Coming together in the new year


Dear VCU Community:

Today, I am delighted to welcome almost 8,000 new undergraduate, graduate and professional students to Virginia Commonwealth University. Along with their classmates, these students will work to achieve great things and contribute to the Richmond community and beyond.

Earlier this year I spoke of the fascination of what’s difficult and how we—VCU—will face challenges that seem insurmountable. The message remains the same: we will face difficulty head on, working together to face and conquer these challenges. This academic year, we will be tenacious and creative in our academic pursuits, and humane toward one another. Our greatest successes come when we are united in our goal as one university to advance knowledge and encourage inquiry and discovery everywhere. By reaching across disciplines, we break ground in research and find solutions to global challenges that have vexed society for generations. That is our calling as a research university.

A research university is a place where we can discuss and dig deeply into topics that may be difficult but which may enhance each of us and the community of which we are a part. As recent events have shown us, universities like VCU need to be leaders and examples in engaging these conversations, in critical thinking, in imagining a future that includes all voices. In the year ahead, we will take this responsibility head on, and we will be guided throughout by the core values of our university community, which include commitments to inclusion, free speech and civil discourse.

As a research university, we have to be leaders in these uniquely challenging times. You will meet people and work with people who have views different from yours. Our nation’s Constitution allows for this, for each of us to think differently. It also allows for free speech, for us to express ourselves and even disagree. At VCU, we will always do so in the context of inclusion, civility and respect, and we will listen to and learn from one another. And we will never tolerate hate speech, violence or discrimination based on race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, age, ability or any thing that makes us who we are.

As a university community, I call on us to come together to address the most-challenging issues we face as human beings. We must be leaders in our society.

In many ways, we already are. A recent study by the Brookings Institute examined the ways public universities like ours contribute to society by increasing opportunity for students and conducting research that benefits people. The study showed that VCU outpaces other public universities in the Commonwealth and is among the nation’s elite in the social impact of our research and our students’ social mobility after graduation. I am proud of the work we do to make sure that every student receives a world-class education and is prepared for a productive life.

Of course, we achieve best when our resources align with our priorities. To that end, I am encouraged by the work being done to ensure VCU is a great place to work, live and learn. I am excited about the next phase of the Great Place Initiative as we work to continue to attract and retain the very best to teach, create, innovate and heal at VCU.

All of this, of course, takes resources, and the Make It Real Campaign for VCU is helping attract resources that fuel our mission. I look forward to working with our new Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations, Jay Davenport, who begins work at VCU next month. Jay comes from Wake Forest University, and I am grateful for his leadership as we enter the homestretch of the largest fundraising campaign in VCU’s history.

Our resources also include ensuring we have the spaces we need to succeed. That includes the opening of the Institute for Contemporary Art this spring and marked progress in providing our VCU Health team and students with classroom and lab space that is worthy of the work they do to improve the human condition.

We will also continue ensuring that we are as inclusive as we are diverse, and the work done by the Division for Inclusive Excellence and many others across VCU is vital to the success of those who come to here to live, learn and work. We are strongest when we are together.

Finally, because there will be so many important headlines in the new year, please visit my blog to keep in regular communication with the VCU community. You may also follow me on TwitterInstagram, and LinkedIn for regular updates.

Welcome back.  I look forward to the many great things we will accomplish together in 2017-18.


Michael Rao, Ph.D.
President, VCU and VCU Health System