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Faculty blame No. 2 ranking on state funds

The University is no longer number one - and the faculty are not surprised.

The University has slipped from its lofty perch as the nation's top public university, according to rankings released last week by U.S. News and World Report, and many faculty feel the drop was predictable due to several years of inadequate financial support from the state legislature.

"I think many of us who've been watching the rankings had a hunch the slippage was coming," former Faculty Senate Chairman Jahan Ramazani said.

The University was tied for No. 1 with the University of California-Berkeley last year. Recently, Berkeley edged ahead to take the top slot, ending the University's lengthy reign at the top.

The University fell into the trap of over-emphasizing its top slot and must now face the consequences, said Larry J. Sabato, government and foreign affairs professor.

"We probably made too much of the earlier higher ranking," Sabato said. "Our rivals will take pleasure in our drop."

Faculty members said the change came largely as a result of the University's low ranking in faculty resources - the amount of funding available to faculty for the research and implementation of their projects.

Physics Prof. Louis A. Bloomfield said the ranking "shows that the state isn't supporting its universities very well."

The University receives about 13 percent of its funding from the state, while Berkeley receives 37 percent of its funding from the state.

The level of funding "tells us the state of California has committed to higher education ... and if the Virginia legislature wants a first-rate university, it must fund a first-rate university," Faculty Senate Chairman David T. Gies said.

"California has figured out it is important to support higher education," Bloomfield said.

History Prof. Erik Midelfort said Berkeley is deserving of their new ranking.

"Berkeley is one hell of a great school," Midelfort said.

Ramazani agreed that Virginia is not among the states most supportive of higher education.

"Other states are investing more aggressively in higher education," he said. "Unless more tax, tuition and private monies start coming into the University, the slippage will likely continue."

The state has "taken a lot of money out of higher education and hasn't put it back," Bloomfield said.

Both the University and the state have an obligation to correct the funding problems to the extent the budget allows, Sabato said.

University President John T. Casteen III mentioned the possible slip in the ranking in his March State of the University address. In that speech, he called for additional funding from the state legislature.

The state needs to give the University adequate funding if it is expected to continue as one of the top public universities in the nation, Gies said.

"I think the state needs to decide what it wants U.Va. to be and allow us to be it," he said.

The University can't be the best school and the cheapest school at the same time, he added. "The state can't have it both ways."

Gies explained that the University faces more challenges every year in recruiting and retaining faculty due to the lack of financial support.

Recruitment and retention of faculty also factors into U.S. News and World Report's determination of rank.

"Faculty are unlikely to jump ship just yet," Ramazani said. But "if the erosion becomes precipitous and isn't reversed" the problems could lead over time to the departure of professors, causing the University to slip further in the rankings, he said.

Still, faculty agreed the drop to No. 2 does not necessarily foretell a total downfall for the University.

"If U.S. News and World Report reported every year that the rankings were the same, how many magazines would they sell? People have got to move up and down," Midelfort said.

The overall strength of the faculty is not the reason for the slip, Gies said.

"The faculty is as strong as it's ever been," he said.

The emphasis placed on rank is "really quite silly," Sabato said. "I wish we had never paid the slightest attention to them"