The following is an open letter from President Timothy D. Sands

To the Virginia Tech community,

The year 2047, just about three decades from now, will be the 175th anniversary of Virginia Tech, a significant milestone for any university. It represents a time horizon close enough to envision, but distant enough to accommodate substantial change. Accordingly, I am challenging the university community to engage in a visioning process to support two interrelated goals: advancing our status as an internationally-recognized, global land-grant institution, and strategically addressing the challenges and opportunities presented by the changing landscape of higher education.

Why the global perspective? Now, more than ever, the impacts of globalization require us to consider how best to prepare our students for the interconnected world in which they will live and work — a world that will demand a global perspective. Global recognition is a testimonial to comprehensive excellence. To be effective, we must strive to be good at everything we do.

Why the one-third century timeline? Looking back a third of a century, we recall a society quite different from today’s. For example, only eight percent of U.S. households owned a computer. There was no publicly-accessible Internet. Nascent cell phone usage could hardly have predicted smart phones with processing power beyond the capabilities of mainframes of that day. Today, Virginia Tech is at the center of creating high-speed, high-capacity Internet infrastructure to support research across the Commonwealth. The demographic characteristics of students in Virginia and in the nation have also changed markedly over the last third of a century. And, funding models for higher education have changed substantially. There are no road maps to predict the future of 2047. Nevertheless, we need our best minds to imagine what might be, with consideration of long-term trends, but without the constraints of the immediate future. 

I believe that Virginia Tech is poised to become a 21st century, global land-grant university leader. We are firmly rooted in the historic and revolutionary land-grant mission with access, opportunity, and knowledge creation at its core. It is fair to say that the land-grant universities of the last 150 years were successful because they were wedded to society’s economic needs of their times. Today’s land-grant university, like those of the 19th century, must address economic and societal needs of this generation — and our graduates must have the capacity to solve complex problems of a regional, national, and global scale that have yet to be envisioned. By building upon Virginia Tech’s traditional land-grant focus and range of disciplinary excellence, we are positioned to advance the university and the Commonwealth. The end results … an educated and engaged society, knowledge creation, strategic business partnerships, economic growth, and job creation ... are the fruits of a modern research university.

Building on the strategic directions articulated in the 2012-18 New Horizons strategic plan and on research and analysis undertaken by the Office of the Senior Fellow for Resource Development, we will engage our faculty, staff, students, and alumni in this comprehensive visioning process. The changing landscape of higher education, particularly the shifting funding model — where most costs are borne by students and families and not the public purse — dictates innovative ideas in order to enhance and diversify our resource base. Virginia Tech’s continued strength as an institution will depend, in part, on how well we navigate this changing landscape.

Our commitment to improve our international profile resonated loudly with me during my engagement in the 2014 Presidential Search. I expect it to remain a high priority during my tenure as president. Virginia Tech is already a leading university in many areas, ranked 27th among all public universities, 38th in National Science Foundation funding, and recognized nationally as a best value by Kiplinger, Princeton Review, and others. However, we need to consider further how to best prepare students to live and work in a globally-interdependent environment, use research and service to address global issues such as health, sustainability, resilience and security, and advance knowledge through technical assistance in Cooperative Extension and outreach programs.

To understand this future and guide the institution forward, Virginia Tech requires a visionary, inclusive, bold, and efficient process driven by university stakeholders. I am charging the university community to accomplish this important work through a one-year visioning initiative. Designed to capitalize on the strong work and expertise internal to Virginia Tech while also drawing from the knowledge of external expert advisors, this initiative will allow the university to embrace new approaches to complex opportunities and challenges facing Virginia Tech.

Communitywide participation is absolutely essential to the success of this initiative. As the process unfolds, I will be inviting members of the university community and external advisors to support us in this pursuit, including naming co-chairs and a steering committee. We will identify individuals who will serve in working groups and engage in discussion and analysis around thematic areas central to our future. The process will revolve around themes of student preparedness, the campus of the future, new funding models and costs, and our global land-grant mission. We have already begun and will continue to monitor these thematic areas of inquiry through research and analysis. Dr. Kate Preston Keeney and a team of graduate students in the Office of the Senior Fellow for Resource Development will staff the initiative and provide ongoing research to support the effort.

This initiative will result in an articulated long-range vision for Virginia Tech bolstered and informed by the university’s broad-based constituent groups. This vision will help guide the university forward and serve as an important foundation for future strategic planning processes. We may not be able to predict the future, but we can begin to undertake the necessary work of affirming the values and pursuits of Virginia Tech as a 21st century, global land-grant university.

Thank you for your service, expertise, and innovative thought as we work to envision Virginia Tech’s 2047 future.

Timothy D. Sands

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