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University of Richmond Update

February 2018

Every day as I come and go from my office in Maryland Hall, I pass through the quadrangle out front with the fountain at its center. When the weather is warm and the trees are blooming, the sound of water echoes off the walls of the surrounding buildings. In these cold months, the facilities staff leave the fountain silent to protect it from damage caused by freezing. As a musician, I am particularly attuned in the cold months to how its silence opens space for other sounds. In the silence, there is also always the echo of the fountain’s potential.

As president, I observe the University in similar ways. All around me, I see evidence of scholarship flourishing. I also read abundant signs of human potential awaiting the right conditions to spring forth. I am privileged to be part of this Spider community so dedicated to helping our students and discovering new knowledge.

Academic excellence

As part of the UR community, you know that academic excellence is at the center of all we do. Our deeply talented and endlessly curious faculty are the perpetual wellspring of this commitment as they introduce students to challenging new ideas, invite them to become research partners, and open new paths for development and change. This spring, we are launching a regular video series — called Spider Talks — in which I sit down for short conversations with faculty from across the University about the subjects that inspire them and, in turn, their students. Now available on the Spider Talks website are two of my interviews. The first features law professor Andy Spalding, who recently brought a group of law students to South Korea to study how major sporting events like the Olympics prompt host countries to strengthen laws against corruption. In the second video I sit down for a conversation with Julian Hayter, an American historian and professor of leadership studies who serves on the city of Richmond’s Monument Avenue Commission. I invite you to visit the Spider Talks website and to watch for future emails announcing new segments in the video series.

Engaging students as stewards

Earlier this week, I spoke with students at the Mortar Board President’s Forum about the six values that we articulated as part of the strategic planning process and that we express through the acronym SPIDER: Student growth, Pursuit of knowledge, Inclusivity and equity, Diversity and educational opportunity, Ethical engagement, and Responsible stewardship. Our shared commitment to these enduring values links all of us — students, alumni, faculty, staff, parents, and friends — to this moment in Richmond’s history and to one another.

My talk included references to Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein, but my purpose was serious. I reminded students that generations of Spiders have traveled these same brick pathways, walked beneath these same tall pines. They have earned fellowships, scholarships, and championships, and have made us proud as alumni. We who are here today owe it to them — and to all those who will follow us — to preserve this magnificent University forever, to give back more than we have taken, and to take actions today to ensure prosperity and abundance tomorrow. As the students will understand increasingly when they graduate and develop a deeper understanding of this period in their lives, the University is a gift we all share in, hold in trust, and then pass along to the next generation. 

Thriving and inclusive community

The University has changed rapidly over the last two decades as we have continued to respond to the imperative to serve students from all demographic backgrounds. Engaging actively and collectively across lines of difference not only makes us a more welcoming place, but a smarter place. Our strides have been significant, as evidenced by several characteristics of our most recent incoming class: 30 percent are domestic students of color, 13 percent are first-generation students, and 17 percent are eligible for Pell Grants, a measure of economic diversity. The University’s promise of academic excellence and opportunity for students of all backgrounds continues to have a strong appeal with prospective students. We have received 11,860 applications for next year’s incoming class, with particularly strong growth in applications from international students.

This progress is significant, but there is also more we can do to ensure that all students thrive once they arrive on campus. To continue our strong momentum, I have formed the President’s Advisory Committee on Making Excellence Inclusive, a committee responsible for candidly assessing the environment students encounter at Richmond and making recommendations for initiatives with demonstrated potential to make a measurable, positive impact on campus climate. I am grateful for the committee members’ service and look forward to their preliminary recommendations early this summer.

The Richmond Endeavor

As part of our reaccreditation every 10 years, the University commits to developing a new Quality Enhancement Plan, or QEP, that focuses on improving student learning outcomes or the environment for student learning. It was through our QEP a decade ago that we launched Sophomore Scholars in Residence, a highly effective living-learning program that combines a traditional academic course with co-curricular learning activities throughout a student’s entire sophomore year.

This fall, we will launch a new program derived from our latest QEP process: The Richmond Endeavor. This will be a living-learning program for participating first-year students that pairs them with a faculty mentor in the summer before they arrive on campus. In both the fall and spring semesters, Endeavor students will complete coursework led by his or her faculty mentor and live in a cohort with other Endeavor students in one of the first-year residence halls. As we do with all programs, we will evaluate the outcomes of Richmond Endeavor to ensure that we are maximizing the potential benefits for participating students.

Diverse perspectives

On March 22, we will conclude this year’s Sharp Viewpoint Speakers Series when we host Karl Rove, a columnist, political strategist, and the former deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush. His talk on immigration follows November’s address on the same subject from a speaker with a very different point of view, journalist and activist Jose Antonio Vargas. When we shaped this year’s program, we set out to invite speakers who would challenge the campus community to consider various, and even conflicting, viewpoints on important issues of our day. We kicked it off with a forum on freedom of expression with the former CEO of the Newseum. We followed that with conversations with both major candidates in Virginia’s gubernatorial race. Rove’s talk provides us with a further opportunity to consider another perspective in an atmosphere of respectful dialogue.

National Spider Day

March will also bring our third annual celebration of National Spider Day, on the 14th of March. This year, the University will be reaching out to alumni across the country to help us celebrate our Spider Pride. Watch for more information via email and the University’s numerous social media channels. I will be celebrating National Spider Day in Chicago, one of many visits I am making with alumni, students, and parent groups across the country this spring. I invite you to join in the day as well with fellow Spiders in your own communities to celebrate your Spider Pride.

Strengthening our Spider network is one of the five pillars of our current strategic plan, and we are actively working to provide increased opportunities for alumni to engage with the University and one another. I am heartened by the enormous enthusiasm I see among Spiders wherever I travel, and I am grateful for our partnership.

Arts investment

At Richmond, we continue to make a strong investment in the arts. This fall, two new studios opened in the Modlin Center for the Arts: a dance studio and an acting and directing studio. The performing arts are getting a boost in other areas of campus, too. Recent North Court renovations included a new choral rehearsal room, a global music studio space, and updates to Perkinson Recital Hall. Renovations are currently under way in Booker Hall to create a new recording studio, reconfigure classrooms and rehearsal spaces, expand the music library, add an elevator to the third floor, and make improvements to Camp Concert Hall. The final phase of this multiyear arts investment project, which we expect to complete in summer 2019, will be renovations to the Visual Arts Building and Keller Hall. Just as art has the power to shape our understanding of the world and to reveal new ways of seeing, these enhanced facilities will have the power to shape our students’ understanding of themselves as the authors of new creative expressions.

The “beloved community”

As I reflect on these and many other efforts at the University of Richmond, I am reminded of our programs last month to commemorate and reflect on the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Our theme was “Activating the Beloved Community.” In his book Stride Toward Freedom, King used this term, drawn from thinkers before him, to describe his global vision for a human community in which love and trust would triumph over fear and hatred and in which conflicts would be resolved through nonviolent resistance, peaceful reconciliation, and mutual goodwill. Our students explored this concept by participating in service events and discussions, including a keynote address by Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney.

As we commemorated Dr. King on campus, I also evoked his “beloved community” with our wider community in an op-ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. I focused my essay on the enduring power of music in the African-American community and the essential role it has played in promoting peace, justice, and equality throughout American history. “Music can continue to unite us,” I wrote. “We can raise our voices against injustice. We can welcome new songs, and new perspectives, into our lives. We can dance as freely with the friends we know as with those we have only met.”  I invite you to read my op-ed here.

At the University of Richmond, we use the language of excellence, inclusivity, thriving, and stewardship to serve this goal of a stronger future for every one of us. Through research and teaching, in partnership with each other, this community gathers with the earnest belief that our differences are bridgeable and our challenges are solvable. Indeed, we link these concepts to each other. We remain committed to combining our deep curiosity with our capacity to create and serve, and to equipping our students to become the next generation’s caretakers of our common future.

Best wishes,

Ronald A. Crutcher