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Remarks to the Board of Visitors

By Paul Metz, Faculty Senate president

Spectrum Volume 19 Issue 30 - May 1, 1997

Since all year I have kept you up to date on the activities of the Faculty Senate, let me let you know where things stand as we close out this year. As you may recall, most of our work is done by working groups of volunteers. One of these has been concerned all year about how we can communicate to students the expectations faculty members have for our students and the means by which they can work to meet them. This work has culminated in a letter which will be presented--not mailed--to all incoming freshmen. It welcomes them to Tech on behalf of the senate and gives them words of encouragement and friendly advice. A major theme is that the faculty members are available to them and that they should seek out their advisors and course instructors.

This same senate group is working on a video tape which similarly welcomes students to Tech and gives some gentle coaching, and is seeking to establish a battery of trained faculty members who would be willing to visit the regional high schools which Admissions identifies as most strategic for this recruiting approach.

The largest and most active working group of the senate remains that devoted to public understanding and legislative support. The subgroup devoted to public understanding hosted a Media Relations workshop conducted by Larry Hincker and his staff. They had to bring extra chairs in twice as over 80 faculty and staff members and graduate students attended this session.

The subgroup working on legislative relations hosted a very successful meeting at the Hotel Roanoke, attended by representatives of 14 different faculty senates or associations around the state, including UVA, nearly all the other senior institutions, and three community colleges.

There will be further meetings as we work to network together so that we can present a human face to legislators, letting them know that we are parents, voters, and dedicated teachers concerned about the environment in which Virginia's young people are prepared for the future. We continue to check in with Ralph Byers as we work in this direction, and I can assure you our song will never be in dissonance with that of the university. At times they will sing lead and we will sing harmony or do-wah, and other times these roles will be reversed.

I'd like to mention that the meeting at the Hotel Roanoke made all of us so proud of that facility. Faculty members from around the state were highly impressed with the setting, the arrangements, the food, and the staff. Truly the vision of Jim McComas, Noel Taylor, and others is vindicated every time we can host such an event.

This will be my last opportunity to address you. As I look ahead to the situation future senate presidents will face, I see many reasons for optimism. This entire year has been an education for me, with not the least-significant lesson being an appreciation of the breadth and depth of commitment and talent among our faculty members and among our administration. It has been personally inspiring to me to try to match the standard set by both groups. We have a strong and passionately committed Board of Visitors, and I know that Jim Turner will match the high standard Henry (Dekker) has set this past year. We have strong and active alumni. We have, I know, the strongest and most active senate in the state, which will next year be headed by Skip Fuhrman, who has a joint appointment in the Department of Sociology and Science and Technology Studies; and vice president Sigrid Gustafson from psychology. Skip, who has published extensively, including a book with the University Press of Virginia, has served as director of the Science Studies Center, and is a member of the Academy of Teaching Excellence.

As I look ahead, I also have some concerns which temper my optimism. I am concerned that higher education has done so poorly in competing for resources even though economy is strong. I am concerned about public misperceptions about tenure, about faculty research and its relevance, and about faculty work loads. I am concerned about an atmosphere of mistrust and intense scrutiny.

Your role in helping us through these tough times will be essential. I am very aware that no institution can be accountable only to itself. In my view, external evaluation and guidance for a university has to come from three sources. The academic profession must police itself through accreditation and related kinds of benchmarking. Secondly, the marketplace of student preference will favor those institutions which are most responsive to public needs. And finally, external visitors and boards have a critical and necessary role to play. I know how seriously you take this challenge. The State Council (of Higher Education) also has an important role to play and a critical set of responsibilities. I hope that they will be able to meet the considerable challenge they have set themselves to identify and appoint someone who can match the intellect, experience, and stature of Gordon Davies.

It is not for me to define the role of visitors, but I think I can name four components of that role that are very important. We look to you to select strong leaders and to hold them accountable for results. We seek your help in setting strategic directions. We count on you to communicate to us the needs of the private sector, the lay of the political landscape, and other attributes of our environment on which you are uniquely qualified to share knowledge and expertise. And we hope that you will also communicate back to those in higher authority, those who control our futures and must balance our needs against other demands, what you have discovered in your workings with us. I truly believe that if you can communicate to them what your experience has taught you about Virginia Tech, its strengths, its mission, and its needs, we can all only benefit.

It has been an enormous pleasure to work with you this year. I will always treasure the memories of this experience. I am glad to know we are in such good hands. Thank you very much.