University of Richmond Update

November 2019

Dear Members of the University Community,

I used to joke with the late Chancellor E. Bruce Heilman that I wanted to be just like him when I grew up. For a man in his early nineties, he seemed to have the energy of someone half his age, and I was deeply impressed and grateful that he remained a daily presence on our campus, a frequent guest and speaker at University events, and a thoughtful sounding board for my ideas and questions.

One of the last times I saw Chancellor Heilman before he passed away last month was at a private dinner celebrating the 50th anniversary of E. Claiborne Robins Sr.’s historic $50 million gift to the University. Chancellor Heilman was as energetic and charming as ever, speaking movingly about how Mr. Robins helped recruit him to UR and always provided him with support and counsel. Thanks to their close partnership, Chancellor Heilman excelled as the first steward of the Robins gift, launching UR on a trajectory from being a small, regional university to a top-ranked national liberal arts institution. Over the course of his life, he never stopped encouraging others to help support and sustain the University.

As Thanksgiving approaches, I am reminded of how fortunate we are that Chancellor Heilman and Mr. Robin’s spirit of collective stewardship lives on in the generations of alumni who have contributed to the University’s educational excellence and growing national reputation. From meeting with prospective students to supporting scholarships to hiring our graduates, alumni, parents, and friends have always been there for us, helping the University to elevate its aspirations and fulfill its mission of preparing students for lives of purpose.

Last year I was especially moved by the outpouring of support for the first-ever Spiders Helping Spiders campaign, which brought in more than $70,000 to help our students meet unexpected costs, from family emergencies to graduate school application fees to travel costs for job interviews. As we enter the season of gratitude and reflect on the blessings in our lives, I hope you will consider lending your support for this year’s campaign to help fellow Spiders in need, which launches tomorrow.

I strongly believe that who we are as a community explains the strong state of our University. During this Thanksgiving season, I give thanks for the extraordinary leadership and example of Chancellor Heilman and Mr. Robins — and for the generations of alumni who continue their legacy and are helping shape the University to be the great institution it is today and the great institution it will be in the future.

Academic excellence
The excellence of our faculty is at the core of all we do. As I have continued my conversations with faculty from across the University during the Spider Talks series, I never fail to be impressed by their curiosity for their fields of study and their commitment to providing an outstanding educational experience for our students.

Last month, professor of behavioral neuroscience Kelly Lambert attracted international attention to the University of Richmond for her research involving rats operating makeshift cars to retrieve rewards. Even after more than 1,500 media stories that have reached more than two billion potential readers, her research continues to receive more coverage. Although the story is certainly fun and has provided great exposure for the University, it’s crucial to note that Dr. Lambert first shared her research in a leading academic journal, Behavioural Brain Research. Co-authors on the study included research lab specialist Olivia Harding, ’19, who participated in the research as an undergraduate, UR psychology professor Laura Knouse, ’02, and eight additional UR faculty, staff, and students. As the article explains, their research has significant implications for advancing our understanding of mental health treatment, emotional resilience, and environmental influences on the motivation to learn.

Other faculty across the University are likewise advancing their fields and, in doing so, the University’s reputation.

  • Law professor Chiara Giorgetti, an expert in international law, arbitration, and courts and tribunals, was recently named scholar-in-residence at the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes in Washington, D.C.
  • Professor Stephanie Spera in the Department of Geography and the Environment received a fellowship from the National Park Service and Schoodic Institute to study shifts in fall foliage at Acadia National Park in Maine, one of the nation’s most visited parks.
  • The Digital Scholarship Lab, which is based in Boatwright Memorial Library, received a national award for innovation for its American Panorama project from the American Historical Association.
  • My predecessor Edward Ayers, who founded the DSL and is now Tucker-Boatwright Professor of the Humanities, launched a fascinating new PBS series this fall with major support from the Virginia Foundation for Public Media. Called “The Future of America’s Past,” the series examines misunderstood moments in our nation’s history in multi-faceted and revelatory ways. I urge you to look for the broadcast on your local PBS station.

All of these faculty exemplify a two-pronged priority that I outlined earlier this fall in my State of the University address: for the University of Richmond “to be, and to be recognized as, one of the strongest liberal arts institutions in the nation.” Through their work and the work of many others, we have an impact at a scale that some might find surprising for a university of our size and with our focus on undergraduate, liberal arts education. We are proud to claim this unique place for ourselves in higher education.

External recognition
We continue to receive significant accolades from publications that rank and rate colleges and universities. While we understand that there are often limitations in their methodologies, we recognize the significant influence they have with prospective students and their families and are gratified that so many continue to draw attention to the outstanding quality of the educational experience that the University of Richmond provides.

The Princeton Review’s 2020 edition of The Best 385 Colleges ranked Richmond among the nation’s top 10 on a number of lists, including No. 2 for best career services, No. 5 for best-run colleges and for most beautiful campus, No. 6 for best athletic facilities, No. 7 best classroom experience, No. 9 for happiest students, and No. 10 best quality of life. Earlier this month, the Princeton Review identified the University as one of the nation’s most environmentally responsible colleges for the 10th consecutive year.

This wide array of accolades speaks to our attention to ensuring the excellence of the entire student experience. For example, our No. 2 ranking for best career services, which was highlighted on the Today show, reflects the success of the more than 150 career workshops and many other initiatives that the Office of Career Services offers each year and the intentionality with which we prepare students for their lives after graduation.

Alumni engagement
This fall, I had the pleasure of introducing Mickey Quiñones, the new dean of the Robins School of Business, to alumni and parents in Philadelphia, Boston, and Washington, D.C. I was delighted that more than 600 Spiders came out for these events, in which we discussed what sets the University of Richmond and the Robins School apart in educating future business leaders — blending the best of a top business school with the advantages of a leading liberal arts university. I look forward in the coming months to visiting with Spider communities in New Jersey, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Palm Beach, Greenwich, and New York City, and I have invited Dean Quiñones to join me for as many of these as his schedule allows. I hope to see some of you at one of these events.

Alumni also continue returning to campus in impressive numbers. More than 1,000 attended Homecoming events earlier this month, helping us celebrate Spider Day on campus Nov. 1 and cheering in person as the Spider football team upset then No. 20 Stony Brook at Robins Stadium the next day. Plans are well under way to welcome alumni on May 29–31 for Reunion Weekend 2020. I encourage those of you in reunion classes — the ones ending in 5 and 0 this year — to register early, and I look forward to seeing you in the spring.

As we continue to cheer for the Spider athletes who are finishing their fall seasons and beginning their winter ones, I would like to draw attention to a very important initiative taking place in the Division of Athletics that gives real meaning to the values we express when we use the term “scholar-athlete.” In keeping with our institutional commitment to access and affordability, the Athletics department has partnered with International Education to build opportunities for study abroad that are rarely available to student-athletes, given their busy schedules. Through this partnership, student-athletes have traveled recently through the EnCompass program to Cuba, Chile, and South Africa. Programs like this help make the full range of educational opportunities available to every student and, in the case of EnCompass, particularly to students who are less likely to have access to them. I applaud Athletics for its focus on making sure that student-athletes are also given the opportunity for an international educational experience and also our Spider athletes who are always eager to embrace new challenges of all kinds.

During Homecoming, five very distinguished Spiders and one outstanding team were recognized as the 43rd class of inductees into the University of Richmond Athletics Hall of Fame. They include basketball and baseball player Tom “Red” Booker, R’61, swimmer Jen MacKay Williams, ’97, football player Matt McCracken, field hockey player and assistant coach Jill Murphy Myers, ’03, and runner and graduate student coach Russell Smelley, R’78 and G’79. The 1990 women’s basketball team, which earned the program’s first appearance in the NCAA tournament, was enshrined as the Team of Distinction. Their legacies include championships, new records, and conference and national honors that represented the all-around excellence of Spider sports across generations.

The coming weeks will be busy ones on campus as students complete end-of-semester projects and prepare for examinations. These annual rites run alongside others that remind us of the gifts of the season we are entering. The wreaths will soon be raised on Boatwright Tower, and the dining hall will no doubt outdo itself with foods that celebrate the upcoming holidays. On campus and off, Spiders will gather with families, friends, and colleagues. Dr. Betty Neal Crutcher and I look forward to being part of some of these celebrations and others with the people who bring joy to our lives.

Times like these remind me to pause and reflect on my profound conviction that we are here to serve one another. Despite the strife and pressing issues that swirl around us, these moments contain within them the same qualities that make the educational experience at Richmond so distinctive. We are fundamentally an educational community dedicated to helping everyone who is part of it to live happy and healthy lives of purpose, and we do that by working in partnership with one another toward common goals. I am honored and grateful for all of the alumni, parents, students, faculty, staff, trustees, donors, and other supporters who make this such a remarkable and valuable community.

Best wishes,

Ronald A. Crutcher