The Board of Visitors’ Academic and Student Life Committee met Thursday to discuss research priorities and the preservation of free speech. The Committee also discussed changes to the guest experience at the University.
Ian Baucom, executive vice president and provost, gave opening remarks and completed an unfinished presentation from a prior meeting in June. Baucom emphasized the importance of research at the University. Five areas of focus include democracy, environmental resilience and sustainability, precision medicine, brain and neuroscience and digital technology and society.
Baucom also expressed a need to continue pushing beyond funding goals set in 2016.
“We cannot let ourselves be satisfied with a goal that we set five years ago,” Baucom said. “We are not competitive with our peers … We’ve got to lift our foundation, and then everything goes up.”
The Committee will focus on three areas within strategic research infrastructure — external funding, discovery and translation. Under these three categories, the Committee hopes to obtain grants and sponsorships to sustain research, increase faculty numbers as well as the graduate student and postdoctoral populations, provide more and larger facilities, boost numbers of clinical trials as well as partnerships with different groups, lawmakers and NGOs and more.
Christa Acampora, dean of the College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, described the necessity of the liberal arts curriculum in confronting issues ranging from the decline of democracy to climate change to public health concerns.
“These challenges will require us to draw upon, define and refine our senses of what makes us human, more than human and humane,” Acampora said. “[The liberal arts and sciences are] essential for our discovery of hope, in a world that oftentimes today seems to be in despair.”
Baucom then introduced Law Prof. Leslie Kendrick to discuss free speech and the University’s Statement on Free Expression and Free Inquiry — Kendrick is also the chair of the committee which drafted the statement. Kendrick described the statement as a “living” document and a “touchstone” for the University.
In June of last year, the Board approved the statement Kendrick’s Committee had drafted, which specifies the University commitment to free speech which “underpins part of the University’s mission” while promoting “mutual respect.”
“A great deal is already happening that embodies the various values of the free speech statement and this is not surprising because these values are organic,” Kendrick said. “They're inherent in our academic mission, and part of what we do every day. It's helpful though to have reminders of that and to celebrate and elevate that work.”
The Committee briefly discussed the University Guide Service after some guests reported being “disappointed” with their tours of Grounds last semester. As well as engaging with leaders in Guides and Vice Provost for Enrollment Steven Farmer, the Office of Admission plans to create a new senior position to focus full-time on the experience of guests at the University. The office also hired an external expert to improve the guest experience.
Of 709 respondents to a survey conducted by the Office of Admissions, 20 respondents — or three percent — said that their tour guide “need[ed] improvement.”
Committee member Bert Ellis called on Board members and those in the room to anonymously participate in University Guide tours and report back to the Board.
“I think it’s a very, very important thing that we know what is being said,” Ellis said.
Ellis also thanked Acampora for her “passionate and very elegant defense of Mr. Jefferson's academical village.”
The Committee also approved several new professorships — the David W. Thompson Eminent Scholars Visiting Professorship in Public Accounting, the Ruffin Foundation Distinguished Professorship in Studio Art, the Olsen Bicentennial Professorship in Materials Science and Engineering and the D. Stephen G. Wilson Bicentennial Professorship.
The next set of Board meetings will be held Dec. 8 and 9.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misstated that the Board had discussed changes to the University Guide Service. The Board did discuss a new position in the Office of Admissions, but the Guides Service itself has not undergone any changes.