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VCU president Michael Rao’s triennial external review concluded last month with an overall positive performance report and the designation as “one of the most effective leaders in the commonwealth.”
The Board of Visitors chose Patricia Cormier, President Emerita of Longwood University, to facilitate the review. Cormier has conducted presidential reviews in Arkansas, Utah and Michigan, but this was her first review of Rao or VCU.
“It’s an opportunity to really get an unbiased and comprehensive view of a president’s performance, which is very difficult if the board is doing it themselves,” Cormier said.
Cormier also withstood such reviews while president of Longwood, and said they are a helpful tool because it’s important to touch base with constituents. She visited VCU’s campus in April 2013 and conducted 105 interviews with students, faculty, members of the board and community members to assess Rao’s performance.
“Many people used that terminology (in interviews) and expressed over and over again that (Rao) was having a major impact,” Cormier said.
William Ginther, rector of the board of visitors, said the review was “very positive,” but did point out areas where the university can continue to grow.
For example, the review suggested university-wide improvements to IT and data systems, and emphasized strengthening the connection between the Medical and Monroe Park campuses. In a sit-down with members of the student media last month, Rao said this is one of his goals as he continues his presidency.
“I wonder sometimes, what are all the reasons people still tend to see VCU as ‘VCU and MCV’?” Rao said.
Cormier stated that the university should also begin implementing the next phase of the Quest for Distinction, the university’s strategic plan to increase competitiveness as a nationally recognized research university.
The four-tiered plan was launched in 2011 and includes goals and benchmarks for improvement in research, recruitment, recognition and other far-reaching areas of the university.
Improving both need and merit-based aid for students was also mentioned in the review.
The State Council for Higher Education found that in the academic year between 2012 and 2013 there were 11,743 in-state undergraduate students who were financially in need at VCU — more than 58 percent of all in-state undergraduates. Students from families making $50,000 or less anually totals 6,335 students.
In the same time period, 6,656 students received federal Pell Grants. Between grants, scholarships, loans, work-study and other aid packages, 38,225 VCU students received $377,477,149 in financial aid. Nearly 65 percent of this aid is in the form of loans that students must pay back after graduation, however.
Ginther said one of the suggestions of the review, implementing a new budget model, is already underway. The committee creating the new budget model is co-chaired by University Vice President of Finance Bill Decatur and the Interim Provost John Wiencek.
One of the goals of the new budget model is to “create structures that incentivize revenue generation.”
Pamela Lepley, Vice President for University Relations, said the total cost for the review was $31,626 — $30,000 for Cormier’s fee and $1,626 in out-of-pocket expenses.
“I think VCU is making tremendous strides,” Cormier said. “It’s a very important institution in the city of Richmond and the state of Virginia. I don’t know what the city of Richmond would look like if VCU were not here.”
Lepley said VCU is currently working to implement changes based on each of Cormier’s suggestions.
Further details of Rao’s review could not be disclosed for personnel record confidentiality purposes.