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Torgersen discusses state of university at forum

By Netta S. Smith

Spectrum Volume 19 Issue 27 - April 10, 1997

President Paul Torgersen told the audience at the April 1 Faculty and Staff Senates Open Forum that, based on his visits with alumni, legislators, and friends of the university, he has found that Virginia Tech "is held in increasingly high esteem."

Torgersen discussed the current status of the university as reflected by a number of recent events. He reminded the audience of the increase in funds appropriated by the General Assembly, largely as a result of the efforts of the Virginia Business Higher Education Council (VBHEC) and its chairman, Til Hazel of Northern Virginia. "This group believes strongly in higher education," Torgersen said.

Torgersen said the state is making an initiative to review peer groups. "These groups are important to us," he said, "because they are what determines our faculty salaries." Virginia Tech's current peer group includes the universities of Pennsylvania, Southern California, Cornell, Texas at Austin; Illinois, Urbana; Purdue, and Penn State.

According to Torgersen, the tuition freeze, which he says he expects to last "into the foreseeable future," puts a strain on already tight university resources. "The state appropriates salary increases, which we have to match," he said. "That's hard to do with a tuition freeze."

Funds granted to Virginia Tech with the help of the VBHEC are making it possible for "an enormous amount of construction" to be going on or in planning stages. Currently, Torgersen said, "there are more projects than at any time in the university's history."

Application for admission are up, as is the quality profile of accepted students. "We have placed more emphasis on admissions," Torgersen said. The office has been moved to the second floor of Burruss. "It's important to bring prospective students and their parents to the center of this beautiful campus when they come for a visit."

Torgersen said the university has received a record number of applications for the coming year. Of the 17,139 students who applied, 11,600 were accepted, with 4,350 expected to accept their admission offers and to enter as freshmen. "The credentials of those students we accepted are high," Torgersen said, with an average GPA of 3.52 and SAT of 1190. "We're becoming increasingly selective in the admissions process."

The dedication of the Northern Virginia graduate Center on March 15 "went extremely well," Torgersen said. This $17-million project, a joint effort with the University of Virginia, is a significant presence in that area, he said. Its location right next to the Falls Church Metro station makes it easily accessible, and the Metro station parking lots are available for student use in the evenings, when classes are held. Virginia Tech has 45 faculty members and slightly over 2,000 students. It confers about 375 degrees annually from its 27 graduate-degree programs. "We have 60 percent of the facilities for our use, and UVa has the rest," Torgersen said.

Torgersen went on to highlight recent successes and to show clippings of articles praising a variety of university initiatives.

* The Nobel Prize in physics was won by alumnus Robert Richardson. Richardson will speak on campus Tuesday, April 15.

* The Faculty Development Institutes won the Hesburgh Award. "We were one of only four universities across the country recognized for faculty innovation, and we received a lot of good publicity for that." Torgersen showed a brochure detailing the university's work in this area and a personal letter from President Bill Clinton. Torgersen said he sent the presidential letter on to Fred Carlisle, who began the institutes.

* The Institute for Connecting Science Research to the Classroom, an effort to use the Internet to assist secondary schools in teaching science, has received excellent publicity through the efforts of Joy Colbert in the College of Human Resources and Education.

* The Cyberschool is receiving a high level of support from the Sloan Foundation, under the leadership of Lucinda Roy.

* NetWork Virginia, a collaborative effort with Bell Atlantic, Sprint, and Virginia Tech, was featured in an article about the ATM revolution.

* Transgenic livestock have been featured in numerous article and other news reports, including an article in Scientific America. "This operation is connected with the sheep-cloning operation that has received so much publicity lately," Torgersen said. (Editor's note: PPL Therapeutics of Blacksburg is the US operation of PPL Therapeutics Ltd. of Scotland, the company involved in recent sheep-cloning developments.)

* Technology transfer through economic development is an important area where Virginia Tech continues to be a leader.

* Ground will be broken for the Advanced Communication and Information Technology Center building in the fall. The building was granted $2.5 million by the General Assembly.

* The university is negotiating for off-campus rental space to open a math emporium this fall. The facility will contain computer hardware and the latest software to assist students in learning math.

On the down side, Torgersen said, "you know we have had some problems with athlete misbehavior. We have put together a committee and have put in a policy that I hope will curtail abuses in intercollegiate athletics, particularly football players." He added that the Washington Post, Richmond Times Dispatch, and other newspapers had written favorably about the university's efforts in this area. "I just hope this works," he said. "Last year was a good year for us in terms of another alliance bowl, but it was not a good year for us in terms of athletic publicity."

Torgersen said that Virginia Tech continues to be a major research university despite the fact that research funding dropped last year to $143.8 million. Research funding is projected to be up to $153.8 million in 1997. This funding is important not only for the money it brings in, but also because of the way it is used in determining what universities will be peer institutions.

When asked about the difference between the large number of students accepted and the projected size of the freshman class, Torgersen said that projections of the number of students offered admission who choose to comes to Virginia Tech are based on formulas that have proved accurate in the past.