To my faculty and staff colleagues at the University:
Two weeks ago I was reinstated as the eighth President of the University. I write today to tell you what I have been doing and my plans for going forward.
Since the day I was reinstated, I have been taking soundings from many in the University community. The Governor has appointed new members of the Board of Visitors, and I have taken the opportunity to speak with them, with the Rector, and with incumbent Board members. I have also spoken with faculty leaders, staff and administrators, and with many alumni, parents, and community members. Although many of our students are not here for the summer, a number of them have also contacted me. It is fair to say that I am far behind in answering my mail.
The Marine Corps has a saying about “another opportunity disguised as a disaster.” I believe it is important for us to regard the events of the past month as pointing the way to opportunities. Former Rector and Board member Heywood Fralin observed that the University community is more united than at any time he can remember. More than I could have ever imagined, our difficulties here have galvanized our stakeholders, both internal and external, in extraordinary ways. We are better positioned than ever before to address the difficult issues facing higher education. We are not different from the rest of higher education in having these issues; we are different in that we have displayed the unity to begin addressing them.
I do not believe that what happened divided us into winners and losers; instead, I believe that the University of Virginia will be the winner. But it will also be necessary for us to pursue reconciliation with those with whom we differed, to repair relationships that have frayed, and always to let civility replace hostility. To the extent that I am able, I will lead this effort by example.
We will have many conversations in the coming months about the University’s direction and aims. Yet at this moment, I want to affirm:
DESPITE OUR FINANCIAL CHALLENGES, WE PROVIDE AN EXCELLENT EDUCATIONAL EXPERIENCE, often at a fraction of the expenditures of our peers. Public universities face difficult financial challenges, and we are no different: Tuition increases have not replaced the loss of state subsidies, and yet the tuition increases have placed serious burdens on many families. We receive less money today from the state’s General Fund and tuition to educate an in-state undergraduate student, in constant dollars, than we did in 1989. Still, U.Va. has maintained triple-A bond ratings from all three major credit agencies for nine consecutive years, a reflection of our fiscal stability and sound management. The national prominence of Darden and Law indicates the success we can achieve when we are allowed to compete in the market without subsidy; whether this successful experiment could be extended to other fields is a matter of politics as much as economics.
OUR FACULTY AND STAFF are the future of the University. Our faculty brings passion, expertise, and considerable pedagogical innovation to their students, yet they and their staff colleagues have experienced salary stagnation for years. While of course it is important to continue to look for efficiencies, it is folly to think that cost-cutting alone will be our salvation. We face the replacement of a generation of faculty who have shaped the institution and are now nearing retirement. What we do in the next decade will determine U.Va.’s continued prominence in its third century.
THE QUALITY OF PATIENT CARE is and will remain the top priority of our health care providers. The recent Supreme Court decision on health care will affect our Health System, no doubt in ways we cannot yet predict. Whatever the future of health care in this country, I will not rest until ours is recognized as the safest hospital in the nation.
We have come together with a sense of purpose and a conviction of how special this University is. The weeks ahead will give us the opportunity to discuss and debate the possible solutions to these and other issues. I plan to hold a town hall meeting closer to the opening of the fall semester to lay out some of the issues as I see them.
I want to thank all of you for your support and ask for your continued assistance. I believe Mr. Jefferson would be proud of your loyalty and engagement, and I know that I am grateful for them.
Very truly yours,
Teresa A. Sullivan