University of Richmond Update

September 2020

Dear Members of the University Community,

As I was writing my message to the community last week about my plans to step down as president no later than July 1, 2022, I was reminded of something my father said to me when I was a young man.

My father retired at age 61 after a 42-year career in which he worked his way up from chipper to inspector to the first Black manager at Cincinnati Milacron — the world’s largest machine tool company at the time. My father was very proud of his career, and rightly so. But he always encouraged me and my brother not to retire late in life. It was important, he said, to take time to enjoy and explore other interests.

Well, I clearly failed that test. I will be 75 years old when I step down in 2022, completing my second college presidency and happily returning to teaching. But it is the one test I am happy to have failed. It has been an honor and a privilege to lead this great institution. And while Dr. Betty Neal Crutcher and I are looking forward to a sabbatical year and reconnecting with friends and colleagues in Berlin, we will always be tireless advocates for the University and its faculty, staff, and students.

In the meantime, we must continue our important work together. Indeed, in my 43 years in higher education, I have never been more convinced of the need for graduates with a grounding in liberal education. The societal response required to overcome the novel coronavirus — and future pandemics — cannot be achieved by offering students narrow training for a particular job. Rather, as our community of teacher-scholars has demonstrated, it calls for preparing agile thinkers capable of creating connections across disciplinary boundaries.

Consider Professor of Mathematics Lester Caudill, who last semester taught a course called “Mathematical Models in Biology and Medicine.” In this interdisciplinary class, Professor Caudill taught students mathematical modeling to help address “what if” scenarios, such as what if there were a major flu outbreak amid the COVID-19 pandemic. As Professor Caudill explained, “Once we can simulate how the infection spreads and how severe it is, we can start to explore different ways of intervening to get a sense of how much of an impact possible interventions may offer.”

As any professor at Richmond will tell you, it is a gift to accompany students on their intellectual odyssey across disciplinary boundaries and watch them make new connections and discoveries.

To help ensure we fulfill our institutional mission as safely as possible during the pandemic, the University has invested more than $10 million in enhancing campus facilities, classroom and learning technologies, student health services and support, testing and contact tracing, and support for students in need.

While we have many weeks to go to complete the semester, we are so pleased that our 117 Days of Protecting Our Web campaign — the length of the fall term — is off to a safe start. To date, nearly 4,700 tests have been administered since July 1 and, thankfully, only 0.4% of our community has tested positive for COVID-19; these data and more are updated weekly on our COVID-19 dashboard.

I am grateful to our entire community for the enormous effort to make the fall semester a success. Our remarkable faculty have worked countless extra hours redesigning their courses for both in-person and remote delivery of the exceptional education for which Richmond is known. Our remarkable staff have worked nonstop to lay the groundwork for a successful semester, from upgrading our facilities to enhancing support services. And as always, our dedicated alumni, Spider parents, and friends have rallied to support our students, generously giving their time, expertise, and financial resources.

As we navigate the weeks and months ahead, we know we will encounter challenges and even some setbacks. As a result of the pandemic, some of our students are in urgent need of support now more than ever; I encourage you to consider how you can help. Areas of particular need include financial aid, the Student Emergency Fund, and the Career Opportunity Fund. You can support these funds and others at givenow.richmond.edu. With our community’s continued generosity, I am confident that we can not only meet this moment of need, but rise up stronger than before.

MAKING EXCELLENCE INCLUSIVE

Earlier this month, Dave Hale, Jeff Legro, and I wrote to the campus community to reaffirm the University of Richmond’s commitment to fostering a thriving, inclusive University community and provide an update on current efforts to advance this goal. Of particular importance, we are fortifying our distributed leadership approach, which recognizes that no single leader alone can bring about cultural change. Rather, we must foster a shared commitment among all University members to entrench the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion. To propel this work forward, Dr. Amy Howard has agreed to a three-year term as Senior Administrative Officer for Equity and Community — a cabinet-level leadership position, while Dr. Patricia Herrera and Dr. Glyn Hughes will extend their service as co-chairs of the Institutional Coordinating Council.

To help us ensure that all students, faculty, and staff experience an authentic sense of belonging at Richmond, we have recently implemented several structural changes across the University. These include merging the offices of Common Ground and Multicultural Affairs to strengthen the reach, coordination, and impact of the programs and services offered by their talented and dedicated staff members. We have also reconfigured the Office of International Education to offer additional support for international students, established an Office of Disability Services, and appointed longtime athletics Deputy Director LaRee Sugg as Chief of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in athletics.

We are also building institutional capacity for inclusive excellence work. We will participate in the Higher Education Research Institute’s Campus Climate Survey this year to assess the lived experiences of our students, faculty, and staff. We have also created a President’s Student Cabinet to convey the concerns, needs, and interests of Richmond students to the University’s senior leadership. Lastly, we at the leadership level are intent on continuing to advance our efforts on inclusive excellence, hold ourselves accountable, and deepen our commitment to this work.

Our goal, as our Institutional Coordinating Council rightly reminds us, is to understand this moment as “an opportunity to advance equity, rather than allowing it to backslide or simply remain as it is.” As I wrote to the campus community, “There is more work to do, and we have every confidence that the Spider community will seize the moment.”

ADMISSIONS UPDATE

I’d like to offer my congratulations and gratitude to the entire enrollment management division for its creative thinking and hard work during the most recent admissions cycle. Despite the challenges of the sudden shutdowns in the spring, the University enrolled another very strong class of new Spiders. Although final numbers will not be available until the University’s census date on Oct. 1, preliminary numbers show that we enrolled 812 new first-year students from more than 600 high schools. These students completed more than 4,800 Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, or dual college credit courses — an average of six per student. We are already receiving applications for Fall 2021, even as we have shifted our outreach with new tools for these times, including a virtual tour, a self-guided driving campus tour, and robust social media and video content.

FACULTY EXCELLENCE

Richmond faculty continue to distinguish themselves and bring recognition to the University as a place where academic excellence thrives. Here are some recent examples:

  • Four faculty in the School of Arts & Sciences received Jeffress Memorial Trust Grants to support research in their fields. They include biology professor Kristine Grayson, chemistry professor Michael Norris, computer science professor Joonsuk Park, and biology professor Dan Pierce. Each award includes support for undergraduate researchers mentored by these faculty, a longstanding hallmark of a Richmond education.
  • Political science professor Jennifer Bowie received the Law and Courts Teaching and Mentorship Award from the American Political Science Association, an award that recognizes her innovative teaching and instructional methods.
  • Supreme Court justices repeatedly cited scholarship by Richmond Law faculty in their summer rulings. Research by professors Jud Campbell, Corinna Lain, and Kevin Walsh in cases about immigration, separation of powers, public funding and religious schools, and school prayer.
  • School of Professional and Continuing Studies professor Erik Nielson is a finalist for the 2020 Library of Virginia Literary Award for his book Rap on Trial: Race, Lyrics, and Guilt in America, which examines the misuse of rap lyrics in criminal trials.
  • Virginia’s Board of Education elected SPCS dean Jamelle Wilson as their vice president. She has served on the board, guiding statewide education policy, since 2017.

Media across the nation and worldwide have long sought out Richmond faculty to offer perspective and expertise on the news of the day. This has never been truer than during the 2019–20 academic year, when media stories featuring the University and its experts made more than 25.7 billion media impressions on topics as varied as COVID-19, racial justice, STEM research, politics, international affairs, and more. This volume of impressions is the highest we have ever recorded and more than triple the previous year’s total. This extraordinary growth is another reflection of widespread recognition of Richmond’s excellence, and I hope you take pride when you see the expertise of your alma mater informing public dialogue about the most important topics of the day.

RECENT RANKINGS

Earlier this month U.S. News and World Report ranked the University of Richmond No. 22 among all national liberal arts colleges, our highest ranking ever in this category from this publication to date. We also placed high on its best value list (No. 25) and its list of innovative schools (No. 18 among liberal arts universities). In August, the Princeton Review named Richmond to a number of its lists, including No. 1 for “Most Beautiful Campus” and No. 4 for “Best-Run Colleges.”

I am pleased, but not surprised, by these rankings, for they increasingly reflect what we Spiders already know about the exceptional quality of this institution. The rankings are a sign that our reputation is catching up to the extraordinary value and promise we offer to students as a community dedicated to an exceptional learning experience intended to prepare “students for lives of purpose, thoughtful inquiry, and responsible leadership in a diverse world.”

ROBUST EXCHANGE OF IDEAS

I invite you to participate via livestream in this year’s Sharp Viewpoint Speakers Series, which focuses on the theme of engaging in dialogue to foster change. I’m very excited to host conversations with this year’s participants, who bring a range of backgrounds and perspectives to campus. We kicked off the series last week with a conversation about bipartisanship with former chiefs of staff to President Barack Obama and former Speaker of the House John Boehner. If you were not able to join us for this conversation, you may view a recording of it here. On November 11, I will discuss the 2020 election results with former George H.W. Bush speechwriter Mary Kate Cary and Democratic political analyst Mary Anne Marsh. We will conclude the series on March 26 when we welcome philosopher and political activist Cornell West and legal scholar Robert P. George for a discussion called “Friendship and Dialogue Across Difference.” I hope you will consider joining us.

STAYING CONNECTED

Even as the spring and summer offered unprecedented challenges to all of us, they also offered a remarkable example of the strength of the Spider community. Since the onset of the pandemic, a variety of virtual programming by alumni for alumni has been offered by the Office of Alumni Relations. Alumni have offered virtual sessions on everything from pizza-making to yoga, participated in trivia nights, offered career networking, hosted “Welcome to the City: Ask Us Anything” events, and connected in other ways as we have all looked for ways to cope with the disruption to our lives.

This alumni programming is continuing this fall, and I hope you have an opportunity to participate. One exciting new offering is the extension of campus events to virtual programming. Multiple speakers series have moved to virtual formats, and alumni relations is partnering with units across campus to enable alumni to participate in these events. I encourage you to visit the schedule of upcoming events here.

NEW FACILITIES

This fall we will open two new facilities dedicated to strengthening UR’s holistic strategy for caring for students and to promoting athletic achievement in competition and the classroom.

The Well-Being Center, which is located between Sarah Brunet Hall and Robins Hall, brings health promotion, the Student Health Center, and Counseling and Psychological Services, or CAPS, together under one roof. With this new facility, the University can now offer a one-stop shop for a comprehensive range of student services that are critical to our students’ success in academics and that lay the groundwork for a lifetime of healthful practices. The Queally Athletics Center and renovated Millhiser Gymnasium are the most significant additions to our athletics facilities since the construction of Robins Stadium in 2010. The facility promises to transform the experiences of all student-athletes, particularly men’s and women’s basketball players. It includes a spectacular new practice facility, a gleaming new reception area called Spider Hall, and a beautiful renovation and preservation of Millhiser Gym, which will now house the basketball coaching staffs and the Student-Athlete Development Center, which will provide academic support, leadership development, career planning, and other services to Spider student-athletes.

Major funding for the new facilities came from a pair of generous, dedicated alumni couples. 1986 alumni Paul and Anne-Marie Queally provided the lead gift for the QAC. The Walrath Family Foundation, a philanthropic foundation established by Michael, ’97, and Michelle Walrath, ’98, gave the lead gift that made the Well-Being Center possible. I am immensely grateful to them and to many other Spiders who made gifts to support the addition of these important new facilities to our campus.

ATHLETICS

This fall, the Atlantic 10, the Colonial Athletic Association, and the Patriot League made the difficult but responsible decision to suspend fall intercollegiate competition in response to the pandemic. I want to offer my condolences for our hardworking student-athletes and their families on the loss of their fall seasons, even as I hold out the hope that at least some of them will have the opportunity to compete during rescheduled seasons in the spring. Consistent with NCAA regulations and health guidelines, several teams have kept a fall practice schedule to maintain their readiness and experience the joy of being part of a team and competing in practice. Spider student-athletes also continue to work hard in the classroom. Despite the challenges of the spring semester, more than 200 of our student-athletes placed on the Atlantic 10 Commissioner’s Honor Roll, which recognizes academic achievement.

Earlier this month, the NCAA announced that men’s and women’s basketball programs can start their seasons on November 25. This is incredibly welcome news, and the athletics staff are working hard to augment health and safety protocols and reconfigure the teams’ schedules in light of the new start date. Both the men’s and the women’s teams have been on campus since the summer participating in conditioning and practice, and both have generated a great deal of anticipation. The men’s team appears in multiple preseason top-25 rankings and is ranked second among mid-majors, according to SB Nation. The women’s teams is poised to continue its turn-around under second-year coach Aaron Roussell, who guided the team to 15 wins last season.

CLOSING

These many examples of excellence across campus bring to the fore the best qualities of the Spider community in these difficult times. As we continue to respond to today’s unprecedented challenges, we remain clear-eyed about the work ahead as we go forward with confidence and determination. This Spider community, our shared community, is strong and resilient, and I am very proud of what we continue to accomplish together.

Best wishes,

Ronald A. Crutcher
President