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BOV takes retreat to prepare for the fall semester

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The University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors held its annual retreat this week, its first official meeting that included the four new members appointed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin in July.

Bert Ellis Jr., Stephen P. Long, Amanda Pillion and Doug Wetmore joined the returning members of the board at the Boar’s Head Resort, a UVa Foundation property for the retreat on Sunday and Monday.

During the retreat’s opening session, Rector Whittington W. Clement told them that effective members need to stay focused on the university’s future. Focusing on day-to-day management, he admonished, would make the board ineffective.

Led by Clement, board members were given an overview of their goals and responsibilities as well as current policies and the status of curricula, the UVa Medical Center, athletics and university budget.

The Board of Visitors has seventeen voting members who decide policies and budgets, and can hire or fire the university’s president. The voting members annually appoint one full-time student and one faculty member for one term during the academic year.

Dr. Susan E. Kirk, Associate Dean for Graduate Medical Education and associate professor at the Diabetes and Endocrine Clinic within UVa Health, is the faculty representative this term.

The student representative is Lily Roberts, a fourth-year urban and environmental planning major at the School of Architecture.

“I think this year the retreat is really about bringing in the new board members,” Roberts said. “Last year everyone knew each other, but this is the first time the new members have been in the same room with everyone else. So we’re really getting into the role of the board.”

Board members also got a lesson on their responsibility to adhere to Freedom of Information Act requirements as a public and state-appointed entity. All correspondence among board members is subject to public review, so any requests for information from board members should be treated like FOIA requests even if one was not formally filed, they were told.

“We don’t like to lose,” said Robert M. Tyler, associate university counsel. “We usually don’t because we make sure that our faculty and board know the FOIA rules.”

According to FOIA requirements, any time three or more board members meet, the time and place, and internet link if the meeting is only online, must be made available to the public at least 24 hours before the meeting.

The retreat was open to the public but was not available to watch online.

Board members have heard of dropping enrollments in higher education and an approaching nationwide higher education enrollment cliff. That put reforms to liberal arts and general education for incoming students high on the agenda.

Faculty from the College of Arts & Sciences presented a new engagements curriculum to encourage creative thinking and replace general education courses for all first-year students by next school year.

The college began introducing Engagements courses designed by faculty to 600 randomly selected students in 2017. This year, 1,950 students enrolled in four Engagements courses in the areas of aesthetics, empirical research, ethics and differences.

“These are the four types of questions for students to ask during their time at UVa and beyond,” said Janet Spittler, co-director of Engagements and associate professor of Religious Studies. “We want Engagements students to gain practice raising questions.”

Within the theme of encouraging questions, the Karsh Institute of Democracy is building a university-wide faculty working group. The Institute is also training students to become ambassadors for the civic learning and democratic engagement network. Students will be responsible for encouraging peers to participate on the University Grounds and local democratic practices including elections.

In athletics, the Atlantic Coast Conference is concerned for the academic and housing security of its players and battling a conference-wide decrease in graduation rates of athletes. More athletes are transferring but fewer are graduating.

“There are no restrictions on athlete transfers,” said ACC Commissioner James J. Phillips. “There is an imbalance, we can call it, of transfer students to graduating students and it’s gotten out of control.”

UVa maintains a 95% graduation success rate, the highest in the 15 years that the NCAA has issued the report.

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