Spectrum Logo
A non-profit publication of the Office of the University Relations of Virginia Tech,
including The Conductor, a special section of the Spectrum printed 4 times a year


Spectrum Volume 17 Issue 30 - April 27, 1995

The Faculty Senate Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Spring 1995

Unanimously approved and accepted by the Faculty Senate on April 18, 1995.

Prepared by an Ad Hoc Committee of the Faculty Senate composed of Paul Metz (chair), Ludeman A. Eng, Edward A. Fox, Charles T. Goodsell, Paul L. Knox, Mary Denson Moore.


The purpose of this document is to express the vision of the faculty of Virginia Tech as the university moves into the twenty-first century. It describes, from a faculty perspective, the mission of the university and suggests some principles which we believe can best guide Virginia Tech's pursuit of excellence in fulfilling its motto, Ut Prosim ("That I May Serve"). The document concludes by outlining the role, the requirements, and the responsibilities which pertain to the university faculty.

Our Institutional Identity

There are over 2,000 institutions of higher education in the United States. All of them share broadly in an historical tradition and set of inherited values which define for colleges and universities a role emphasizing the value of open inquiry and dialogue; the worth of knowledge for its own sake and as a bedrock for democratic discourse, economic progress, and cultural vitality; and the responsibilities each generation has towards its successors.

Each of these institutions is also unique and has a distinctive culture. What makes Virginia Tech unique? What defines its culture?

First, Virginia Tech is a university. As such, Virginia Tech is properly concerned with the advancement through both instruction and research of virtually all fields of intellectual endeavor. The central commitment to undergraduate instruction that we all share requires us to transfer appropriate knowledge from our respective disciplines to students in order to prepare them for careers and life. The graduate programs which define Tech as a university challenge the institution to assemble scientists, scholars, and artists working at the highest level in a process of collaborative discovery and instruction with a post-graduate population.

Virginia Tech is a state-supported land-grant university. This obligates the university to make instruction available to varied kinds of populations through many modes of delivery and to provide information and counsel to a wide variety of enterprises. The land-grant mission is fundamental to Tech's character. It ties Virginia Tech to all geographic regions of the commonwealth and makes any number of citizens who have never attended Tech stakeholders in its welfare.

Finally, Virginia Tech is a research university of international stature. Its faculty members participate actively in scientific research, humanistic scholarship, artistic performance, and other facets of discovery. They are well known to their professional colleagues around the world. Their direct contributions to world-wide progress in a wide range of disciplines is only partially reflected by the annual volume of books, articles, papers, and patents which represent their work and bring credit to the institution.

The university's historical distinctiveness is defined by a set of circumstances which is not shared by any other institution. These include its location in southwest Virginia, land-grant origins, military traditions, technical orientation, and outstanding strengths of individual programs which have defined its mission and its public perception.

The Goals and Values Which Derive from Tech's Identity

Virginia Tech's unique role in higher education and in the state of Virginia suggest several institutional missions. We refer to these as instruction, research, and public service because in many contexts this is a useful distinction, but we must be constantly aware that in much of the best work that goes on in the university, there is great cross-fertilization and synergy among these functions. At bottom, what binds our activities together is a commitment to excellence in the many activities of learning and discovery.

Let us take a minute to reflect on why each of these missions is so critical to the vitality of Virginia Tech.

Teaching is at the heart of a university's purpose. It is what distinguishes a university from a research institute responsible only to itself and its funding agencies. Teaching is a principal means by which the university returns the investment of the commonwealth's taxpayers and its own students. For those whose primary responsibility is teaching, scholarship and research take place in praxis and are measured by the extent to which their practitioners are successful in engaging students in the process of gathering, assessing, analyzing, synthesizing, and applying information. It is critical that the faculty value and respect the undergraduate experience as a critical time in which young people display both great potential and great needs.

If we succeed in our teaching mission, the university will annually graduate thousands of young persons who have come to campus ready to learn and who have left eager, equipped, and sufficiently skilled to contribute to every aspect of our scientific, commercial, civic, and cultural life. We will also, and increasingly must also, have educated a geographically scattered adult population whose particular needs will challenge our ingenuity and our ability to devise and use non-traditional means of instruction. Because it would be impossible to overvalue instruction and those who engage in it successfully, no one should be given career responsibilities for teaching who does not do it very well.

Besides being the means by which individuals demonstrate their competence, research and its expression through publication, patents, and other means, pays direct benefit to society. Basic research opens our understanding of the physical universe in both its celestial and microscopic dimensions and in its inorganic and organic forms. Applied research generally depends on basic work and brings to the marketplace or other points of distribution agencies of direct human benefit. Research in the humanities and the social world increases our understanding of the human situation and of our shared cultures. Not a year passes in which the catalog of Virginia Tech's contributions in all these areas is not noteworthy and of demonstrable benefit.

Research also rewards the researcher. It is a principal means by which faculty members structure their own continuing education. It informs and sharpens their instruction by inspiring their curiosity and excitement and by giving them knowledge both of substance and of changing research methods which they then share with students.

Our performance of our service mission determines whether we succeed as a land-grant institution. Virginia's strong agricultural base requires state-of-the-art information and counsel if it is to continue to succeed in a fiercely competitive world economy. To this traditional mission the challenges of industrial production, of post-industrial economic and social life, and of environmental stress have added a plethora of challenges which the university's reduced but not dispirited Extension faculty members address every day in every region of the commonwealth. Increasingly service to our larger community has become a responsibility of every member of our faculty regardless of the nature of individual appointments.

The success of the university in achieving any of its multiple missions rests first of all on the excellence of its faculty. Because the university has multiple missions, each member of our faculty will, in the course of his or her career, engage in a variety of pursuits involving a range of collaborators and audiences. We must be conscious that every member of our faculty occupies a position which could otherwise be held by another individual and that each member of our faculty represents the university in his or her every professional endeavor.

The task of determining the individuals who merit career appointments to the faculty reveals and ultimately depends for its success upon the dual nature of faculty identity. Faculty members derive their identity as members of academic disciplines. It is the intellectual heritage, the research paradigms, and the continuing intellectual vitality of their disciplines which undergird the accomplishment and growth of individual faculty. Disciplinary colleagues remain key reference groups for strong faculty members throughout their careers. Yet our faculty members are also members of this specific university and must be able to make excellent contributions to its teaching and related missions.

Each discipline has its own means of measuring the competence and credibility of its practitioners. Fundamental to such measurement is the individual's demonstrated ability to think creatively, to show skill in the practices unique to the discipline, to discover what was not previously known (as indeed everything we teach was not at one time known), and to advance the intellectual frontiers of the discipline. If we are to be confident that in their teaching, service, and work of discovery our faculty members can credibly represent and advance the university, we must first be assured that they meet the standard of academic excellence appropriate to their disciplines.

It is the lifetime task of faculty members to participate in scholarship, broadly defined. The tasks of scholarship include the discovery of new knowledge; the synthesis of existing knowledge; the application of knowledge; and the direct imparting of knowledge. These tasks often overlap or interpenetrate one another, as when students and faculty members jointly engage in the excitement of discovery through research. Our evaluation of the faculty should reflect respect for all these aspects of scholarship.

The university has stated repeatedly that it serves a tripartite mission in which research, teaching, and public service are each highly valued. The faculty fully embraces this view. Provided that individuals have by their scientific, scholarly, pedagogic, or artistic achievements demonstrated that they merit membership in the faculty, they should receive recognition and encouragement commensurate with their achievements and contributions supporting any of these missions.

The activities of individual faculty members will vary according to individual skills, interests, and career stage, the needs of their departments, and the nature of their appointments. Achievement in research, instruction, or service should be recognized in proportion to the expressed expectations for the individual faculty member's position and not in proportion to imputed differences in emphasis among the university's missions.

The Role of the Faculty in Realizing the University's Vision

A university is a community, and it is also a set of interlocking communities. Faculty members participate in the geographically diffuse communities of their disciplines, and, within the Virginia Tech context, as members of departments, colleges, and the institution as a whole. Each level of community suggests its own set of expectations and roles for the ideal means of faculty participation.

As individual scholars practicing their disciplines, faculty members should be encouraged and empowered to follow their intellectual curiosity and their understanding of the needs of their subject matter. Research agendas should be a matter of individual choice. Appointments should reflect the mixture of each individual's strengths, weaknesses, and aspirations relative to the university's several missions.

Within their departments and other academic units, faculty members of all ranks should be the main authors of degree programs and curricula. Our expertise should be used productively in determining the goals and priorities of their units. Governance should be shared. Within the university itself, departments and other units should have the maximum possible latitude to determine their own fates. Decentralized authority within a clearly articulated set of values and goals, and with full accountability for results, will best allow our departments to achieve their potential.

At the highest level of aggregation, the university itself displays a creative tension between hierarchical and collegial models of governance. On the one hand the Board of Visitors, the president, and the senior administration exercise legitimate authority. It must be recognized that those who are held accountable for the institution's success must be given the authority and means to achieve it. On the other hand, it is we the faculty who perform the defining work of the university, who infuse its life with the excitement of exploration and discovery, and who are best able to understand and articulate directions, needs, problems, and opportunities in all aspects of academic life.

We can do more than we have thus far done to bring together and exploit the potential of these complementary voices in university governance. If the university is to react quickly and appropriately to environmental change in a way which respects its mission and which best aligns the application of resources with shared priorities, it is essential that the academic voice be more clearly present in governance.

Any intellectually vital university is in a constant state of self-discovery and re-invention. As a community of scholars we should not only acknowledge, but celebrate, legitimate differences of opinion within our community about such issues as the definition of a basic curriculum, the means and extent to which all faculty members should apply advanced technology to instruction, and the respective roles of the faculty and other actors in university governance.

We believe our voice has not been adequately heard. At times it has not been sufficiently articulate. At other times, it has seemed not to have an audience. It is imperative that members of the faculty take responsibility for governance issues. It is imperative that individual faculty members involved in governance bring to the Faculty Senate matters of importance to the university, and also that the Faculty Senate actively seek to be involved in such issues.

It is equally essential that the university administration not deny itself the chance to make the best informed, most widely understood and supported strategic decisions by openly soliciting the participation of faculty members and by involving them in each initiative or new direction from the beginning. Any change in the governance structure which would more clearly define and invite the role of the faculty and which would clarify, simplify, and facilitate the means by which the informed concerns of the faculty can influence university policy should be encouraged.

The Requirements and Responsibilities of the Faculty

It is axiomatic that those who are asked to do a job should be given the necessary tools. Increasingly the research enterprise is capital-intensive and expensive. New modes of scholarly communication, new techniques for delivering instruction, provide enormous leverage for the efforts of individuals, but only after costly elements of infrastructure have first been furnished.

To achieve their missions, faculty members require first an environment in which scholarly and scientific communication is easily accomplished. Telecommunications infrastructure and a sound computing environment must be present. Funds must be available for professional travel. Above all, library support must be sufficient to make both traditional and non-traditional scholarly and scientific resources available.

On a less material plane, faculty success requires an environment of tolerance, understanding, and support. The principles of academic freedom should be clearly and enthusiastically enunciated. It should not be necessary for faculty members to defend the enterprise of a research university at every turn. The university should continuously explain all the university's missions and publicly reward and encourage accomplishment in each of them.

With rights come responsibilities. With the high privilege of tenure comes the expectation that faculty members will embody career-long dedication to scholarship in its several manifestations. We also owe one another not only an acknowledgment of academic freedom but a recognition that invidious comparisons between arts and sciences, between individual disciplines, between quantitative and qualitative research styles, between tenure-track faculty members and instructors, or between those individuals who in their work emphasize one or another of the university's missions represent a destructive form of arrogance.

Faculty members must embody the highest ethical standards in their behavior towards one another, towards students, and towards their professional colleagues. No compromise may be tolerated in the use of university resources, the treatment of confidential information, or the reporting of research results.

Finally, faculty members must actively bear the responsibilities of full participation in the internal governance of the university and of appropriate and responsible representation of the institution in their external dealings.

It is these core values which define our vision for Virginia Tech as it enters the new century and suggest the role we, the faculty, can play in helping the university to realize that vision.