A photo of six people sitting at a circular table.
A task force of 52 faculty and staff members spent more than four months developing recommendations for VCU’s future. The Provost hosted 18 town hall sessions with more than 1,300 faculty and staff members to discuss and explore those ideas. (Contributed photo)

Provost issues draft final Academic Repositioning recommendations that will ‘fuel VCU’s ascent’

Highlights include restructuring within the College of Humanities and Sciences; a new college focused on interdisciplinary and experiential learning; and initiatives tied to collaborative research, health care and community engagement.

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After nearly a year of working with the One VCU Academic Repositioning Task Force, Provost Fotis Sotiropolous announced draft final recommendations to  reposition Virginia Commonwealth University for maximum efficiency, innovation and academic appeal.

Fotis Sotiropoulos, Ph.D., provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, said the final recommendations “fuel VCU’s ascent as we emerge among the nation’s most influential and impactful universities” and will:

  • Cultivate an inclusive and welcoming environment where a dynamic and diverse community of learners of all backgrounds can thrive and meet tomorrow’s challenges.
  • Empower VCU’s excellent faculty and students to make an impact through advancing transdisciplinary research that will change lives, elevate lives and save lives.
  • Prepare our graduates to be future-focused, creative problem-solvers and lifelong learners by implementing and expanding experiential educational opportunities that break through disciplinary silos and continuously adapt to meet their needs and those of communities.

In spring 2023, Sotiropoulos convened the task force of 52 faculty and staff members to make recommendations that would elevate the VCU student experience, augment the value of VCU degrees and enable the university to respond swiftly to emerging market needs by offering academic programs that are exciting, engaging and relevant to career opportunities in a fast-changing world.

The task force created 100 ideas and began sharing them with the VCU community in early December, attracting more than 27,000 engagements and more than 2,500 written comments. Additionally, more than 1,300 faculty and staff members discussed the ideas and others at 18 sessions hosted by the provost across VCU’s campuses.

“There is nothing easy about an academic repositioning,” Sotiropoulos said in a message to faculty and staff. “It can be uncomfortable to look in the mirror, embrace our strengths and acknowledge where we have opportunities to improve. Throughout this process, your ideas, perspectives and aspirations helped us find and define our path forward.

“The ideas offered by the faculty and staff members who served on the task force – and the many responses they generated from our campus communities – taught us so much,” he added. “You showed us how some early thoughts weren’t right; you confirmed the promise of other ideas. Most importantly, you advocated for amazing ideas that we had never before considered.”

As a result of the task force’s work, the community review of its recommendations and in consultation with VCU senior leadership, the provost will work with impacted units and respective governance organizations to reposition the university’s academic enterprise and implement the following:

College of Humanities and Sciences restructuring

The College of Humanities and Sciences will remain intact, and further conversation will occur in the months ahead about the most effective way to organize VCU’s largest academic unit to maximize the potential it holds for research leadership, innovative collaboration and student success.

The VCU Department of Focused Inquiry will be relocated from University College to the College of Humanities and Sciences. This move will enable the department to leverage College of Humanities and Sciences resources to enhance fiscal sustainability and expand its impactful work for student success.

A new school, focused on biological and environmental sciences, will be created by bringing together VCU Life Sciences and the Department of Biology. This school initially will be located within the College of Humanities and Sciences, and its name will be decided in consultation with its faculty.

The new school aligns with both the ONE VCU Sustainability Plan and the environmental sustainability focus within the One VCU Research Strategic Priorities Plan, and it holds great potential to evolve in the future into a new free-standing school leveraging VCU’s unique assets in biological, environmental and sustainability sciences along with innovative facilities, like VCU’s Rice Rivers Center, while fostering emerging and high-demand program offerings.

Creation of a new college for advancing interdisciplinary, experiential and entrepreneurial studies (final name TBD)

This college will enable the university to advance and scale across the entire institution VCU’s vision for transformative, experiential, real-world and entrepreneurial learning and achieve the bold goals set by VCU’s Quality Enhancement Plan, “Every Ram’s a Researcher.” The college will also enable VCU to respond to emerging job market trends and address rapidly evolving student needs, in a future defined by technological innovation and artificial intelligence, by allowing the speedy creation and incubation of new credit and noncredit credentials, including new concentrations, minors, majors and microcredentials.

This new academic unit will be assembled from University College, the da Vinci Center for Innovation and VCU Transformative Learning (e.g., REAL; Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program; service learning; Vertically Integrated Projects) and will initially offer five programs:

  • Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies
  • Master of Interdisciplinary Studies
  • Master of Product Innovation
  • Undergraduate certificates in Product Innovation and Venture Creation

The new college is envisioned as both an academic unit and a university-level office, creating avenues for faculty across VCU’s other schools and colleges to collaborate and expand the transformative learning opportunities that will distinguish VCU students and graduates in their careers and communities. Academic Affairs will maintain joint oversight of the university-level office function of the new college to ensure appropriate strategic direction and sound implementation.

Convergence Labs @VCU: expanding virtual consortia

For nearly a decade, VCU’s Institute for Inclusion, Inquiry and Innovation (iCubed) has promoted and sustained transdisciplinary research aimed at addressing persistent societal challenges; advanced research innovation and impact at scale; and leveraged cluster hiring to recruit diverse faculty members, postdoctoral fellows and students into the university’s core research programs.

Convergence Labs @VCU reimagines and expands the scope of iCubed, applying its approach to emerging fields such as applied generative artificial intelligence, the convergence of medicine science and technology, and other key focus areas of the One VCU Research Strategic Priorities Plan.

The goals of the Convergence Labs @VCU build on the original mission of iCubed and include the following:

  • Promote transdisciplinary research and help identify priorities for faculty cluster hires across the institution.
  • Create connections among faculty to develop innovative credit and noncredit courses and programs, and open educational resources (OER) related to topic areas.
  • Facilitate collaborative teams that can respond to RFPs, collaborate on projects and create synergy around topics.
  • Increase coherence among efforts across clusters and within the Convergence Labs to address strategic priorities.
  • Enhance community relationships to broaden VCU’s local and state impact.
  • Diversify faculty within clusters to foster inclusion and ensure that multiple perspectives, backgrounds and experiences influence creative methods and inventive solutions.

The specific themes of Convergence Labs @VCU will be developed via a participatory process in close collaboration with the Office of Vice President for Research and Innovation to ensure alignment with the  One VCU Research Strategic Priorities Plan. 

VCU Health Sciences Pathways

As One VCU, the university seeks stronger connections between VCU’s Richmond campuses. This includes greater opportunities for undergraduate VCU students who aspire to earn advanced degrees on the VCU Health campus and pursue a career in health care. The VCU Health Sciences Pathways represent enhanced engagement between the campuses (to include 4+1 degree opportunities) for the purpose of creating a greater and more diverse health care workforce to address gaps in health care equity and affordable access.

The Health Sciences Pathways will be created in collaboration with academic units on both campuses and coordinated by the VCU Graduate School, with the intention of creating an array of health care-related opportunities across the university.

Building on VCU’s community engagement work

VCU is proud to be among the first universities in America to earn the Community Engagement Classification from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching in 2005, and reclassification in 2015. As the university seeks its 2025 reclassification, VCU will pursue recommendations to increase both the awareness of and coordination of siloed efforts across the university to address health disparities and social inequities across communities.

Further, the university will develop and offer certificates in community-engaged research that can attract students and faculty members to projects that deliver impact beyond VCU’s campuses.

Looking ahead, VCU will continue the community conversations with the VCU Faculty Senate, VCU Staff Senate, Student Government Association, VCU deans and other shared governance groups to discuss these draft final recommendations and the steps required before they can be implemented beginning in fall 2025.