Institutional Priorities September 12, 2012

To: The University Community

From: President Ruscio

Date: Sept. 12, 2012

The beginning of another academic year is a fitting occasion to anticipate what lies before us. I am again reminded how fortunate we are to belong to a university with the capacity and willingness to improve constantly. We take justifiable pride in what we have accomplished, but we are not complacent. As I welcome everyone back to the campus, especially our newest members of the community, I want to outline three critical challenges-and opportunities-and how we will address them.

The Academic Program

During a time of skepticism about the value of a liberal arts education, Washington and Lee affirms with conviction the strength of our approach. What we do here is especially suited to the times in which we live, responding to the interests of our students and faculty in addressing the issues facing society. Our tradition is one of educational innovation: we have historically provided a fundamental, rigorous and broad liberal arts education that also speaks directly to the problems our students will face during their lifetimes. Our faculty members constantly create new courses, and they constantly adapt their teaching methods. While many other colleges seem concerned with only the business model these days, we continue to focus as well on the educational model.

In the coming year, we will further develop our curricular offerings in legal education and in the undergraduate spring term, two initiatives that have received national attention. Now that we are well into those efforts, we salute the creativity and commitment of our teachers that brought us to this point, and the promise of even more to come.

A couple of our interdisciplinary programs-the long-standing Shepherd Program in Poverty and Human Capability, founded and led by Professor Harlan Beckley (who is approaching retirement), and the new Roger Mudd Center for the Study of Professional Ethics-are undergoing searches for directors. 

The Global Learning Initiative will receive considerable attention this year, as the strategic plan advances and as the design for the Global Learning Center through the renovation of duPont Hall takes shape.

In the sciences, the IQ Center-a path-breaking project in quantitative and integrative sciences, generously supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and several individual donors-moves into implementation. In the School of Law, plans continue to evolve for additional space to facilitate teaching in the new curriculum.

The faculty and administration will continue the work of a committee, chaired last year by Professor Lesley Wheeler, that looked at our undergraduate tenure processes and criteria. We are also conducting a national search for a provost to serve as the chief academic officer at a critical juncture in the life of the University. Professor of Law Brian Murchison chairs that search committee, which has already sought guidance from other members of the community and will continue to do so.

The Character of our Community

How can we preserve and enhance the close-knit, supportive environment we have valued for so long at Washington and Lee?  We educate students for lives of responsibility and integrity. We should constantly be looking for opportunities to support that vital part of our mission, and to nurture the virtues of civility, respect and honor in all aspects of campus life. This year we face some important decisions.

Among the most significant influences on the education and development of our students are athletics/recreation and residential life.  The questions we face in residential life and athletics/recreation involve complex considerations of funding and design. They are also fundamental to the kind of community we hope to establish for decades to come. In the fall, I will join others in discussing with faculty, staff and students the analyses, options and inevitable trade-offs involved in these two important issues. 

The current capital campaign has a target of $50 million to support a new indoor athletics and recreation facility, but specific decisions remain regarding the scope and program for the facility and its location. In residential life-which is part of the strategic plan but not part of the capital campaign-we will prepare for extensive renovations and upgrades to the first-year facilities, with work slated to begin next summer. Beyond that, decisions about additional on-campus upper-class facilities are forthcoming, with the Board of Trustees considering our financial capacity as well as programmatic goals.

The Strength-and Limits-of Our Financial Resources

If this is a time of questioning about the future of the liberal arts, it is also a time of worry about higher education's business model. In the midst of a volatile and uncertain environment for higher education, Washington and Lee is confident and stable, but we do not mistake that for complacency. We are well aware of the challenges facing students and their families. We will continue to restrain our tuition increases, which in recent years have been among the lowest in our peer group, and we are keeping as our largest capital campaign priority the endowment for financial aid. We seek to lower our operating costs, with an especially notable accomplishment in energy savings, where we have reduced our usage by 20 percent. We can be ambitious only if we remain disciplined.

And we are indeed ambitious for the University, with a capital campaign that is ahead of the pace to complete its $500 million goal on June 30, 2015, as scheduled.  Washington Hall will be ready for occupancy this November; Robinson Hall renovations begin in the summer of 2013. We will then be well past the halfway point in restoring the historic Colonnade. Our Annual Fund continues to set records for participation and total commitments. Our endowment is approximately $1.25 billion, placing us among the top 20 universities in the country in resources per student. Indeed, it is worth reminding ourselves that although building projects will take center stage in the year ahead, the overall campaign is mostly about our people. It is heavily focused on raising funds for our endowment for the long-term support of faculty and students, complemented by a strategic plan that also provides resources for staff.

People are the strength of Washington and Lee-our faculty, staff and students, as well as our accomplished and dedicated alumni. In calling attention to some of these overarching priorities, I am well aware of the many endeavors routinely underway throughout the University. We never take these for granted-the musical and theatrical performances; the athletic competitions; the repairs and upgrades in a number of our buildings and grounds; the administrative support our staff provides; the preparations for weekends when we welcome alumni and families; the efforts of student leaders in their own areas of responsibility; the support from our alumni volunteers; the work of faculty in committees, departments and programs; the continuing attention to information technology; and, most important, the day-to-day education that changes the lives of our students.

I extend my best wishes for the year to come as well as gratitude for what each of you brings to the University.