In the meeting of the full board, Board of Visitors members met to hear a report from University President Jim Ryan as well as remarks from the chair of the Faculty Senate and the student member of the Board. Before closing, members voted to extend Ryan’s employment by three years and to approve the next student member.
The Board gathered in the Rotunda for the meeting, which was one of the final sessions of the three-day session.
To start, members of the board approved a commendation for Sarita Mehta, outgoing student member of the Board and fourth-year College student. The resolution cited her “devoted service to the Board and the University.” Mehta will be replaced by third-year Architecture student Lily Roberts, who currently serves as president of the National Organization of Minority Architecture Students at U.Va.
Mehta delivered remarks to the Board, highlighting student struggles with meeting major requirements and finding open classes in an overarching academic structure that limits student choice and autonomy.
“Ideally, students from day one should feel like their sole constraint is their own interests, passions and work ethic,” Mehta said.
Mehta additionally urged the Board to protect students’ mental health, secure freedom of thought on Grounds and to improve transparency and clarity with the student body. Mehta ended her remarks expressing confidence that the Board, “when … choosing between what is easy and what is right, you all will side with the latter.”
Delivering his President’s Report, Ryan began by addressing the now-passed referendum on rescinding the single-sanction punishment of expulsion for Honor offenses. Ryan said he did not support the change, but supported the rights of students to make alterations to the Honor Committee’s Constitution.
“If I were voting, I would not vote in favor of this change, but this is the choice of students,” Ryan said. “This is maybe the epitome of student self-governance.”
The Honor referendum passed following the end of student body elections Friday, with 6,010 students — or 23.8 percent of the student population — voting on the referendum and 4,811 of those voters — 80.05 percent — in favor.
Ryan then spoke on current efforts by the University to bolster relations with the local community, including supporting initiatives to develop affordable housing in Charlottesville and Albemarle County and carrying out COVID-19 testing and vaccination.
“All of this is going a long way to changing the narrative about U.Va. and about U.Va’s relationship to Charlottesville and Albemarle County,” Ryan said.
Ryan then addressed the rising sense of unrest and agitation within students and faculty after two years of pandemic-related policies — a sentiment he described as “COVID fatigue” — and delineated current efforts to return the University back to normalcy despite the long-lasting consequences of the pandemic, including staffing issues and problems surrounding student life.
“It’s worth noting that only fourth-years have had a COVID-free year during their time here … not many students here are fully aware of all the student traditions,” Ryan said. “It’s a real issue.”
As part of efforts to roll the University back into pre-pandemic policies, University leadership recently decided to remove the mask mandate for all indoor areas apart from classrooms, U.Va. Health facilities and University Transit Services, effective March 21.
Ryan then opened up for discussion the key initiatives of his Strategic Plan — a comprehensive plan set forth to transform the University into the best public institution by 2030. Key initiatives under the plan include fostering a positive connection with the Charlottesville community, preparing students to serve as “productive student-leaders” in the world and completing development in the Ivy-Emmett corridor.
Members of the Board then shared thoughts on which initiatives they found most critical and hoped to prioritize, including obtaining the best staff, advancing University research, enabling more middle- and low-income students to attend and engage with University offerings and establishing a second-year on-Grounds housing requirement.
Medicine Prof. Susan Kirk, the chair of the Faculty Senate, then delivered remarks summarizing concerns among members of the Faculty Senate. Kirk discussed concerns among faculty regarding the speed of the process to replace Provost Liz Magill with incoming Provost Ian Baucom, but reassured the Board that she feels those concerns have now been adequately addressed by University leadership.
Among her concerns regarding the relationship between faculty and the Board, Kirk recognized the sense of voicelessness experienced by many in the faculty, particularly during the pandemic as rules and regulations of expectations were consistently rolled out with minimal opportunity for feedback.
“[Faculty] had nowhere to … bring their voices,” Kirk said.
Kirk then addressed how faculty representatives to the Board are traditionally selected. The Board alone selects the candidate regardless of the suggestions sent in by the Faculty Senate. Kirk, who is currently the primary candidate for this position next year, encouraged the Board to accept multiple suggestions from the Senate in the future, similar to the process of selecting the student member.
“I vowed as the immediate past chair of the Senate to bring you several choices — obviously that’s worked well for you for choosing a student member, and I think that would be a good model for us too,” Kirk said.
Following these remarks, the Board then entered closed session before returning for a few final motions.
Rector of the Board Whittington Clement called for a motion to extend President Ryan’s employment as president to July 31, 2028 — a three-year extension.
“[Due to] his impressive accomplishments — launching the 2030 plan, recruiting and hiring some excellent new names and other impressive leadership, keeping the capital campaign ahead of schedule with $3.9 billion raised to date, launching a new school — the School of Data Science — as well as the Democracy Institute and getting us through the pandemic so well,” Clement said. “In light of that, I ask for a motion to extend President Ryan’s employment as president.”
The motion was approved and Ryan’s extension was passed unanimously.
Finally, the Board approved third-year Architecture student Lily Roberts as the new student member of the Board and appointed Kirk as faculty representative before adjourning.