National progress despite an austere budget

VCU takes its place as a top 50 public research university

Virginia Commonwealth University is rapidly taking its place as one of the top 50 public research universities in our nation. This is a credit to the palpable drive, focus, dedication and talent of my faculty and staff colleagues and students at all levels whose leadership and commitment to excellence and success elevate our national profile.

Our progress is especially remarkable given the austere budget that VCU has faced in recent years. While there has never been a time when our university was flush with resources, funding in the past few years has been historically low. This requires our commitment to actions to improve revenue for VCU.

VCU faces funding circumstances that are unique in the commonwealth. VCU is honored to be one of just four Tier III institutions in Virginia. Along with these peer institutions — the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech and the College of William and Mary — VCU also is a national research university. Unlike our peers, however, we serve the largest in-state student population at the lowest tuition rate among the Tier III institutions.

This leaves fewer dollars per student to invest in a learning experience that must be world-class. As a public university, we work diligently to keep in-state tuition for undergraduate students low. In good conscience, we must also work as diligently, in a forthright manner, to ensure that educational programs and services are effective, efficient and meaningful.

While we are grateful that we will see a small bump in funds appropriated from the state, our funding remains almost $52 million below 2008 levels and will not offset unavoidable costs. Slight increases to tuition and fees will generate some revenue, but we cannot rely on these funds to make up for funding requirements elsewhere. In addition, we have not yet begun to feel the effects of sequestration on our research enterprise, which we expect may be as much as $21 million and could persist for the next several years at all universities.

In the months ahead, we must continue to answer serious questions about our budget, what is and is not necessary to achieve our ambitions, and understand that we must make important and competitive choices that include exploring efficiencies and sharing across units, reallocations in some areas and appropriate market-driven increases to revenues.

Our financial forecast will be clearer when the 2013-14 budget is presented to the Board of Visitors next month, and I will provide an update following that meeting. Meanwhile, we are focused not only on cutting costs but increasing revenues however we can. For example, we are working diligently with VCU’s foundations to streamline and maximize the returns on our endowment investments, leveraging our collective size in a competitive international financial market. We are also looking to combine internal resources and responsibilities wherever it makes sense, and eliminate any projects or programs that do not further our agenda as a national research university. I am also focusing as much of my time as possible on building external relationships and partnerships, including fundraising and other resource-building opportunities.

Despite these ongoing financial challenges I remain committed to addressing faculty and staff salary issues in the coming year. My colleagues have worked too hard for too long for this problem to persist.

Many thanks for your remarkable progress in recent years. During some of the leanest times in our university’s history, you have led VCU to new heights as an institution with a national and international reputation for excellence.

Sculpture program ranks No. 1 in the nation

VCU on the national stage

As we continue to look for ways to be more efficient and to make the most of our precious resources, we will never sacrifice the quality of a VCU education. In fact, our national profile is rising in many areas.

For example, the new 2014 “Best Graduate Schools” edition of U.S.News & World Report ranks two of our programs No. 1 in the nation: Nurse Anesthesia in the School of Allied Health Professions and Sculpture in the School of the Arts. Other graduate programs were listed among the top 50, including Health Services Administration, 5th; Rehabilitation Counseling, 7th; Occupational Therapy, 15th; Physical Therapy, 19th; and Pharmacotherapy and Outcome Science, 21st. From the School of the Arts, other highly ranked programs include: Graphic Design, 5th; Ceramics, 9th; Painting/Drawing, 7th; Printmaking, 10th; Photography, 13th; and Multimedia/Visual Communications, 14th.

Among the schools, the School of the Arts is ranked No. 4 nationally, the School of Social Work is 11th, School of Pharmacy, 21st; the School of Education is 28th (with teacher preparation listed in the top 50) and the School of Nursing is 36th.

These rankings reinforce the world-class reputation of our faculty and students. They also reflect the academic excellence and rigor of VCU as we take our place among the top 50 public research universities.

Rankings like these also help attract top talent to our university. Recently, we announced that Jean Giddens, Ph.D., R.N., FAAN, a nationally recognized expert in nursing education, curricula and evaluation, has been named dean of the School of Nursing effective June 30. She currently serves as a professor and executive dean at the University of New Mexico. The author of many journal articles, nursing textbooks and electronic media in nursing education, she is widely recognized for creating innovative teaching and learning models in nursing sciences.

I am very pleased to welcome Dean Giddens to VCU, as she personifies everything that makes VCU one of the nation’s best and rapidly rising research universities. Her commitments to research, education, service and student success are exemplary, and will be an ideal addition to a highly energized team committed to supporting a world-class faculty and student body.

VCU encourages wise use of energy and natural resources

Saving money — and our planet — by saving energy

One of the most important ways in which we can all help the university through this difficult financial time is by paying attention to how we use our energy and natural resources while we are on campus, including in our offices, shared space and residence halls.

Please:

  • Turn off lights when you leave a room or when a public space — like a conference room or lounge — is not in use.
  • Unplug electronics, including laptops and cellphone chargers, when you are not using them.
  • When possible, take stairs instead of the elevator, and do not use automated doors unless you need them.
  • To minimize wasted water, please report leaks, drips and running water as soon as you see them. Drink from personal water bottles, instead of plastic bottles, whenever possible.
  • Set your computer for an energy-saving “sleep mode” and turn off your monitor when you are away from your desk for an extended period.
  • Print only those pages that you need and print on both sides of the page.

Visit the VCU goes green website for more tips on saving money and saving our planet’s resources.

Last year, VCU entered into a partnership with Dominion Resources that reduces our energy costs by about 4 percent annually. However, energy consumption remains a substantial line in our annual budget — about $5 million. That will only increase as we continue to open the new buildings that we need to engage in our mission as a national research university. I have committed that every new building at VCU will be LEED-certified, and it is our goal that VCU will be carbon neutral by 2050.

Left to right: John Duval, CEO of MCV Hospitals; Frederick Ballantyne, governor general of St. Vincent and the Grenadines; Michael Rao, president of VCU and the VCU Health System; Sheldon Retchin, CEO of VCU Health System and senior vice president of VCU Health Sciences

CHoR at VCU awarded Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal

As a national research university with a renowned academic medical center, it is our responsibility to improve the human condition and experience everywhere. That is especially true for people who need the most help, such as our world’s children and those who lack access to health care. Did you know that 10 percent of the world’s population has access to 90 percent of the world’s medical resources? The fact is that the biggest factor in life and death continues to be where you are born.

My physician, nurse and care-partner colleagues at our hospitals are focused on doing everything possible to solve this problem. In doing so, they are also earning world acclaim. Two weeks ago, the government of the Caribbean nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines presented the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal to Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU for providing life-saving care to St. Vincent children for more than a decade. This medal acknowledges exceptional public service and is the only one that nation has awarded to a non-citizen. His Excellency Sir Frederick Ballantyne, governor general of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and an official representative of Queen Elizabeth II, presented the award to John Duval, CEO of MCV Hospitals.

CHoR has treated 69 St. Vincent children in Richmond, with more than 75 percent of the cases for the treatment of pediatric heart conditions. In addition, more than 60 medical professionals from CHoR have provided care to St. Vincent children both at CHoR and on volunteer medical team trips to St. Vincent. This commitment began in 2002 as part of a partnership with World Pediatric Project, a nonprofit organization that provides surgical and diagnostic care to Central American and Caribbean children. Bill Moskowitz, M.D., professor and chief of the Division of Pediatric Cardiology at CHoR and vice chairman of the VCU Department of Pediatrics, is one of World Pediatric Project’s first volunteers.

The Diamond Jubilee Medal is a commemorative medal created to mark the 60th anniversary of the accession to the throne of Queen Elizabeth II. Only the United Kingdom, Canada and the Caribbean realms, which include St. Vincent, award this medal.

The award acknowledges honorable service, public service or outstanding achievement. To me, it also signifies VCU’s ongoing commitment to human health around the world, and to unmatched service everywhere.

Shaka Smart, VCU men’s basketball head coach

A national-caliber athletics program

Last week, VCU became only the seventh university in the nation to have won at least one game in each of the past three NCAA men’s basketball tournaments. Congratulations to athletics director Ed McLaughlin, head coach Shaka Smart and his staff, and the players who represent all of us so well every day, both on and off the court. I am pleased that Coach Smart signed a contract extension last week that will keep him at VCU through 2023.

The second-round tournament victory, 88-42 vs. Akron, is only one of the significant headlines from athletics in recent weeks. Last month, two corporate donors established major gifts to athletics — MeadWestvaco to construct a new practice facility for men’s and women’s basketball, and Health Diagnostic Laboratories, co-founded by VCU alumna Tonya Mallory, to brand our Athletic Village. Both donations made history as the largest corporate partnership ($3 million from MeadWestvaco) and the largest philanthropic gift ($4 million from Health Diagnostic Laboratories) to VCU Athletics.

Premier universities are premier across the board, including in athletics, which is a window into the institution for so many people. I appreciate the leadership, coaches and student-athletes who represent us so well, and the corporate and community partners who further elevate our national profile.

VCU continues ongoing commitment to keep community safe

Safety update

Our success as a university depends on the ability of all members of the VCU community to operate safely everywhere on campus. In the weeks and months following the tragic elementary school shooting in Connecticut, the President’s Committee on Safety reviewed our VCU and VCU Health System daycare centers to ensure that all safety measures were in place for the staff. This includes tools and training. Through the hard work and cooperation of many at the university, the enhancements have all been achieved.

These were part of a larger never-ending mission to make VCU the safest university in the nation. Our students are among our strongest leaders in keeping our university safe, and several dozen joined me, Police Chief John Venuti and other colleagues at the Safety Town Hall forum last week. Many others joined through Facebook and Twitter. In my Town Hall remarks, I stressed that being safe requires communication, education and vigilance on the part of everyone at VCU.

We are certainly seeing improving results. In the fall, there were 36 robberies on or near campus; there have been eight this spring. That is still eight too many. However, almost 94 percent of people say they feel “safe” or “very safe” while on campus. That is, in part, because those who come to VCU with the intent to commit a crime are paying a heavy price: We just learned that one of the suspects in a fall robbery has received a 17-year sentence.

As a reminder, please do not leave your valuables, phones, backpacks and purses unattended in public places, even for a moment. Always walk with a friend after dark, and pay attention to your surroundings — or, better yet, schedule a ride with RamSafe. Report any suspicious activity you see immediately. Stay safe while you are driving by not drinking or driving while distracted.

My great thanks go to Chief Venuti and his team at the VCU Police Department for their ongoing commitment to keeping our community safe.

Code of Conduct receives highest possible grade

VCU’s Code of Conduct received highest possible endorsement

As a top 50 national public research university, it is imperative that we operate efficiently, effectively and ethically. That is why our Code of Conduct is so important. I am proud that ours just received the highest possible grade on a recent review; in fact, it was the best reviewed code of any in the nation among educational institutions.

Corpedia, an ethics and compliance consultative service, recently reviewed the Code of Conduct based on 55 points. This evaluation is used to benchmark our code against more than 4,000 codes overall, including nearly 50 others in the education industry. Our A grade put us in the top 2 percent of all codes and No. 1 among those in education.

I am grateful to Bill Cole, executive director of the Department of Assurance Services, and his team for their continued efforts to ensure that VCU is one of the nation’s most compliant universities on every level.

Quest for Distinction

Many thanks to the many people at VCU who are advancing the values of the Quest for Distinction strategic plan. I am proud that excellence occurs all over the university, in so many ways. Here are a few examples:

Academic excellence
  • Allen Wittig, an undergraduate music student, received a grant last summer from the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program that allowed him to research music of the Civil War. Last month, his research came to life when he wrote and performed “Crisis of a Country – A United States Civil War Musical Retrospective,” a musical piece that reflects the emotions felt by Confederate, Union and enslaved individuals during the period. Wittig’s musical performance was part of VCU’s ongoing Year of Freedom, a universitywide program exhibiting VCU’s participation in the Future of Richmond’s Past project. Year of Freedom remembers 150 years of Civil War and Emancipation history. The program embodies the idea of “Confronting our past, facing our future.”
  • Kate Pearson, a third-year medical student, presented her research on satisfaction with short-term medical brigade care at the Consortium of Universities for Global Health’s annual conference in Washington, D.C., held March 14-16. Pearson surveyed patients who received care at the VCU Global Health and Health Disparities Program clinics in Honduras. Her survey was a pilot project designed to identify key areas where VCU students and volunteers can improve the care they provide during their annual medical relief trips, as well as to identify areas where prevention and education efforts can be enhanced. Although most patients were satisfied with the care they received, the survey helped to identify some key areas for improvement. Pearson’s data will help develop targeted health education messages and will serve as a platform for a larger survey.
Pre-eminence in research
  • One way to measure the proficiency of a university’s research enterprise is by looking at how many articles are downloaded from its libraries. In the case of VCU, that is more and more every year. In 2009, my faculty colleagues downloaded about 427,000 articles. In 2012, it was more than 621,000 — an increase of 46 percent in just three years. We now download more articles than Virginia Tech and are on par with the University of Virginia.
  • In a series of articles published in the Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery, Anwar Abd-Elfattah, Ph.D., professor of cardiothoracic surgery in the School of Medicine, has focused on using specific drug therapies to reduce post-heart attack reperfusion injury. Resumption of blood flow following a heart attack can cause additional organ damage, or reperfusion injury, that might jeopardize patients’ recovery and survival. However, Abd-Elfattah has been studying specific drugs that may prevent this from happening. Benefits of this drug intervention were found in reducing reperfusion injury and improving overall recovery of heart functions after a heart attack and prolonged cardiac surgery. Abd-Elfattah’s research was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the American Heart Association.
Commitment to human health
  • Best Doctors Inc. recently named 82 physicians from VCU Medical Center and CHoR at VCU to its 2013 list of “Best Doctors in America.” They are among the top 5 percent of doctors nationwide, selected by their peers. Doctors are evaluated based on their credentials, clinical activity and accessibility to patients. View the complete list of VCU’s award-winners.
  • The Medical Psychiatry Unit at the VCU Medical Center has been awarded a bronze-level Beacon Award for Excellence by the American Association of Critical Care Nurses. It is the first psychiatry unit in the nation to receive such an honor. The Beacon Award recognizes individual units that show exemplary practice in improving every facet of patient care. The Medical Psychiatry Unit demonstrated strengths in leadership, staff engagement, effective communication, knowledge management, patient outcomes, and evidence-based practice and processes. VCU’s Medical Psychiatry Unit has 20 beds and is home to brain stimulation services, including electroconvulsive therapy and transcranial magnetic stimulation. It is one of only seven psychiatry departments in the country with a complete brain stimulation program.
Community engagement
  • Fourteen residents of the Mosby Court community in eastern Richmond graduated from the Mosby Leadership Program, which is designed to sustain the building of community capacity, empower change and improve civic engagement in the community. Instructors for the program include VCU faculty and police officers, and students in the VCU ASPiRE program serve as volunteers and mentors. The Mosby Leadership Program is funded through a grant from the Division of Community Engagement. Mosby is a public housing project near VCU Medical Center whose 1,200 residents have an average annual income of about $10,000. Ninety-three percent of households are headed by single mothers. The Mosby Leadership Program teaches leadership skills, conflict resolution, effective communication and computer training.
  • A voter registration campaign led by students last fall received a Democracy Cup award and was recognized as the best communication campaign in Virginia by the Campus Election Engagement Project. VCU’s entry reflected the work of 15 honors journalism students in the School of Mass Communications’ “Social Media and Presidential Race” topics course. The students conducted an extensive turn-out-the-vote campaign on campus. The entry also highlighted a similar effort by students in the ASPiRE program to organize a voter drive in Mosby Court. The entry incorporated the efforts of numerous campus groups and individual students and faculty members to register and inform voters on campus and beyond. The entry showed that the number of votes cast in the four polling precincts that include VCU residence halls and other student housing increased 45 percent from the 2008 presidential election to the 2012 election The “VCU Votes” campaign was guided by School of Mass Communications faculty members Jeff South and Marcus Messner, Ph.D., and was supported through Campus Election Engagement Project grant funding secured by Jacqueline Smith-Mason, Ph.D., assistant dean of the VCU Honors College.