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21st Century President

Declining state funds, changing demographics force University presidents to spend time away from Grounds to increase the school

As the University has to expand even in the wake of dramatic cuts to state funds, the role of the school's president has expanded simultaneously. For the office's current holder, President John T. Casteen, III, major fundraising campaigns often have required travel, making it increasingly difficult to remain on Grounds for long periods of time. With his responsibilities continuously mounting, the University president sometimes can appear inaccessible to students and faculty members, although many of them still consider him to be an effective leader.

How we got here\nThe University opened in 1825 but operated without a president until 1904. Instead, University officials elected a chair of the faculty every few years. The University was happily "unadministered," former President Robert O'Neil said. When the Rotunda burned down in 1895 and new buildings went up, though, people began to reconsider the University's lack of leadership at the top, said Sandy Gilliam, the University's protocol and history officer and former secretary to the Board of Visitors.

Edwin Alderman was elected to be the school's first president in 1904. The new leader started raising money to help bring the University to the forefront of higher education. By the time John L. Newcomb became president in 1931, however, the University was in the midst of the Great Depression and primarily concerned about sustaining itself, Gilliam said. Eventually, a period of growth ensued during President Colgate Darden's term and continued during the administration of President Edgar Shannon, Jr., Gilliam added.

The University's financial direction reversed, though, when President Frank Hereford's tenure from 1974-85 saw the loss of financial support from the state, and as a result, the University decided to launch its first capital campaign.

"That's when the big money started coming in," Gilliam said. "If they weren't on the road four days a week, they were entertaining donors at Carr's Hill."

The campaign successfully raised $147 million, which allowed O'Neil, who assumed the office in summer 1985, to lead the University without quite as many of the financial burdens that his successor, Casteen, would inherit.

"When I was leaving office in 1990, I became aware that the pattern of state funding would change sign in the next year or two," O'Neil said. "Mr. Casteen had the burden of essentially picking up the pieces and going on."

Different times call for different measures, University spokesperson Carol Wood said, and so the traditional college president's role was thrown out in favor of a model that focused on the financial stability of this changing public university.

A new kind of presidency\nWhen Casteen became president of the University in 1990, he assumed that traditional role at first - he interacted regularly with faculty and students, taught a class and maintained a daily presence on Grounds. The demands upon him, however, changed dramatically during his first few years in office, Wood said, when state funding dropped from 28 to 13 percent of the University's general budget.

"The University and many other public universities began to face extraordinary financial challenges," Wood said, "and in 1993, the state's contribution to the University's general budget had already started to plummet."

Consequently, the Board of Visitors asked Casteen to switch gears and become the University's "chief fundraiser."

This new role made Casteen's work away from Charlottesville increasingly important, he said.

The president's efforts have been overwhelmingly successful, Politics Prof. Larry Sabato stated in an e-mail.

"Casteen has raised billions of dollars in an era when the state simply isn't willing to invest in universities the way they did in the 1960s and 1970s," Sabato said.

Apart from his new responsibilities as a fundraiser, Casteen also has been charged with devising strategies to strengthen the University and its reputation, plan new programs and find funds to pay for those improvements.

As a result, the president has worked to improve minority representation at the University, increase study abroad opportunities and make tuition more affordable through AccessUVA, Sabato said. Overall, Casteen's work away from Charlottesville has succeeded in adding to the University's international prestige, Gilliam added.

"More people know who we are and what we are," Gilliam said.

What the changes have meant for the community\nUltimately, however, these projects and fundraising efforts have affected the president's opportunities to interact with students and faculty on Grounds.

Astronomy Prof. Charles Tolbert, for example, said Shannon regularly attended faculty meetings.

"That stopped at Hereford," Tolbert said. "Since that time, presidents have been more up at Madison Hall and the Rotunda and less in the trenches."

Similarly, Sabato said he frequently saw Shannon when he was an undergraduate at the University in the early 1970s.

"But that was because the University was smaller and less complex," Sabato said. "This is not a small liberal arts university where the president can know every student by name and show up at every event."

But even though Casteen has spent much of his time away from the University, Gilliam said the president's absence is not an isolated phenomenon but rather something that's quickly becoming the norm for all University presidents since Shannon's tenure. Prior to Shannon's presidency, the relationship between students and the president was far more formal.

"The only serious contact any of us every had with Darden was in his office," Gilliam said. "He sat, you stood. The only acceptable answers on your part were 'Yes, sir,' 'No, sir.' That's changed ... It's a lot better now."

At the same time, the improved relationship that the president has with the rest of the University community still suffers from his absence.

"Money is a prime concern, and you have to travel to get it," Gilliam said.

What student leaders had to say\nOne end result of these travels, however, is that student leaders have had very little face time with the president outside of formal events, such as the annual Leadership 2K conference and Christmas parties, some student leaders said.

Former Student Council President Matt Schrimper said he mostly met with Casteen at receptions or formal dinners in the context of large groups of students. To address any concerns of Schrimper that arose, Casteen generally referred him to a vice president or someone in the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs instead.

Former Honor Committee Chair David Truetzel, meanwhile, said there hasn't been as much of a need to stay in continuous contact with the president.

"I haven't really needed to interact with him," Truetzel said. "The committees are all student-run."

Ultimately, even though it would be nice to have more interaction with Casteen, the president has created a "culture of student self-governance" that benefits the community, Schrimper said.\nOthers noted, however, that more interaction with the president would be beneficial.

Student Council President Colin Hood, for example, said he would love to see incoming University President Teresa A. Sullivan play a more active role in the school's day-to-day operations on Grounds. In addition, he said he would like to see her engage more directly with students by doing things such as paying visits to the dining halls.

Benevolent bureaucracy\nAlthough student leaders rarely receive feedback from the president himself, other administrators often are more than willing to hear their ideas and concerns, several leaders said.

"I've met with President Casteen a handful of times," said Nikhil Panda, former Student Council vice president for administration. "I'll approach him about an idea that I have and see what his thoughts are. All of the times, he puts me in touch with someone in his office and from that point on, whatever needs to get done gets done easily."

Even as Casteen is preoccupied with his own responsibilities, students have plenty of access to vice presidents and other administrators, Schrimper said.

Similarly, some professors said Casteen's inaccessibility has not affected them adversely. In fact, Tolbert said he believes Casteen's role in the University's current system benefits teachers in the long run.

"I don't think professors have any particular need to interact with the president as long as the president is providing a nice place for you to be as a professor," Tolbert said. "He was out getting money for the University, and we were doing our thing."

Nevertheless, Ben Chrisinger, Student Council chief of cabinet, said the current state of the presidency makes it seem as if the University has a bureaucratic system of operations.

"If you want to get one specific thing done ... [Casteen's] not a go-to guy," Chrisinger said. "It's almost as if he's steering the ship ... He's changing things from a high-level place."

On the other hand, Chrisinger noted that most other administrators are very accessible and can accomplish tasks in a fairly efficient manner.

No matter how bureaucratic it may appear, however, the University has shown a higher degree of faculty involvement and governance than one would find at almost any other institution, O'Neil said. With traditions such as student self-governance in place, micro-management from the highest levels of the University administration is relatively limited and trusting.

And regardless of the toll it may have taken on the president's accessibility, Casteen's involvement in a number of different projects seems to have paid off, according to Sabato.

"It is astonishing to review the list of new facilities, innovative programs and distinguished faculty built or acquired during Mr. Casteen's tenure," Sabato said. "To those who say Mr. Casteen wasn't accessible enough, I would counter, how many hours do you think are in a day? ... Raising billions, creating a new school, adding dozens of new state-of-the-art facilities, expanding programs and diversity and defending our interests in D.C. and Richmond takes a lot of time and energy - more than most people even have. And it's also important to eat, sleep and spend a little time with friends and family"


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