Less than a year into her new job as the dean of the College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Meredith Woo was asked a hard question. While talking to undergraduate students on Grounds, a freshman wanted to know how the College would be different in 15 years. “And I thought about it. It stopped me in my tracks, because you are so used to thinking in terms of either one year or in my term, which is five years,” says Woo recalling that moment while talking to C-VILLE.
Dean of the College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Meredith Woo says the college will focus on raising the number of faculty in the sciences. But first, “we will try, even under adverse circumstances, to increase philanthropy,” she says.
“The College will remain the same, because if I am doing my work right, I think that I would have upheld what is wonderful and miracle-like about the College.”
The miracle-like aspect of the college, says Woo, is the constant nurturing of students who will remain attached to the University for the rest of their lives.
At the beginning of her tenure, Woo told President John Casteen and Provost Dr. Arthur Garson she wanted to accomplish three things before the end of her term: set up a list of strategic priorities for the college, develop its “administrative capacity,” and enhance fundraising. “I believe I’ve gone to some lengths to implement all three,” she says.
Woo, a well-known scholar of international political economy, has laid out six strategic priorities to raise the University’s rank as a major research institution. Along with planned expansion of tenure-track faculty and a pledge to enhance the undergraduate experience, a strong emphasis has been put on the sciences. According to a report for the direction of the college for 2010-2015, the sciences “are almost uniformly undersized—by 20 to 30 percent or more in some cases—relative to the top programs nationally,” she writes.
One of the biggest challenges she had to face has been a series of budget cuts totaling $9 million. Woo, however, doesn’t see it as a defeat. “Those were challenging times in that sense, but in the other sense it sharpened my focus and allowed me to prioritize things in ways that would not have been possible under ordinary circumstances,” she says.
Woo says the college will do its “best” to increase funding for the sciences. Because the college has a relatively small number of science departments, it is imperative, she says, to increase the size of the faculty. “But, as you know, science is very costly,” says Woo. “Hiring a science faculty member with all of the startup costs could be a very expensive proposition, so we’re trying very hard to increase the level of philanthropy and others to adequately provide for the startup cost.”
In terms of the administrative capacity, Woo has “pretty much augmented the staff in the dean’s office, I’ve brought in six new associate deans and appointed a number of senior staff people… I am very pleased with the new team in place,” she says.
Being dean of the college is a unique experience, says Woo, who taught at the University of Michigan before landing in Charlottesville. The college is an “amalgamation” of different disciplines, from hard sciences, to creative and fine arts. “Dealing with that kind of complexity, the challenges are greater and more varied, and I love it,” she says.
Asked to rate her experience of the past year, Woo smiles. “On a scale of one to 10? About 90.”
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