University of Richmond Update

May 2021

Dear Members of the University Community,

When I embarked on my career as a cellist and music professor, I had no intention of becoming a college president. Perhaps I might become a leader in music and the arts, I thought, but as the Black son of working-class parents and the first person in my family to attend college, I had simply never dreamed of leading a university.

Then fate interceded one day in 1997 when I had an unexpected conversation with one of my mentors and icons, Bryce Jordan — a flutist and musicologist who had become the first musician appointed president of a large university. “It’s obvious to me that you’re going to be a college president,” he said. “Have you thought about what kind of school you’d like to lead?” I was caught completely off guard. By this point in my career, I was a dean, and in quiet moments I had considered the idea of a college presidency, but I had never pondered it in any depth. “I don’t know,” I said. “Perhaps a small liberal arts college?”

Afterward, I wondered why I had answered the way I did. What did I even know about small liberal arts colleges? Shortly after, I was in a bookstore and came upon a book by Lauren Pope called Colleges That Change Lives. I flipped to the introduction and my eyes caught on one statement: “These are colleges that transform the lives of the students who attend them.” In that moment, I knew. This would be my life’s work, the goal shaping every decision going forward from that moment. I wanted to lead a school that changed lives.

From my first job as a full-time administrator at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro to my tenure as president of the University of Richmond, I have felt immensely privileged to lead institutions that have changed the lives of thousands of students. These past six years in particular have been some of the most fulfilling of my life, and I am deeply grateful to the Board of Trustees for appointing me president in 2015.

As your president, I have been afforded a wonderful array of opportunities, including working alongside faculty and staff with an unparalleled commitment to their roles as teacher-scholars and mentors. I have also had the good fortune to meet with amazing alumni from across the country and globe — and learn about how each generation of Spiders has contributed to building this special community. Above all, I have been inspired by the ambition, curiosity, and determination of our extraordinary students, whose pursuit of lives of purpose unites us in a common mission.

In my final quarterly letter to you as president, I would like to take a step back and reflect on what we have accomplished together these past six years. But before I do, I would be remiss if I did not recognize areas where I wish we had made more progress.

Above all, I regret that I am stepping down amid the turmoil surrounding the renaming decision, and I am sorry that we did not handle the process as well as we should have. It is certainly not how I had hoped to end my presidency, but I am encouraged by the critical conversations now taking place on our campus about how to make Richmond more welcoming; they are a necessary, if painful, part of our ongoing work toward evolving into a truly inclusive community. I remain confident that if we press forward together and navigate this moment with patience, empathy, and intellect, we will emerge stronger than before.

It has been an honor and privilege to serve as the president of the University of Richmond. Thank you to our alumni, parents, students, faculty, staff, and trustees for working alongside me to strengthen this remarkable community. Your commitment to the University has been a constant source of pride and inspiration for me. I hope you are as proud as I am of all our shared achievements. For the last time as president, I salute you for the many ways you have helped make UR the great institution it is today — and will be tomorrow.

ACADEMIC EXCELLENCE

The dedication and talents of our faculty have long been at the heart of Richmond’s high level of academic excellence. In the summer of 2019, we launched the Faculty Hub to cultivate cross-disciplinary interactions among faculty for scholarly exchange and promote professional development for faculty at all career stages. Under the leadership of the Faculty Hub’s director, Linda Boland, the Hub has supported faculty in a variety of ways as they experiment with ways of making teaching more effective for all learners, incorporate new tools for pedagogy and scholarship, engage in programming to advance their professional development, and build community with one another. Through these efforts, the Hub is strengthening even further the quality of our faculty and the academic experiences of students now and in the future.

High-impact practices are another area to which we have devoted significant attention because they are critical to being an exceptional institution. When I first arrived on campus, I asked colleagues for disaggregated data about our students’ participation in high-impact practices because I wanted to see whether low-income students and students of color were participating in them at the same rate as majority students. The good news is that they generally were, with one exception: international education. To address this gap, the Office of International Education piloted a new program called EnCompass in the Spring 2019 semester. The program provides students access to short-term, faculty-led study abroad experiences to regions of the world where faculty have significant experience and deep local connections. To date, EnCompass trips have taken students who may not have traveled in the past to places as varied as Chile, Cuba, Thailand, India, South Africa, and others. We continue to build on this program, and I’m optimistic that as news of the effectiveness of this program spreads, we will be able to endow it.

We have also continued to examine Richmond’s curriculum. In the spring 2020 semester, five students submitted a proposal to add Africana Studies to the University’s academic offerings, and their proposal drew the support of many others across campus. In response, I began work with the provost, the dean of the School of Arts & Sciences, and others to study the proposal and am pleased that we are planning to launch the program in Africana Studies in the fall 2022 semester. Students wishing to major or minor in Africana Studies can begin taking elective courses as early as this fall. The program is an important addition to our curriculum and our commitment as a liberal arts institution to helping students better understand and prepare for the world they will enter after graduation and develop as capable leaders in a diverse world.

Dr. Betty Neal Crutcher and I have long believed in the value and importance of mentorship in cultivating a sense of belonging among our students, including students of color. I have spoken often about how critical it has been in my career development — as I benefited from mentors who made my pursuit of music possible and then later as new mentors nudged me to pursue positions of institutional leadership. As my career advanced, I began mentoring others to help them take steps forward to achieve their goals. Finding a mentor as an undergraduate can be integral to the academic success of students. One of the first things that Betty and I did at Richmond was establish mentoring groups made up of Richmond students. This summer, the University will begin work to establish a pilot for a universitywide mentoring program, which will provide training, support, and funding to cultivate a network of mentors for students as they enter our community.

REACH AND REPUTATION

I have worked over the last six years to solve a conundrum I faced when I began my presidency. As I went through the interview process, I came to appreciate fully the remarkable breadth and depth of the University’s educational quality and began to wonder why I did not know about it previously. Throughout my tenure as president, I’ve taken steps to shine a light on the academic excellence here so that people throughout the country and around the world would hear and understand that Richmond is a top liberal arts institution.

I took two of the biggest steps very early in my presidency by establishing the Office of Scholars and Fellowships and the Division of University Communications. The Office of Scholars and Fellowships encourages more Richmond students to pursue highly competitive national and international awards, which had the dual effects of advancing their futures and demonstrating UR’s academic caliber. National and international awards such as Fulbrights, Goldwaters, and others are often seen as a proxy for academic excellence within the higher education community. Our efforts are paying off, as we have seen an increase in the numbers of students applying for and receiving these top awards in a variety of fields. We’ve been a top Fulbright-producing school in both the student and scholar categories for three years in a row, for example. We have also opened doors for more students to many equally important but perhaps less well-known awards, such as the State Department’s Gilman Scholarship, which supports study abroad opportunities for students with limited financial means.

We have also extended the University’s reach and reputation by creating UR’s first Division of University Communications. It is absolutely critical that we have an office on campus that is focused on attending to how UR’s story and progress are being communicated to the public. That work is especially important in the world in which we live today. University Communications has launched a number of new communications strategies that are resulting in greater engagement with prospective students and parents, national thought leaders, alumni, and the media. This past fiscal year, for example, the division’s efforts generated more than 25 billion media impressions about research, faculty, and students at the University of Richmond, a number four times higher than it was just two years earlier.

We have seen the benefits of these and other efforts play out in a variety of metrics in recent years. Our U.S. News & World Report ranking, for example, has risen to No. 22 in the latest ranking, our highest ever. One of the significant factors driving this change is how presidents, provosts, and other leaders at higher education institutions now rank the University of Richmond. We also continue to see record applications from prospective students as the excellence and opportunities at Richmond become better known by prospective students, their families, guidance counselors, and others who influence the college search process.

THRIVING AND INCLUSIVE COMMUNITY

Well-being is a critical component of students’ ability to thrive during their studies at Richmond. Thanks to generous philanthropic support from alumni and parent donors, we built the Well-Being Center, which opened during the past academic year. The Center brings student health and counseling and psychological services together in one facility and adds a variety of additional programs focused on overall well-being and mindfulness, such as dedicated spaces for yoga, meditation, healthy eating, and more. This new facility has put Richmond on the leading edge of a national well-being movement in higher education and sets Richmond apart from its peers in offering exceptional support for students.

I have always believed that diversity, equity, and inclusion are inextricably linked to educational quality for our students. In my inauguration address, I challenged us as a community to use the rich representational diversity that we built under the leadership of my predecessor, Ed Ayers, to create a truly inclusive, welcoming community in which everyone can thrive and feel a sense of belonging. As we began this work to build inclusive excellence, we focused on representation, belonging, and capability as our guideposts for aligning our actions with our aspirations. We also built a distributed leadership model that places responsibility for advancing our efforts in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) with leaders across campus and a broadly representative Institutional Coordinating Committee.

In another step to further our DEI efforts, I created the Presidential Commission for University History and Identity to identify ways for us to examine, understand, and communicate about our past more fully and inclusively. Following the commission’s recommendations, we asked a historical consultant and visiting faculty member, Dr. Lauranett Lee, to lead a research team to explore further our institutional history with an emphasis on slavery and segregation. Through their work, we have identified on our campus the location of a burial ground for enslaved people, which we are in the process of memorializing, and produced detailed historical reports on the lives and viewpoints of Robert Ryland and Douglas Southall Freeman. This fall, we are aiming to launch Well 100, a 13-week extended orientation class to help students understand our complex institutional history and the values we share today. This course, positioned among other sessions designed to connect new students to resources and opportunities at Richmond, will ensure students learn about these essential elements of our intellectual community. We are also working to ensure that newly hired faculty and staff learn about our institutional history and shared values as part of their New Faculty/Staff Orientation.

We have also sought ways to increase belonging in student life and student development outside the classroom. In February 2020, I pledged to find a permanent location for a multicultural space on campus and to integrate the offices and services of Multicultural Affairs and Common Ground. Building upon the work and creativity of students involved in the multicultural student space pilot, we plan to reopen Whitehurst Hall at the start of the fall 2021 semester. In addition to enhancing the existing multicultural space in Whitehurst, this center will also house an expanded LGBTQ lounge, office space for staff and student workers of the recently re-configured Office of Multicultural Affairs and Common Ground, and student office space for the Race and Racism Project.

Over the summer, we will also develop vibrant outdoor space adjoining Whitehurst to create more opportunities for gathering, programming, and events. This multi-purpose space is located among primarily first-year and sophomore residences and is near the Well-Being Center, University Recreation, and International Education, a location that places it at the core of student life on campus. Beginning in fall 2021, in partnership with the Center for Student Involvement, student organizations will be able to reserve an open lodge for social gatherings and programming in the University’s lodge area. Students initiated this project last year, but implementation was stalled by the pandemic’s limitations on social gatherings.

ACCESS AND AFFORDABILITY

I began my presidency grateful for the solid foundation provided by my predecessors, the Board of Trustees, and past and current donors, who have long invested in some of the nation’s most generous programs to make a Richmond education available to all talented students regardless of their backgrounds. Of course, the biggest step was committing to a need-blind admission policy and pledging to meet the demonstrated need of every traditional undergraduate student. Through programs such as Richmond’s Promise to Virginia and the Richmond Guarantee, the institution removed other significant financial hurdles so that all students could take full advantage of Richmond’s opportunities throughout their four years. Earlier this year, we filled an important gap with the creation of a “no loan” policy for graduates of Richmond Public Schools who are admitted to the University. Through the program, we commit that aid packages to these students will not include any student loans. Rather, we will make up the gaps in other ways, such as through increased grant support that does not have to be repaid. Our efforts seem to be paying off, as we have seen an increase in qualified applicants from Richmond Public Schools in the most recent admission cycle, and I am confident that this will have an impact on the number of students from those schools who apply in the future.

FINANCIAL STEWARDSHIP IN A CHANGING WORLD

The University of Richmond has benefitted from years of careful stewardship of its resources and the generosity of our community, past and present. The critical importance of this approach and support became evident as the University faced unprecedented challenges with the onset of the pandemic in March 2020. Working with the leadership team and faculty and staff across campus, we took quick, decisive steps to adjust the University’s budget, realize savings, and reinvest in health and safety measures to protect the campus community. These substantial investments allowed the University to complete two full semesters with students on campus and in classrooms, while also serving the needs of students who chose to remain off campus during the emergency situation. Support from alumni and families has been essential to this effort with, for example, strong giving during the 2020 UR Here campaign to support students in unexpectedly uncertain financial situations. We will commence the 2021 UR Here campaign May 25–26, and I hope you will continue to offer your support for today’s students during that effort.

We are emerging from the crisis with renewed faith in the strength of our educational mission and in a strong financial position that protects the resources necessary to provide the excellent academic experiences that distinguish the University of Richmond, and we are grateful for the continued support that puts us in this position of strength.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

I wish to end this message with two notes of congratulations. First, kudos to the Class of 2021, whose commencement exercises I have just presided over as president. You are at an important inflection point in your life, a new beginning, and I wish you every success while I pledge the University’s continued support through alumni and career services. Secondly, I would like to offer my personal congratulations to one of our newest Spiders, President-Elect Kevin Hallock, as he takes on the role of becoming Richmond’s next president. He brings with him exceptional credentials and a great sense of caring for students as he begins in his new role in August. I have confidence that he and his wife, Tina, will find an instant sense of feeling at home in Richmond, just as Betty and I did. We are grateful for the many friendships and partnerships we have developed during my tenure as we have worked to fulfill the University’s potential and find new ways to raise our aspirations. It has been an immense honor to serve as Richmond’s 10th president, and it will be a great joy to return to work alongside my colleagues on the faculty.

Best wishes,

Ronald A. Crutcher
President