University of Richmond Update

February 2021

Dear Members of the University Community,

One of the best parts of my job as president is meeting with members of our dynamic and engaged alumni community. Over the years, I have learned from you about how each generation of Spiders has contributed to the development of the University and helping it become one of the strongest liberal arts institutions in the nation. We have forged the University’s bright future together not simply by building on our many strengths, but also by having the courage to recognize the failures of our past and learn from our mistakes.

The University of Richmond is steeped in a long and inspirational history. There are important aspects of our history, however, that we have ignored for too long and left out too often. Today, we release two reports that provide an essential corrective, advancing our commitment to telling a fuller, more inclusive University history. Covering the lives and legacies of Robert Ryland and Douglas Southall Freeman, seminal figures in the University’s history in the 19th and 20th centuries, respectively, they bring to the fore our University’s relationship to defining moral struggles of our country: slavery and segregation.

These reports are robust and deeply moving. I invite all alumni to read my community letter outlining some of the key findings of the research — and how we will move forward to address this history with honesty and purpose and recognize gaps and crucial stories of people previously excluded from our institutional narrative. I also invite you to view this video explaining the underlying philosophy behind our next steps — and how expanding knowledge of our past in order to confront it represents a unique approach that will help prepare our students for future success in a divided and complex world.

I believe our inclusive history work is true to our commitment to academic excellence. We cannot be satisfied with a half-told story, which will only lead to a half-consciousness of the past at best. It is also true to our values of diversity, equity, inclusion, ethical engagement, and the pursuit of knowledge. These shared values call us to negotiate the tensions in our past as foundational work to becoming a thriving intercultural community. Finally, this work is true to the bedrock principles of liberal arts education — to preparing our students to be agile critical thinkers, skilled at navigating difficult conversations and understanding the world as it is and has been in order to shape a better future.

I am proud that our community has resolved to tell a more comprehensive history of who we were, are, and aspire to be as a University. I look forward to our continued work together.

SPRING COVID RESPONSE

I look forward to the day when my regular updates no longer address the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic. Until then, I must tell you that I remain immensely proud of how we, as a community, continue to respond to this emergency situation. This semester, we have implemented a series of new measures, including regular coronavirus testing of all traditional undergraduate students. The opening of the new Well-Being Center and the Queally Athletics Center brought new resources to our comprehensive effort to care for students. At the beginning of the semester, Counseling and Psychological Services, or CAPS, expanded a text-based chat service known as a warm line — rather than the hot line that is especially important during a crisis — that allows UR students who have the need to talk to a peer to get necessary support quickly.

This recent CAPS initiative is just one of many examples of how colleagues across campus, including at the Student Health Center, Student Development, Information Services, Facilities, and other areas, continue to meet students’ many needs during the pandemic. Our faculty have also worked extraordinarily hard as they have adapted their courses and extended compassion to our students in so many ways. These expressions of care and responsiveness reflect the very best of our community, and I am grateful for all of it.

ACADEMIC EXCELLENCE

Our faculty and students continue to exemplify the academic excellence that is the hallmark of a Richmond education. The following are just a few examples of the ways that excellence is flourishing across academic disciplines at the University:

  • Miles Johnson, assistant professor of chemistry and a 2009 UR graduate, received more than $500,000 in grant support from the National Science Foundation for his research on metal catalysts and developing new chemical compounds. His prestigious award, an NSF Early Career Development Program Award known as a CAREER award, supports early-career faculty and is rarely awarded to faculty in undergraduate science departments.
  • The Robins School of Business earned its highest ranking ever from Poets&Quants, the leading news source for undergraduate business education. UR jumped three spots from last year to come in at No. 23 among all undergraduate business schools in 2021.
  • Four UR undergraduates received Gilman Scholarships from the U.S. State Dept. to study abroad in England, Jamaica, China, France, and Switzerland in 2021. The University has had 47 Gilman Scholars since the program started in 2001.
  • The State Council of Higher Education named Todd Lookingbill, associate professor of geography, environmental studies, and biology, a recipient of the Outstanding Faculty Award. The award is the highest honor for faculty at Virginia's public and private colleges and universities.

In spite of the extraordinary challenges of the current times, faculty and students continue to distinguish themselves and fortify Richmond’s international reputation as an exemplar of the very best of liberal education.

ADMISSIONS

I am very pleased to share exceptional news that reflects the strength of Richmond’s growing reputation. Our colleagues in enrollment management report that Richmond set a new record for applications this admission cycle, with nearly 14,000 prospective students applying to be part of the Class of 2025. This is an increase of more than 1,900 over last year, a 16% jump. In addition to being larger, the applicant pool is also academically stronger, based on high school performance and submitted test scores, and it is more diverse. This strong applicant pool reflects the exceptional quality and value of a Richmond education, our commitment to each individual student, and the effectiveness of policies that ensure a Richmond education is accessible and affordable to all students, regardless of their background.

The enrollment management staff has achieved this impressive result despite the substantial disruptions of the pandemic. Health and safety concerns up-ended everything from attendance at college fairs around the country to campus visits by prospective students. Their creative approaches and hard work helped continue our multiyear trajectory of increased prospective student interest and stronger class profiles. I look forward to welcoming a determined and ambitious Class of 2025 to campus in the fall.

MAKING EXCELLENCE INCLUSIVE

We continue to make substantial progress on our shared commitment, as expressed in the strategic plan, to fostering and sustaining a thriving, inclusive community. Several recent highlights, in addition to the reports I noted above, exemplify the ways in which commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion are taking root across campus. Thanks to generous leadership gifts, we will launch a Thriving, Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity Fund to provide supplementary financial support to faculty, staff, and student organizations and groups that have creative ideas for how to strengthen and advance our shared goals. The University also recently announced its commitment to meet the full demonstrated financial need of all enrolled or enrolling graduates of Richmond Public Schools, including public magnet schools, with grant and scholarship aid. This program will open the University’s doors wider to talented students in our own backyard, making UR’s exceptional education more widely available to our local community.

Last week, we launched equity.richmond.edu to report comprehensively on our programs, progress, and resources. Ensuring the University lives up to its potential as a truly inclusive community where all can fully participate and thrive will take continuous effort; I am confident that, together, we will continue moving toward this community to which we aspire.

DIVERSE VIEWPOINTS

Our collective work to educate our students and foster a community skilled in civic dialogue and disagreement has never been more urgent. Earlier this month, I shared a Statement on Free Expression with the campus community. The final Statement — which was endorsed by the Board of Trustees following the University community’s review and discussion of it last fall — invites us to leverage our campus as a laboratory of democracy where students learn to understand and value evidence, to respect the backgrounds, ideologies, and perspectives that lead to different points of view, and to participate fully as active citizens in a diverse and complex world. Our commitment to free expression and open inquiry is vital to cultivating the type of vibrant, intellectual environment needed to combat forces of hatred, division, and anti-intellectualism that so perniciously threaten our democratic institutions.

Next month, we will continue to celebrate our commitment to fostering critical conversations and dialogue with the final installment of the 2020-21 Sharp Viewpoint Series. Our subject will be “Friendship and Dialogue Across Difference.” My guests will be Dr. Cornel West, a philosopher, political activist, and professor, and Robert P. George, an American legal scholar and professor. The pair are friends and former colleagues who will discuss the importance of fostering dialogue and cultivating friendships across ideological and political divides. Our conversation, which will take place via Zoom, is free and open to the public and everyone who is part of the University community. I hope you will join us. More details, including registration information, is available at richmond.edu/sharp.

SUSTAINABILITY

We continue to make substantial progress on our commitment to sustainability, as expressed in the University’s strategic plan. Richmond recently became one of only two higher education institutions in the U.S., and the first in the Southeast, to match 100% of its electricity needs with a single solar power source. This source, Spider Solar, began operating Dec. 31. Spider Solar is a new 20-megawatt solar energy facility that replenishes the electric grid with the same amount of renewable solar energy that the campus uses to run day-to-day operations. It will produce 41,000 megawatt-hours of solar energy annually — equivalent to the annual electricity use of 5,000 homes. With Spider Solar online, UR’s greenhouse gas emissions will be 57% below where they were in 2009, putting us closer to our goal of becoming carbon-neutral.

ALUMNI

Alumni continue to offer strong support to current students as they pursue internships, careers, and other post-graduation goals. I would like to extend my gratitude to all alumni who participated in recent events such as the Robins School of Business’s Q-Camp and the School of Arts & Sciences’ A&S Next, and well as other mentoring and career readiness programs offered through the academic units and through Alumni and Career Services. Career Services continues to support Spiders at every stage of their careers in this challenging job market through a robust schedule of workshops devoted to topics such as interviewing and networking. I encourage you to take full advantage of their offerings, and invite you to help make career connections and offer advice to our current students.

A recent survey conducted by the higher education research firm Simpson Scarborough highlights how fortunate the University is to have its extraordinarily loyal alumni base; 19 of 20 alumni agree they are proud to tell others they are a UR graduate. The same survey reveals the success of the University’s first institutional branding effort, which was launched to tell Richmond’s story more effectively and better showcase the excellence of our faculty and students. Compared with baseline data collected in 2016, the survey recorded statistically significant increases in favorable opinion across more than 25 metrics, including identification of the University’s quality as “excellent” among prospective students. Richmond’s rise in reach and reputation is reflected in its placement in external rankings over the period of the survey as well. From 2016 to 2020, the University has risen from No. 32 to No. 22 among national liberal arts universities in the U.S. News & World Report rankings.

In April, we will launch our third annual day of giving, UR Here, to support students and help the University prepare for the future. Each year at this time, we invite alumni, parents, faculty, staff, and other supporters to support our Spider community with a gifts of all sizes to the people and programs at UR they care most about. These gifts touch every area of campus, from financial aid and athletics, to academic schools and departments, international education, and our thriving and inclusion efforts. Last year, Spiders responded to UR Here with overwhelming generosity, contributing more than $1.6 million to support 125 funds. I hope you will consider offering your support again this spring, as our needs and those of our students’ are greater than ever, and your participation means a great deal.

ATHLETICS

The University has agreed to serve as co-host of the Atlantic 10’s men’s basketball tournament next month, in partnership with VCU. We are pleased to lend a hand to help the A-10 facilitate a safe championship experience for all participants during these challenging times. The collaboration between the two schools will reduce the number of games played at any one venue and increase the time between games to allow for rigorous cleaning and sanitation. Athletes will prepare and dress for games at their hotels and use locker rooms only for pregame and halftime meetings before returning to their hotels immediately following games. Spectator capacity will be limited to 250 people in accordance with existing Commonwealth of Virginia Covid restrictions. The health and safety of the campus community, as well as the prevailing conditions associated with the pandemic in the weeks to come, will continue to guide all future plans associated with the tournament.

We wish both our men’s and women’s basketball teams success for the rest of their seasons. We also look forward to cheering on a number of other athletes who will be playing this spring. The Spider men’s and women’s lacrosse teams began their spring seasons earlier this month. Both teams are two-time defending conference champions and with top-20 rankings. Multiple sports that typically compete in the fall — including football, soccer, field hockey, cross country, swimming and diving, golf, and tennis — all have spring seasons scheduled. As with the A-10 tournament, our highest priority is the safety of Spider student-athletes, coaches, and other staff, and schedule adjustments may be necessary. For the latest information, please visit Richmond Athletics.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

I recently had the opportunity to publish a thematic memoir looking back on my life and career. The experience of writing it prompted me to reflect deeply on the most important lessons that I have learned through successes and challenges. We are currently in a time that poses serious challenges, but also immense opportunities. As I wrote in that memoir, the impact of coming to live on a university campus extends beyond the classroom academic experience. It may represent the first opportunity that many of our students have to interact closely with those of a different race, religion, political ideology, nationality, or socio-economic background. Their four years here may well represent the best opportunity they have to learn how to have conversations about difficult topics across differences before being asked to employ these skills in the workforce.

Our work together is vitally important for preparing Richmond’s students for lives of purpose, leadership, and mutual respect across our many differences. I am grateful for the partnership we enjoy in this important work across the University community.

Best wishes,

Ronald A. Crutcher
President