The Academic Affairs and Student Life Committee of the Board of Visitors discussed long-term goals, bettering first-year advising and heard an update from Head Football Coach Tony Elliott at its meeting Thursday afternoon.
Incoming Provost Ian Baucom opened the meeting with introductory remarks and introduced Robyn Hadley, vice president and chief student affairs officer. Hadley presented a report in which she remarked on her first nine months as vice president, including priorities for the coming year and challenges students face.
Today’s students, Hadley said, are more cost-conscious, digitally engaged and may tend to feel distrust toward major institutions, but are also comfortable with diversity and mental health in a way that some members of “older adults” are not. She spoke on the ways the pandemic has shaped the lives of this generation of students as they grow and learn in a college environment.
“We find ourselves at a critical crossroads right now, due largely to the pandemic,” Hadley said. “The pandemic has had a ripple effect on our students, with recent research citing social disengagement, mental health and unfinished K through 12 learning and maturation as major factors affecting both our current students and students entering the University in the next few years.”
Hadley laid out three priorities for the University and its strategic planning efforts — beginning outreach to students before application and admissions, ensuring faculty and staff have the tools and resources to deliver on the University’s Great and Good Plan and finally modeling the “ethos of public service” and importance of community in the student experience.
After Hadley concluded her presentation, she took questions from members of the committee — Board member Babur Lateef asked about data-driven approaches to ensuring students remained in upper-level STEM classes and completed degrees in challenging majors, and other members wondered how to help students transition from a largely online experience to an in-person learning environment.
Hadley responded that she felt a major aspect of supporting students in and outside of the classroom has to do with accessibility to resources and outreach from the University “before applications and admissions.”
“I think the University has quite a few of the resources in different places that students need, but we have got to do a better job of putting them all on the landing page, where students and families will know where to get them,” Hadley said.
Sarita Mehta, student member of the Board and fourth-year College student, asked Hadley how specifically she planned to deliver that knowledge to students, as well as the timeline Hadley had set to accomplish those goals.
Baucom responded to Mehta, saying that he recognized the long-term effects the pandemic has had on students and intends to further capitalize on the period between admission and matriculation into the University, as well as ensuring first-year students have access to centralized resources.
“We have a precious period of time between when a student is admitted to the University when they enrolled that we haven't taken advantage of in the past,” Baucom said. “We can’t wait until the end of the first-semester audit to catch moments.”
The committee then moved into a presentation delivered by Asst. Sociology Prof. Josipa Roska. Roska presented findings on an advising survey the University conducted over the past year. Widely, Roska and the research team found that students are largely more satisfied with advising after they’ve declared their major and are assigned a major-specific advisor as opposed to a general academic advisor. Most of these students are first-years.
Less than half of students surveyed in the College of Arts and Sciences, for example, felt like their pre-major advisor was “knowledgeable of major requirements,” and about 60 percent of students said they felt “satisfied or very satisfied” with the quality of advising before declaring a major compared to close to 80 percent of students who said the same about advising in their major.
Baucom also provided insight into these survey results, noting that some of the issues with first-year advising come from general advisors who know little about areas of study outside of their own fields.
“You’re a French professor in the College who's currently doing first-year advising, you know a lot about the French major … but you've got a student who is really interested in astral chemistry,” Baucom said. “In the advising session, you're spending a lot of time on your computer, trying to figure out what that student needs to do. That's not time well spent.”
Baucom addressed some of the ways the University plans to resolve these issues, including promoting Roska to a new role in the Provost’s Office — Roska will be in charge of spearheading efforts to improve advising based on the survey results.
“[We’ll] go work with the deans of all the schools, get the technology in place that we need to have in place the students, have information available, advisors communicate with one another, and then pivot to that the human infrastructure by the dedicated people in the pre-major advising and the major advice,” Baucom said.
Finally, the committee heard from Athletic Director Carla Williams and Elliott, who replaced former coach Bronco Mendenhall. Elliott spoke to the committee about his goals for the program and his players, emphasizing a commitment to academics as well as athletics.
“I think in order to protect the integrity of the collegiate model, you have to have a commitment to excellence academically and an unwillingness to compromise academically,” Elliott said. “We will not compromise academics and character in order to win football games.”
Elliott also spoke on his goals for recruitment and the long-term goals for the team, including what makes Virginia football different from other teams.
“The difference between the University of Virginia and the other school is they're selling you the short term,” Elliott said. “Our focus is going to be on the educational experience and preparing you for life after football.”
The committee then approved professorships sponsored by donors, such as a Distinguished Professorship in the History and Principles of Democracy gifted by John Nau, who graduated from the University in 1968 and formerly served on the Board of Trustees.