University of Richmond Update

May 2020

Dear Members of the University Community,

Normally, I am privileged to spend the final weeks of the academic year celebrating our students, faculty, and staff’s enduring contributions to the Spider community. 2020 would have marked 42 straight years of participating in May commencement exercises — save one exception. As an educator, it has been one of the great joys of my life watching students grow and develop over the course of their educational careers — and then celebrating their remarkable achievements alongside family and friends as they commence the next phase of their lives.

It saddens me that we had to postpone commencement due to the ongoing challenges of COVID-19, but I have been inspired by how the members of the Class of 2020 (and all our students) have persevered with confidence and grace. They have demonstrated the remarkable inner strength that is a hallmark of a Richmond education, successfully completing an unexpected semester of remote learning while experiencing the isolation of quarantine and — in some cases — caring for family members who have fallen ill. The Class of 2020 will always be a special class for us, known for its grit and ability to weather difficult circumstances. The University was pleased to pay a virtual tribute to our graduating students this past weekend and looks forward to hosting an on-campus graduation celebration once it is safe to do so.

I also look forward to thanking our faculty and staff in person for their extraordinary commitment to educating and supporting our students during this crisis. They were asked to change our entire educational model within a matter of weeks, moving our courses and critical operations online. It seemed like an impossible task, especially when we are all juggling work responsibilities with everything from caring for children at home, to worrying about the health of loved ones, to wondering when this ends and what comes next.

And yet, our faculty and staff have met this moment with courage and compassion. As I shared with them in a letter of gratitude, watching them in action has reminded me of some sage advice I once heard from Fred Rogers, whose program I watched with my daughter Sara. “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news,” he said, “my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” I see faculty and staff helpers in every corner of our campus, reminding me that Richmond is such a special place, even in a crisis.

As we close the academic year and look toward the future, we must continue to navigate this global health crisis with determination and resilience. The University of Richmond has carefully stewarded its resources over many decades, and we are privileged to have a robust endowment thanks to the generosity of generations of alumni. But we are not immune to the economic downturn triggered by the pandemic, and it has put significant financial pressure on our budget. We have taken appropriate and thoughtful action to ensure we continue to deliver on our educational mission, from asking each division and school at the University to identify continuing budget savings to instituting salary and hiring freezes. These were difficult decisions to make. But as stewards of the University at this moment in our history, we have an obligation to leave the University stronger than we found it for the generations to come.

With the health and safety of our community our foremost concern, we are also intent on returning to a residential education this fall, but recognize the need to plan for multiple possibilities to ensure we offer a full year of academic credit to our students, no matter the circumstances. As Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Dave Hale and Executive Vice President and Provost Jeff Legro outlined, we have three potential operating scenarios for the fall term, all of which will be informed by the latest public health guidelines. They are:

  1. A full residential semester in which we take every precaution possible to mitigate the threat of COVID-19, including allowing for modified start and end dates.
  2. Full remote learning with no students in residence in which we continue to provide the high-quality, personalized educational experience and social and career support for which Richmond is known. We would choose remote instruction only if we must.
  3. A hybrid model of reduced student residency mixed with remote learning, or a full year of academic credit offered over twelve months versus the typical nine. In both cases, a hybrid option might be desirable should circumstances require fewer students on campus.

Please know that no matter which option we choose, the educational aspirations of our student body — along with the health and safety of students, staff, and faculty — will remain the University’s highest priorities.

Although the precise paths before us remain uncertain, we have abundant examples of our resilience and commitment to meet the needs of the day and take care of one another. Last month, Richmond staff members began using their expertise to make personal protective equipment for the UR Police Department, including face masks using 3-D printing technology and hand sanitizer using supplies from the chemistry department. Staff in UR’s Spatial Analysis Lab created a COVID-19 mapping project for Virginia that is free and open to the public. The admissions office added a test-optional admission path for first-year students entering in 2021 who may be unable to submit SAT or ACT test scores. This kind of creative thinking and adaptability will continue to serve us — and others — well as we navigate the coming months.

Although we are rightfully focused on the pressing issues the pandemic raises, I also want to focus attention on recent successes and the remarkable progress we continue to make as a University. It reminds us of the reason for all of our hard work to reclaim our sense of normalcy in the education we provide, the experience we offer, and the scholarship we pursue. I was reflecting on this point when I recently looked back through the current President’s Report — which I shared with university leaders nationally — and during a recent cello performance from my home, which was carried on our Facebook page and elsewhere. As I said during the performance, I have always relied on music as a salve and source of inspiration. We bear this difficult time with fortitude because we are seeking to preserve the many things that bring pleasure, meaning, and fulfillment to our lives and improve the world around us. I am heartened by these examples that show how much we have to celebrate as a University and why our important work must continue.


Academic excellence

A new study evaluating a college education’s return on investment placed the University of Richmond in the nation’s top 3 percent for net present value after 40 years, meaning that a UR education has an impressive ROI long after graduation. This study affirms both the intrinsic and market value of a liberal arts education generally and the distinctiveness of a University of Richmond education specifically. Earlier this year, we learned that the University of Richmond ranked No. 62 on the Princeton Review’s list of the 200 “Best Value Colleges” for 2020 and No. 6 on its “Best Schools for Internships” list. Richmond’s academic excellence is at the core of its value and mission because we know that the education students receive here, including a robust internship program, forms the foundation upon which they will build their futures.

This spring brought significant external recognition of the potential of our students to become leaders in their fields. In April, Claire Fuller, ’21, and Katrina Kuhn, ’21, became UR’s 29th and 30th Goldwater Scholars, an indication of the strength of faculty-mentored undergraduate research. Maura O’Brien, a graduate student in the Nonprofit Studies master’s program, received a Boren Fellowship to study Turkish in Azerbaijan. She is the first Spider to receive this prestigious award. We learned earlier this year that the University has received another Beckman Scholars grant to support four student research scholarships over three years. It is the fifth time Richmond has received the prestigious Beckman Scholars award since 2006.

Our faculty also continue to receive significant accolades. Associate Professor of Journalism Shahan Mufti received the 2020 J. Anthony Lukas Work-In-Progress Award for his book about the Hanafi Siege, the first attack by Muslim militants on American soil. Associate Professor of Latin American, Latino, and Iberian Studies Mariela Méndez received a Fulbright Scholar Award this spring to support three months in Rio de Janeiro to advance her research on understanding representations of genders and sexualities in Latin American newspapers and magazines. Associate Professor of History and American Studies Nicole Sackley and Assistant Professor of Art History Agnieszka Szymanska both received prestigious grants to support new book projects by the American Council for Learned Societies. Professor Sackley will be working to support her new book on cooperatives in the U.S., while Professor Szymanska will write about her decade-long research of the painted interior of a fifth-century church in Egypt. Netflixfeatured two Richmond faculty — Director of the Institute for Actual Innocence Mary Tate and Associate Professor of Leadership Studies Julian Hayter — in its true-crime documentary series The Innocence Files during an episode this spring that examined the case of Thomas Haynesworth, a black man who was wrongfully convicted of rape in Richmond, Virginia, in 1984 and exonerated after 27 years in prison.

These and other accomplishments demonstrate widespread recognition of the University’s well-earned reputation as a leader in higher education.


Making Excellence Inclusive

In July 2019, we released Making Excellence Inclusive: Report and Recommendations, outlining an ambitious plan to make Richmond a more inclusive and welcoming community for all, particularly for our students of color and international students. This past January’s racist and xenophobic incidents on campus demonstrated not only the urgency of our efforts, but also a critical need to better connect students and University leadership. In February, I announced the creation of a President’s Student Cabinet, which will comprise students from across the University and represent a diversity of experiences, backgrounds, identities, and ideologies. Our students’ admirable activism and advocacy remind us simultaneously of the admirable progress we are making and of the work still to do.

We have continued to deepen our shared understanding of the University’s past as we work together to foster a more inclusive future. In January, I established the Burial Ground Memorialization Committee, co-chaired by President Emeritus Edward Ayers and Vice President and Chief Information Officer Keith “Mac” McIntosh, to engage the campus and broader community in constructive dialogue on how to memorialize the enslaved burial ground located on what is now our campus, and the history of this land, including its sustained intersections with enslavement. The committee began its work this semester, hosting open meetings to learn about the extensive research on the burial ground, completed by graduate student Shelby Driskill and Visiting Lecturer Lauranett Lee in December. I invite you to read their report and watch a video presentation of their research findings.


Free expression

Over the last year, the campus community has engaged in dialogue about the importance of free expression on our campus. This spring, a University task force that I convened to carefully study the issue drafted a Statement on Free Expression, which I have shared with the campus community and am pleased to share with you. We expect to finalize the recommended statement before the end of the upcoming fall semester. I am grateful to the members of the task force, who thoughtfully and diligently fulfilled their charge, and look forward to discussing their recommended statement as we work to finalize it later this year.


Athletics

Among the many disappointments of this spring was the cancelation of the athletics seasons. Several of our teams were enjoying particularly strong seasons when the games ended, and these accomplishments are worthy of recognition and celebration. I’ll call attention to two in particular. The men’s basketball team, with a record of 24-7, was about to begin play as the No. 2 seed in the Atlantic-10 tournament and was on the cusp of qualifying for its first NCAA tournament since 2011. The team brought high levels of excitement and Spider Pride to the Robins Center this winter and is appearing in preseason polls for next year. Women’s lacrosse ended the season a perfect 7-0, the best start in the program’s history, and earned a final ranking of 12th in the country. After the seasons ended, Athletics focused its efforts on ensuring that student-athletes continued their tradition and expectation of strong academic performance as they finished classes and, for the seniors, celebrated graduation with teammates virtually.

Our commitment to the success of our student-athletes is just as important off the courts and fields as on them. One example of this commitment is the Athletics Division’s enthusiastic involvement in the Office of International Education’s EnCompass program, which eliminates barriers to study-abroad for student populations that are less likely to take advantage of them, including student-athletes, first-generation students, students of color, STEM majors, and others. Student-athletes in the last year have participated in trips to destinations as wide-ranging as Chile, South Africa, and Cuba. Student-athletes already make so many sacrifices to wear a Spider uniform. We don’t want them to have to sacrifice an international experience as well. Through initiatives such as this, Athletics is working to ensure that student-athletes have the same opportunities to take advantage of the full array of Richmond’s educational opportunities as every other student.

This spring, members of the Spider Leadership program’s Rising Leadership and Championship Leadership teams, which includes student-athletes from all 17 programs at Richmond, spent time with mindfulness and performance expert George Mumford, who has worked as an advisor to multiple NBA champions, Olympians, executives, and others. Mumford shared the immense benefits of, and techniques associated with, mindfulness, lessons that will help our students in competition and throughout their lives.


Philanthropy

This spring demonstrated the power of the wide-ranging support we provide students, particularly financial support. The Student Emergency Fund — to which alumni, parents, faculty, staff, and others have given generously in recent years — was invaluable as we provided emergency support for students suddenly confronted by new expenses as travel plans changed and circumstances forced us to complete the semester with distance learning. Later this month, on May 27–28, we will launch the annual UR Here fundraising campaign, which we postponed in April.

We decided to go forward with the campaign because of the outpouring of support from alumni and parents, whose desire to help has been inspiring for our students, faculty, and staff. We anticipate that our students’ financial need will rise in the coming academic year, so financial aid will be one of our top priorities. We recognize that some Spiders will not be in a position to offer significant gifts of support at this challenging time, but I am hopeful that widespread participation, at whatever level may be possible, will demonstrate our commitment to Richmond, our students, and one another. I invite you to participate as your circumstances allow when the University reaches out later this month for this important effort.


Closing

In the coming weeks, I plan to provide a virtual update via video conference to alumni about the steps we have taken as a community to safeguard our students and prepare for the fall semester. The event will also include Dave Hale, executive vice president and chief operating officer, and Jeff Legro, executive vice president and provost. David Lyons, president of the University of Richmond Alumni Association, will host the discussion. At the time of registration, we will invite your questions, and we will address them as best we can during our remarks. I will share the details with you when we have finalized our plans, and I hope you will be able to join us.

This pandemic has brought us unprecedented challenges as individuals and as an educational community, but it is also revealing the depth of the commitment of our faculty, students, and staff, and our generosity of spirit as a community as we care for one another so that we may all flourish. This care is also evident in the frequent calls we make to Spider friends and other loved ones, and the way alumni are stepping up with everything from virtual cooking lessons and fitness classes to financial support for students in this time of great need and uncertainty. These times call on us to be the watchful stewards of Richmond’s resilient bonds, and I am confident that we will emerge from the crisis stronger than ever. I encourage you to continue to reach out to one another, care for yourselves, follow the guidance of our health professionals, and focus, as I do, on the future we envision for our University and the steps we can take together to build it.

Best wishes,

Ronald A. Crutcher
President