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University of Richmond Fall Update

September 2017

Dear Members of the University Community:

Every fall, we renew the promise of higher education. I begin this particular year immensely excited about our direction as an institution. Our incoming first-year class is both academically strong and the most diverse in our history. Like generations of Richmond students, they arrive on our campus smart, confident, and ambitious. The various perspectives and life experiences they bring enrich our community and contribute to the educational experience that is distinct to the University of Richmond.

One of the great privileges of my position as president is the clear view I have of just how well-positioned and committed our faculty, staff, alumni, and other supporters are to meet the needs and exceed the expectations of our students. I’m writing to offer you just a few examples of the values, ideas, and initiatives that inspire me most as we begin the academic year.

Building our Future
Our work together on the strategic plan continues to move forward. During its development phase, we identified five pillars upon which we expect to build. Academic excellence remains, of course, at the heart of all that we do. Our commitment to access and affordability allows us to bring talented students of all backgrounds to campus, and our commitment to inclusivity and thriving ensures that every student will find a welcoming home at Richmond. We will continue to nurture these bonds through strengthened alumni engagement. Our decades-long commitment to the responsible stewardship of our resources provides a secure foundation for our aspirations now and in the future.

We are now moving into the implementation phase of the plan, during which we will identify and develop specific initiatives and metrics for evaluating them. A number of ideas are already emerging as we continue our discussions about the University’s future. Wellness, an essential characteristic of any thriving community, is becoming an urgent issue that colleges and universities must address. Given our previous efforts in this area, Richmond is positioned to be a leader in how institutions of higher education foster well-being of mind, body, and spirit. A second emerging area is focused on innovation and programs that position students for professional success. We see promising opportunities to expand our efforts, building on the great work of the Office of Alumni and Career Services.

Advancing Academic Excellence
Programs and initiatives are only as strong as the people behind them. The new faculty and staff we welcomed this fall join an accomplished group of committed intellectuals, educators, and professionals already on campus. Allow me to highlight two of them. Jeffrey Legro brings decades of experience as an accomplished scholar and academic leader and a deep understanding of the opportunities and challenges confronting higher education to his position as provost and executive vice president. Dana Kuchem fills the newly created role of director of scholars and fellowships. In her position, she will help us better harness the extraordinary potential of our students as they compete for the most prestigious national fellowships and scholarships, including Fulbrights, Trumans, Goldwaters, and others. With the start of the semester, we ramped up our search for a new director of athletics and expect to attract a deep pool of talented applicants to lead our efforts to provide our student-athletes with the finest possible experience in competition and the classroom.

Recent Accolades and Honors
Again this year, the Princeton Review included the University on its list of the finest institutions of higher education, naming us, among other things, the Best-Run College in America. Outlets from Fiske to Forbes to The New York Times have recently spotlighted our academic quality and leadership in college access and affordability. While we always delight to see the University recognized publicly, we take the greatest pride in the satisfaction of our students and the active engagement of our alumni.

Engaging Alumni in the Life of the University
My personal efforts this year will focus, in part, on strengthening the bonds that connect the UR community, particularly our alumni. In my travels since becoming president, I’ve been impressed by the energy, goodwill, and pride generations of alumni have for the institution. These Spiders have immense guidance to offer as we accelerate the University’s considerable momentum. For this reason, my travel schedule this year includes visits with dozens of alumni groups across the country, from the East Coast and Southeast to Chicago, Houston, San Diego, and elsewhere. Our alumni relations staff will be reaching out in the areas I’ll be visiting, and I hope you’ll join me when the opportunity arises. I look forward to seeing and hearing from you. 

Helping Students Affected by Hurricane Harvey
Our hearts are heavy for the colleges and high schools in the Houston area that are beginning this school year in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. The additional connection we feel to the area by virtue of our football game with Sam Houston State, which was rescheduled and relocated to Baylor University’s stadium, compels us to take this opportunity to join, in a small way, the recovery efforts for the families in the area affected by the storm. For this reason, I announced last week that the University would make a $25,000 donation to the Texas Association of College Admission Counseling. The funds are designated to secondary schools impacted by Hurricane Harvey as they identify their greatest needs for supporting students and college counseling professionals.

Support for Undocumented Students
As we prepared this letter, news of the recent changes to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program circulated across our nation. As a University that actively promotes access, a pillar of our new strategic plan, we are hopeful that our legislators will act to protect these young scholars and support remedies to ensure them a permanent path forward in our society. Our DACA students contribute fully to our communities and are deeply committed to a country they have always called home. If we do not support our DACA students, we will end their dreams of higher education — and their ability to contribute meaningfully to our democracy and the future of a changing nation. Further, we will fail a compassionate citizenry that believes in supporting these students who may now be vulnerable to deportation, and weaken America’s enduring role as a land of opportunity.

Diverse Perspectives
Two months ago, I was in Rome, Italy, to deliver an address at a global forum on the connection between higher education and our democratic ideals. In my talk, I argued for the importance of seeking out the perspectives of people from different backgrounds and experiences. I had a similar message on move-in day to every student and family — whether from Virginia or abroad, whether a first-generation college student or a multi-generation Spider, whether from socio-economic privilege or challenge. My message was, “Welcome to campus. We’re so glad you’re part of this community.”

This welcoming disposition to people who may not already be like us or think like us can be at odds with the messages our students get from the broader culture. For evidence of that, we need look no farther than Charlottesville last month. We believe unequivocally that hatred has no place among an educated citizenry, as I wrote in a statement to the University community. As educators, we know that students learn best when they’re taught to engage viewpoints different from their own in thoughtful ways. As citizens, we know open, respectful debate is inseparable from our democratic ideals.

To further this theme, my office, in partnership with our Richmond Scholars students, developed this year’s Sharp Viewpoint Speakers Series to offer diverse perspectives on some of the most important issues of our time. We opened last night to a capacity audience when I hosted a conversation with Dr. Jeffrey Herbst, former president and CEO of the Newseum, during a forum on freedom of expression. The Queally Center auditorium was full, and an overflow audience watched via simulcast from a second location. Future Sharp speakers include both of Virginia’s major-party candidates for governor, immigration activist Jose Antonio Vargas, and political strategist Karl Rove. I hope to see you at as many of these events as possible as we further inclusive, civil dialogue about the topics crucial to our nation and global society.

Pressing challenges confront our society and the world, and they will continue to challenge us in the future. The promise of higher education is its singular capacity for positioning us to answer them. At the University of Richmond, faculty, students, staff, alumni, donors, and other supporters come together to prepare current and future generations for lives of purpose. We equip them to fulfill their potential as the bold thinkers and leaders we need for thoughtfully addressing the knotty and complex issues we face. Our mission is critically important. It is also joyful and a privilege for all of us who work to advance it.

Best wishes,

Ronald A. Crutcher