The University of Virginia Board of Visitors focused on donations, fundraising and rankings in its regular meeting on Friday.
The university had a record year of new gifts and donations during fiscal year 2019, according to board materials and presentations, putting the school well on its way during a $5 billion capital campaign that will soon begin its public phase.
“It will really help secure the type of person we want to recruit,” said Carl Zeithaml, dean of the McIntire School of Commerce, of a $10 million gift from board member John Griffin. The gift will endow the school’s deanship during Zeithaml’s final year in the position as he recruits his successor.
In FY2019, the University of Virginia received record amounts of donations and new gifts, according to board materials and presentations. New gifts and pledge amounts for the fiscal year stood at $606.9 million, 46% over the same period in FY2018. When combined with new future support, total commitments reached $849.8 million, a 53% increase over the previous year and an increase of 163% over the 10-year average of $322.6 million.
Recent news reports broke through some of the applause, however, in several comments about the UVa Medical Center’s aggressive billing practices and the university’s standing in the US News & World Report’s 2020 rankings (UVa fell out of the top 25 to No. 28).
“This has really sparked some strong concerns from the faculty,” said Ellen Bassett — a professor of urban planning and the chair of the Faculty Senate, which is the representative body for university professors — referring to the medical center’s billing and collections, the university’s slight slump in industry rankings and a recent story in The New Yorker about the MIT Media Lab’s lack of transparency around donations from financier and sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
Some faculty are concerned about the collections practices, Bassett said, but they are also concerned that pressures within UVa to increase rankings and solicit donations might encourage university leadership to favor some academic disciplines over others or look for donations from questionable sources.
“We definitely need modern labspace, and we want to have highly credentialed faculty in all of our ranks, and we need high-caliber graduate students and post docs so we can get [National Institutes of Health] and [National Science Foundation] grants and create pathways for medicine and inventions,” Bassett said. “But the message from faculty is that if we want all of them to flourish and to do great and to do good, we need to work toward a more equitable research endowment, and there is a sense that some schools are doing very well and some schools are not.”
In FY2015, the university implemented a new fiscal model that shifted how different schools and departments receive money.
In other business, the board approved a schematic design for the first phase of the Athletics Complex project, received updates on the future School of Data Science and UVa hotel and started work on a public comment policy.
The board asked a sub-committee to start creating a public comment policy, as required by a new state law. No policy currently exists, but UVa will have to enact one before considering any future tuition increases.
The board also approved moving forward with the Athletics Master Plan, which involves resurfacing and utilities for grass practice fields and new practice facilities. Alice Raucher, the university architect, said officials are also close to recommending next steps for the university hotel project and the future School of Data Science, both planned for a tract of land on Emmet Street and Ivy Road.
“I’m really happy we are starting to talk about implementation, rather than planning,” said presidential adviser Margot Rogers, who is part of a task force looking at the future programming and policies for Emmet and Ivy.
This story has been updated to clarify Ellen Bassett's statements to the board.