One of the best indicators of the quality of a university’s education and its lasting impact on the career prospects of both its students and alumni is the strength of its faculty.
Each year, the College hires promising young tenure-track faculty whose research will help keep UVA at the forefront of areas of strategic importance like democracy, neuroscience and the environment, as well as many other fields of study that are important to the University community. However, in the six years that it typically takes for junior faculty to advance to tenured full professorship, many of the most talented receive offers from other prestigious schools or are lured away by lucrative opportunities to work for the government or private industry. But, by building endowment support for faculty, alumni and other supporters are playing a critical role in helping the College recruit and retain its world class faculty.
According to David Hill, interim dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, endowed professorships give the University a way to provide exceptional faculty members not only with competitive salaries but also with the funding that is critical to expanding their research and supporting their research teams. The awards also give the College a way to demonstrate a long-term commitment to its faculty’s work.
“There’s a lot that goes into creating a healthy intellectual environment, one in which there is time to do research and resources to do it.”
“It’s not just about additional compensation,” Hill said. “It’s also about recognition. Offering a faculty member a named professorship and the recognition that goes with it is almost as meaningful as the money that comes with it. It’s a great honor, and it allows us to retain the kind of exceptional faculty we need to remain a top-ranked public university well into the future.”
The bulk of funding needed to support professors comes from tuition, which has limited growth potential due to the University’s commitment to affordability. For fields like the sciences, additional funding can come from research grants. But alumni gifts, and especially those that create faculty endowments, are the most durable sources of funding. They provide long-term certainty for the College, prestige for the professors who benefit from them and a lasting legacy for donors.
Building and Keeping Faculty Excellence
Jenn Gwilliam (COL ‘91) understood the powerful impact faculty can have when she got a call from her first-year daughter at UVA about an inspiring and energizing lecture she had just heard. Gwilliam recognized the capacity of those experiences to be life-changing events.
“It’s the kind of call you want as a mom,” Gwilliam said.
Jenn Gwilliam's powerful testimonial captures her family's passion for the work of the College.
When Gwilliam later heard that her daughter’s professor and mentor, who had helped her find her path in life, might be leaving UVA, Gwilliam didn’t realize how often exceptional faculty are approached by other schools. Though her daughter’s professor ultimately chose to stay, the experience inspired the Gwilliam family to establish a Fund for Faculty Excellence that would help the College respond when faced with the prospect of losing its best teachers, mentors or researchers.
As a former executive director for a nonprofit that did not have an endowment, Gwilliam was acutely aware of the importance of unrestricted gifts and endowments and the tremendous work involved in raising them.
“I know first-hand the dilemma of the time spent in fundraising every year and how that can detract from the University’s mission and the time that the leadership of the organization is able to put into curriculum development and recruiting and retaining talented faculty. And I know how important and liberating and powerful those unrestricted gifts and endowments can be,” Gwilliam said.
Eric Leeper, who holds the endowed Paul Goodloe McIntire Professorship in Economics, observed that endowments like his are fundamental to providing the support faculty need to continue to advance their own research and to develop the talents of the students who will follow in their footsteps.
“These gifts raise the level of intellectual activity in the department,” Leeper said. “They allow students to work closely with a faculty member in learning how to do research, and that’s something that wouldn’t happen without the support the funding provides. There’s a lot that goes into creating a healthy intellectual environment, one in which there is time to do research and resources to do it.”
Alumni Pam Edmonds (COL ‘91) and her husband Frank Edmonds, Jr. (COL ‘91), endowed a Discovery Professorship that helped the College attract Todd Sechser to the University.
Sechser teaches diplomacy and conflict in international politics as a member of the faculty of the College’s Department of Politics. He is also a senior fellow at the Miller Center. In his research he has explored the use of nuclear threats, conflicts between weak and strong nations, and military alliances — issues of central importance in Ukraine today.
Sechser said the support that the Edmonds’ gift has provided has given him the means to do important research and to expand the University’s influence on the world stage.
“I’ve been able to expand my research into new areas where getting data is especially difficult and time consuming,” Sechser said. “I have enhanced my engagement with the broader public, and just last week, I wrote an article for The Washington Post about the lessons of past wars for the conflict in Ukraine.”
Thanks to his Discovery Professorship, Sechser added, “I’ve also been able to expand my teaching portfolio, and today, there are 180 UVA undergraduates who can explain the ins and outs of America’s nuclear strategy. Even Harvard and Princeton can’t say that.”
“Sechser is a rock star,” Pam Edmonds said. “He is incredible. He has not only engaged students; he has engaged me and my husband as well, and that engagement has been really important to us.”
Supporting Value-Driven Change
Noreen and Irfan Galaria never attended UVA, nor have they had a child at the University, but when they felt compelled to create a professorship that was representative of the kind of change they wanted to see in the world, they reached out to UVA.
Noreen Galaria is from a Muslim family in a tightly-knit rural community in Canada. After 9/11, instead of seeing a backlash of mistrust or hate from her neighbors, they banded around her family to show their support. Reflecting on the experience years later, Galaria realized that her community understood her family’s values, so when she and her husband were ready to make a philanthropic commitment, they began looking for a place that would use that gift to help foster the same kind of understanding, diversity and civil discourse.
“We were seeing that negative rhetoric about Islam was on the rise, and based on my experiences growing up, I felt that if we could just understand different cultures, races and religions better, that understanding would lead to acceptance and friendship, so we hoped to find a place where our gift would help to highlight commonalities and fight polarization,” Galaria said.
She and her husband began speaking to universities, looking for a place that would use their gift in a way that would be meaningful not just to their family but to the university as well. After learning about the College’s research professorships for democracy and equity, they worked with the College Foundation to fashion a professorship that was tailored to their vision.
Their gift allowed the College to hire noted scholar Noah Salomon as the Irfan and Noreen Galaria Research Chair and associate professor in Islamic Studies.
“A named professorship shows not just me but those with whom I interact across the world the University’s commitment to the kind of work I do in studying contemporary Islamic life,” Salomon said about what the gift has meant so far.
“I see it as a really crucial seed that, if it’s watered right, has the potential to sprout into meaningful connections with programs and institutions around the globe and to make UVA a center for the study of contemporary Islamic life,” Salomon said. “When I work overseas, I see myself as representing not only my own scholarly agenda but as the representative of the University’s desire to engage globally and to help its cohorts come to a better understanding of what is perhaps one of the most cited but poorly understood topics of our time, that is the place of the Islamic tradition and the aspirations and the worldviews of people around the world. The named chair raises these exchanges to another level, making it not just about me, but about a broader initiative in which the University is so clearly invested.”
“Noah Salomon is an amazing person,” Noreen Galaria said. “I think he has been an extraordinary addition to the College’s faculty, and we’re proud that our gift helped bring him to UVA. We looked at a lot of other universities, and every other school we talked to tried to take our gift and fit it into a preexisting box, but the people we worked with at UVA really took our vision and fashioned a professorship around it, one that’s everything we hoped for. I like that it’s everlasting and that it will continue to foster civil discourse at democracy’s university long after we’re gone.”