George Martin: An inside look at the University Rector

Ahead of next week's BOV meeting, Martin addresses Student Council, discusses AccessUVa, financial concerns


When the Board of Visitors holds its first meeting of the academic year on September 19, it will be headed by the first African-American rector in school history. Incoming Rector George Martin took over on July 1, succeeding Helen Dragas, who was the first female rector. Martin begins his term as the University faces challenges including maintaining accessible tuition for students and addressing transparency issues that have been a point of criticism for the Board.

Martin said, however, that the challenges the Board will likely face in the upcoming years are no more different than challenges other rectors have faced.

“I think the University of Virginia is a great institution, and I think we have wonderful students and a remarkable faculty,” Martin said. “I am just pleased beyond measure [to] serve this university in this capacity.”

Martin said the Board is considering a variety of models to help address some of the financial concerns plaguing the University. “We’re looking at alternative approaches,” he said. “I’ve had conversations with our chair of the financial committee … and we’re going to look at every possible option. Everything’s on the table.”

Martin praised University President Teresa Sullivan and expressed his willingness and excitement to work with her as rector. He had extensive contact with her during his time as vice rector, where he joined Dragas and Sullivan in many private meetings.

“I’ve enjoyed working with president Sullivan,” Martin said. “I think we have an excellent working relationship. She is a remarkable individual, and she has assembled a great team.”

According to Martin, the approach this Board will take a “hands-off” approach to University administration.

“We’re not here to micromanage the president or anybody on her staff,” Martin said. “It’s okay to ask the tough questions, but it’s our job to only provide oversight.”

Martin addressed Student Council at a meeting Tuesday night, where he discussed the influence his time as a student at the University had on his future position as a Board member.

“My time here at the University changed my life,” Martin said. “It really was a transformative period for me. What you find is that you can never leave this place.”

Martin encouraged Council to present any concerns and ideas to the Board during the upcoming year. “In the past we’ve had students come to [Board meetings] and make presentations,” he said. “We would love to hear from students.”

Martin also discussed how University life has changed since he was a student here in the 1970s. Martin graduated from a high school in Richmond, Va., where he was one of just 10 African-American graduates in a class of 500. While he attended the University, he was one of 98 African-Americans in his class among 250 total at the University, including graduate students.

“My first real contact with the University [was when] I was invited to a meet-and-greet in Richmond,” Martin said. “The main speaker was an African-American student, and he was very impressive. To be honest, when I applied, I didn’t know anything about the African-American student body back then. Most major universities looked like the University of Virginia.”

Marcus Martin, vice president and chief officer for diversity and equity, said George Martin’s appointment as the first African-American rector — 53 years after the first black student attended the University — was a special milestone for the University, symbolizing progress toward increasing diversity.

“He’s an outstanding individual, and as the first African-American rector, this is certainly a significant moment in the history of this institution,” Marcus Martin said. “His presence as a person and as an African-American brings a lot of credence to the direction that the institution would like to take.”

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