StudCo outlines agenda

Student Council executive leaders send Board of Visitors letter, focus on financial aid, diversity, transparency, technology

The day before the Board of Visitors began its August retreat to review strategic planning initiatives, Student Council sent Board members a letter outlining Council’s priorities and concerns for the University community.

The eight-page document detailed the five areas Council considers most crucial for the University moving forward: financial aid programs, racial diversity among the student body, student representation on the Board, leadership transparency and revamping technological infrastructure.

Jalen Ross, Council’s director of university relations, said the letter was a collaborative effort between Council leadership. “[The goal] is to make sure the Board of Visitors are aware of broad student needs and that the Council process is to serve as a voice for the students,” said Ross, a third-year Engineering student.

Council called on the Board to make a continuing commitment to financial programs that meet 100 percent of demonstrated student need — specifically, the University’s AccessUVa program. “AccessUVa is our chance to reverse rather than aggravate trends that lock the country’s brightest young minds into the lowest socioeconomic brackets,” Council said in the letter.

The call came two days before the Board’s removed all-grant aid packages for students in the lowest income bracket, while reauthorizing the program. Council acknowledged that sustaining AccessUVa was expensive, but said it was important the school continue to make financial aid a priority, calling it “a matter of social responsibility.”

Council also expressed concern about the declining rates of minority enrollment in the University. Although some of the decline in the reported number of black students attending the University can be attributed to the new “mixed” category implemented in 2009, the letter noted the decline was present even before this change.

Though Council did not suggest changing the student Board member’s non-voting status, they did request that the Board reconsider other aspects of the structure of student representation on the Board.

“The Board needs a representative from both the undergraduate and graduate levels of the University experience to adequately understand the needs and insights of the entire student population,” the letter said.

Council called upon the Board to maintain institutionalized transparency among University leadership. “Difficulties at the University have historically arisen when decisions made by leadership are perceived to be unnecessarily top-down,” the letter said. “The University must not compromise the traits on which it was founded for the sake of expediency.”

Council concluded the letter by asking for the Board to address technology and planning at the University. The letter addressed a need for more strategic investments in technology, citing programs such as the Student Information System which crashed on August 1 under the burden of first-year students signing online to adjust their schedules.

“In almost every other fashion, the University of Virginia is a modern and progressive institution, and yet our technological systems are woefully behind,” Council said. “It is time for strategic and decisive action as a community to address what is perhaps our most stark inadequacy.”

Ross said Council hopes to receive positive feedback from the Board and has already received a response from other University administrators. “[University President] Teresa Sullivan responded to the letter, so this is a good sign people are listening,” Ross said.

related stories