dean of Graduate Academic Programs and the Associate Dean of Arts and Humanities, have decided that increasing the size of the program to meet standards of productivity – depending on the national pool of candidates and graduate professors available – was not feasible.
“Following a lengthy review initiated by the Virginia State Board of Higher Education, we ultimately felt that the right and ethical thing to do was to close the program,” Baucom said.