During his annual report to the University of Richmond community on Monday, President Edward Ayers acknowledged the accomplishments of the university staff and faculty throughout the last year.
But he also highlighted the work that still needed to be done.
Ayers said the university's achievements during the last year -- including a 7 percent increase in freshman students who accepted offers of admission from Richmond, a doubling of the number of students of color in the freshman class and continued improvements in sustainability initiatives -- had been even more striking because of the dire economic situation in Virginia and across the nation during the past year.
As universities and colleges have worked through a fundamental redefinition of American higher education by laying off staff and faculty, instituting major budget cuts and eliminating sports teams, Richmond has endured well through this uncharted territory in comparison, he said. But Richmond is still not where it should be, he said.
Although the returns for Richmond's endowment declined less than returns at schools of a similar size - 14 percent from the previous fiscal year compared with the 25 percent to 28 percent decline at other schools - Ayers said the loss had still been significant.
Similarly, he praised those in the Richmond community for the progress they had made in advancing the goals of the Richmond Promise, the university's Strategic Plan for 2009-2014, but he cautioned against complacency and urged staff and faculty to continue to work so that no student is neglected.
"We must keep the momentum going, even if there's not quite as much fuel driving the engine as there was before," he said.
This momentum is especially crucial because the dreams Americans count on will be tested during the next five years, because Richmond faces the same challenges that all universities and colleges must confront, he said.
"This is not an easy stretch coming up," he said.
Despite these challenges, Ayers said Richmond was unique because of the synergy it breeds among its staff, faculty, students, families, community members and alumni.
"Here, we are ambitious," he said. "Here, we create knowledge. Here, we break new ground.
"But we are ambitious through our students, not around them. We channel our creativity through the classroom, through student research, through civic engagement, through athletics, not around it. Our highest goals involve fusing the different parts of our lives."
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Last year, Richmond raised a record $6.75 million in donations and received gifts from a record 7,977 alumni who had attended the university as undergraduates. Members of the Richmond administration have also implemented a transparent budget process and created a distinctive curriculum that emphasizes cooperation and connection among Richmond's five colleges, he said.
With energetic and meticulous staff and faculty at the helm, members of the Richmond community are well equipped to look to the future with optimism, he said.
"We're shattering the glass of the stereotypes and the stories that we've even told ourselves [such as]: 'Well that's just who we are' and 'We're just going to have to admit that we're going to be homogeneous.'" Ayers said. "But we're not ... And we saw that we can change that and what that means now is that we can imagine any kind of future for ourselves."
Contact staff writer Jimmy Young at firstname.lastname@example.org
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