Welcome Madame President: UVA's wish list for Teresa Sullivan
The Morgan Harrington and Yeardley Love tragedies. Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's Climategate attack on a former UVA researcher. And now the crisis facing the Virginia Quarterly Review after the suicide of its managing editor. All that's on top of more fundamental challenges–- a billion dollars lost from UVA's long term investment pool in 2008. Statewide cuts to higher education, and professors and staff who haven't seen a raise in years.
As new UVA president Teresa Sullivan takes the reins after the two-decade tenure of her predecessor John Casteen, there's no shortage of pressing matters for her to tackle–- many of them attracting national news coverage– and in her first weeks on the job, she's hit the ground running, first with a wide-ranging press conference addressing issues from how students are asked about their criminal histories to the University's finances.
Behind the scenes, she's already met with deans, professors, students and alumni. She's so busy, according to UVA spokesperson Carol Wood, that she didn't have time to respond to the Hook's request for comment.
When her hire was announced back in January, UVA Rector John O. "Dubby" Wynne, was nearly giddy as he lauded the depth of her experience– as a scholar and as an administrator at the University of Michigan and the expansive University of Texas campus system– and claimed Sullivan had met a list of requirements put forth by the board "so comprehensive as to be unattainable."
That enthusiasm seems to have been contagious.
"She's a proven administrator and an excellent scholar," says George Overstreet, an associate dean in the McIntire School of Commerce. He says that fully understanding UVA's rich history– and Jefferson's legacy that seems to influence every square every inch of the hallowed Grounds– may be a challenge for any newcomer to fully comprehend, but he believes Sullivan's background researching complex topics– he notes the books she has co-authored with Obama's TARP czar Elizabeth Warren on consumer debt– show she has the brains and the curiosity to succeed.
"Everybody I know is excited about the possibilities of new leadership, although they respected Casteen," he says, citing Sullivan's gender as yet another of her strengths.
"A reduction in testosterone level can never be bad," he laughs.
But even the most notable scholarship and experience aren't enough to guarantee success, says Overstreet, who is among the 20 UVA faculty, students and staff featured in the pages that follow.
"We've all got to pitch in there and get behind her," he says. "I think she's going to be great."
"I wish she'd focus on diversity within different student groups so we'd be more unified as a student body."
"I hope she'll emphasize support for Old Cabell Hall and the groups that perform there."
"Faculty raises. We haven't had one in several years. In order to be competitive with other institutions, that's something she'll have to examine."
"Think about the workers at the bottom of the wage scale. I've been here 10 years and haven't seen a raise or a promotion. I'm still earning in the low 20s. When so many people are pulling hefty salaries, how is it that the people at the bottom get left behind?
"As a new student, I hope she'll be accessible to all students from undergrad through postgrad."
"After the Yeardley Love tragedy last spring, President Casteen, in that moment, was absolutely perfect. She's her own person– she can't and shouldn't be Casteen, but to live up to that example is something we can all hope for."
"Work on parking. We pay a fair amount to park, but there are times we can't even use those spots."
"One of the things everyone wants to do is promote cross-cultural interaction of a deep nature. That's something I'm sure she's committed to, but that's going to require some changes over the next decade to implement. In addition, she's got a major problem with the whole financial model of the university– the way funds are allocated back to the units."
"Over 97 percent of alumni feel pride in their University and over 95 percent keep up with the news from the Grounds. Because of this level of attention, it will be important for Ms. Sullivan to connect with alumni. Based on early observations, I would say that she is off to a flying start."
"Since she's from outside the University, it's important that the tradition of the University is maintained."
"I hope that President Sullivan commits herself to continuing on with one of John Casteen's best achievements, AccessUVA. It's of great importance to me, and I think to other faculty members, that smart, energetic students without a lot of money can make their way to the University and into our classrooms."
"Although UVA ranks among the top 25 schools in the country, many of its graduate programs lag far behind those of peer institutions. Every year, we try to lure the best graduate students to study and work with us. But no matter how excellent the faculty, unless we can offer competitive packages, we come up short. Having top-notch graduate students here helps the University retain outstanding faculty. And excellent graduate students provide stimulating instruction in the many entry-level undergraduate classes they teach."
"It almost goes without saying that the president first needs to secure our financial future. Since sizeable state funding increases aren't likely in the near future– unless we expand the student body greatly– a constant, vigorous search for more big private gifts is essential. We also need to keep in mind what makes us special– the Jeffersonian mandate to be a beacon of enlightenment, especially in civic matters, for the entire country and the world. Not every aspect of Jefferson's legacy should be preserved, but this part must be."
"Get directly involved in student safety. I think everyone would say that, given the events of last year and this summer."
"The first is to strengthen the natural sciences. Each of our major science departments could be twice as large as they are now and still just approach the power of a University of Michigan or University of Texas– two institutions at which Sullivan worked. Second, I hope she considers the goal of making the University and Charlottesville a fine-arts destination. With strong fundraising and a clear vision, we could build a world-class musical and theater space, expand the already excellent visual arts facilities, and take advantage of the natural beauty and hospitality of the region to become the Tanglewood of the Mid-Atlantic."
"There should be more melding of events between and among the departments in the College of Arts and Sciences. That sort of interdisciplinary/interdepartmental overlapping might give rise to fruitful new ways of looking at things."
"I hope that one of her initial areas of focus will be faculty retention. As the economy begins to pick up, UVA stands vulnerable to poaching of many of our outstanding and high performing faculty, who haven't received raises for years."
"Feeling relatable should be a priority– I really liked the first email she sent out. It was worded really well, and she seemed excited. It makes a difference."
"The heart and soul of UVA is the College of Arts & Sciences. From my perspective, the first priority for President Sullivan is to enhance the resource base of the College so that it can provide the quality of teaching, research, and scholarship that will allow UVA to maintain and improve its status among the nation's premier institutions."
"There's been a big push lately for the arts– the band is getting a new building– but that won't free up classroom space. A new building for music would be awesome."
Correction: Pavilion Groundskeeper Michael Leff's name was misspelled in the original version of this article.–ed