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BOV discusses academic and student life, reflects on the past year during meetings Friday

The Academic and Student Life Committee approved 11 new professorships and two new degree programs in addition to discussing enrollment and hybrid teaching

When compared to fall 2020, total undergraduate enrollment is projected to decrease by 2 percent over the next seven years.
When compared to fall 2020, total undergraduate enrollment is projected to decrease by 2 percent over the next seven years.

The Academic and Student Life Committee of the Board of Visitors met Friday afternoon to approve the establishment of 11 new professorships and two new degree programs. The committee also made enrollment projections for the next seven years and heard from two professors about their experiences with hybrid teaching. Following the committee meeting, the full Board met to provide a summary and conclusion of the meetings that took place Wednesday through Friday. 

During the Academic and Student Life Committee meeting, Vice Provost of Academic Affairs Liz Magill introduced 11 new professorships — all of which were approved by the committee. One was the Armstead L. Robinson Professorship in African-American and African Studies, which is dedicated to the founder of the Carter G. Woodson Institute. The institute administers the University’s undergraduate degrees in African-American and African Studies. 

The Board previously approved a quasi-endowment from the University’s Strategic Investment Fund to endow this professorship, which will provide both salary and non-salary support to a faculty member from the field of African-American and African Studies. 

Other professorships include the David LaCross Professorship, which supports a Distinguished Scholar in quantitative analysis or finance at the Darden School of Business, two professorships in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and seven professorships funded by Darden alumnus Frank M. Sands Sr. The seven professorships include three emerging scholars chairs and four Distinguished Scholar chairs. Sands previously donated $68 million to the Darden School — the largest single gift in the school’s history — to fund 12 total professorships with the goal of bolstering “excellence and innovation in pedagogy and engagement with practice.” 

The Board also introduced two new degree programs. One is a Doctorate of Philosophy at the Darden School of Business. If approved, the University would be the first academic institution in Virginia to offer a doctorate in data science. The second program is a Bachelor of Arts in Computer Science in the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. 

Every two years, the University updates their enrollment projections. When compared to fall 2018, undergraduate enrollment is projected to increase by just under 1 percent over the period of seven years from fall 2021 through fall 2027. According to Magill, fall 2018 marked the end of a period of planned growth — which began in fall 2011 — that the University agreed upon with the Commonwealth, where enrollment grew by about 1,600 students. While the classes that entered in 2019 and 2020 exceeded their intended size through over-enrollment, class sizes are projected to return to baseline after their graduation. When compared to fall 2020, total undergraduate enrollment is projected to decrease by 2 percent over the next seven years. 

“We did not treat the over-enrollment as the new base because we did not engage in comprehensive planning for that over-enrollment,” Magill said. “As you know, we guarantee housing to first-year students, so actual increases in first-year enrollment in particular require quite a bit of planning … so we didn’t treat that as the new baseline. We treated our prior projections as the baseline.” 

For the last 10 years, there has been an increasing number of admitted Virginia high school graduates, and this number is projected to grow in the coming years — reaching its peak during 2025 and the fall of 2026 — before declining afterwards. Graduate enrollment is expected to grow by 3 percent during the same period of time as a result of expanded graduate programs and research. 

After discussing enrollment projections, Magill proceeded with a few updates on the academic learning experience. Although the number of in-person classes remained roughly the same as the fall, at around 27 percent, the number of students enrolled in in-person classes this semester increased. There are currently around 9,000 students taking a course with an in-person component compared to 6,900 students in the fall. 

Magill introduced two professors who gave their perspectives and shared innovations about teaching this semester, acknowledging the struggles but also unexpected successes in virtual learning. 

Amanda Cowen, associate professor in the McIntire School of Commerce, discussed the importance of inclusion for students who were learning remotely in her classroom and emphasized the importance of social connection, even over Zoom. 

“It was important to me to find ways to not only fully support our remote students but to make our remote students feel included in any type of live experiences that we were having,” Cowen said. “I didn’t want them to feel like an audience just watching what was going on in a classroom, but to be active and engaged participants in the course that I was offering.”

Biology Professor Sarah Kucenas mentioned that taking classes virtually actually increased engagement from students both in class and during office hours, which was a positive surprise for her. 

“I’m getting much more engagement from students, especially over Zoom and in the chat, that are typically populations that are more underrepresented,” Kucenas said. “I’m hearing much more vocalization, for example, from women in the class, jumping up and wanting to answer a question, students that you might imagine not feeling as comfortable answering … chatting in the chat bar.” 

After the Academic and Student Life session concluded, the full Board met for summary and a conclusion. President Jim Ryan remarked on the unprecedented year the University has had in the face of the pandemic. 

“This has been a year like no other … COVID upended how we did our work, and we have been in a daily constant battle to keep our community safe and healthy and to continue in our mission,” Ryan said. 

Ryan also acknowledged many of the events that made headlines in 2020 and 2021, including the killing of George Floyd and the accompanying Black Lives Matter protests, the Capitol insurrection following a tumultuous election season, controversies over profane Lawn room signs and COVID-19 violations brought against fraternities and sororities. 

“I think it’s fair to say that the year has been bumpy but successful … I think we’ve done about as well as any other University in managing the pandemic,” Ryan said. “We’ve come to appreciate even more than we have before the ingenuity, the determination, the resilience and the compassion of our students, our faculty and staff.” 

Ryan then gave an overview of the priorities for 2020-2021 year, which include advancing key initiatives of the University’s strategic plan such as the Emmet-Ivy corridor, investing in STEM research and interdisciplinary research spaces and advancing diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives such as increased funding and changes to the University landscape based on recommendations from newly created Naming and Memorials Committee

Mazzen Shalaby, fourth-year Batten student and student representative on the Board of Visitors, delivered remarks about COVID-19, acknowledging that he’s had to “throw aside” many of his initiatives in order to handle these more pressing issues. 

He addressed student reactions to the Board’s proposed tuition increase, asking the Board to “look under [every] stone and [shake every] tree before resulting to tuition hikes.” 

“Affordability is access, and we will never achieve our many lofty goals until the University experience is accessible to those who have worked so hard to get here,” Shalaby said. “Access includes having time to participate in clubs and extracurriculars rather than working two jobs. Access is focusing on your studies rather than where your next meal will come from, and access is having the peace of mind to truly lean into being a member of this community without fear that your financial situation could give way at any moment.”

Shalaby also spoke about mental health at the University, saying he feels many students are unaware of the resources available to them given the “enormous role” mental health had during the fall semester. He addressed diversity and inclusion at the University, emphasizing the importance that we “reckon with our history” as well as the importance of engagement in student government and transparency in University communications. 

At the end of the meeting, Ryan announced that Board Member John Griffin had donated $5 million to the McIntire School of Commerce, which was matched by the Bicentennial Scholars Fund  for a total of $10 million. The money will form a need-based endowment fund for McIntire students. Tuition for in-state students at McIntire costs $44,766 and out-of-school tuition ranges from $79,692 to $80,932 — almost $10,000 more than tuition at the College of Arts and Sciences. 

Griffin named the scholarship in honor of his mother, Alice. She was a teacher at a community college, and Griffin said she often taught first-generation students — her joy for teaching, he said, inspired this gift. 

“[The scholarship] will undoubtedly impact the lives of students for generations beginning this fall,” Ryan said. 

The Board then moved into closed session.