Board of Visitors business includes talk of new strategic plan


During its recent quarterly sessions on June 8-9, 2023, Radford University’s Board of Visitors addressed business that included receiving the president’s report, hearing recommendations from its newly established task force on free expression, holding a vote to determine the rector and vice rector for the next year and acknowledging the expiration of the terms of three of its members, as well as its student representative.

In his report, President Bret Danilowicz said that over the course of his first year on campus, he had been developing a framework for Radford University’s next strategic plan. The current plan concludes in December, and the president seeks to follow it with a shortened strategic plan, one running two years instead of the traditional five, which he said will immediately address key current issues.

This new plan, Danilowicz said, will focus on four principal goals:

1. Define Radford’s distinctive nature: “We must rebrand Radford and communicate how we have earned distinction as an institution and our commitment to the success of all Highlander students.”

2. Stabilize enrollment: “We need to reset our practices for segmenting and engaging potential new freshmen and transfer students …. We have to improve on the success of our students through increased focus on retention, progression and graduation because that’s also necessary to stabilize enrollment.”

3. Drive economic development in partnership with the community: “Through businesses and government, we’ll create work-based learning opportunities for students with a focus on internships, apprenticeships and co-ops.”

4. Streamline the institution through increased efficiency and effectiveness: Doing so “will help to serve our position as a very affordable institution within the commonwealth.” 

Rachel Davis Fowlkes, Ed.D.

The strategy will be refined over the summer and fall and presented for a vote in December. Later next year, work will begin on an expanded strategic plan to run across a full five years, from January 2026 through December 2030. 

During his report, the president also acknowledged the legacy of Rachel Davis Fowlkes, Ed.D., who died on April 1. Fowlkes, at that time, was serving her second term on the Radford University Board of Visitors and was the board liaison to the Radford University Foundation.

He announced that Fowlkes was posthumously presented the 2023 Outstanding Leadership Award by the Virginia Network for Women in Higher Education. She was nominated prior to her passing by Associate Professor Theresa Burriss, who coordinates Radford’s Ed.D. in Education program. The award recognizes women leaders who have made significant contributions to higher education in Virginia and was presented later that same day, June 9, to her son John Fowlkes at the organization’s state conference at William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. Department of Design chair Holly Cline, Ph.D., and Executive Director for Alumni Relations Laura Turk '87, M.S. '90, also attended the reception, representing Radford.

Danilowicz also acknowledged the recent establishment of the Dr. Rachel Fowlkes Memorial Scholarship, which supports non-traditional students from Southwest Virginia who attend Radford University. 

Also during the meeting: Heather Keith, chair of Radford’s Task Force for Civil Discourse and Freedom of Expression, presented recommendations formulated over the past several months for improving public communication on campus.

“We know that sometimes discussions can be really polarized and difficult, and we have to navigate them carefully because we want our students to have that sense of trust and belonging … so that we don’t have students who feel like they are outcasts, that their voice isn’t being heard, that their opinion doesn’t matter, and that they can’t learn to make reasoned arguments and be part of our discussions,” Keith told the board.

The 12-member task force suggested the following outcomes:

·       Campus constituents (students, faculty, staff, administration, Board of Visitors) will build skills and dispositions for constructive dialogue across perspectives and differences.

·       The campus climate will instill a sense of trust, inclusion and belonging, making constructive dialogue more likely.

·       University policies and procedures will align with our commitment to constructive dialogue and freedom of expression.

·       Establish and maintain an advisory group and sustained opportunities over time for the practice of constructive dialogue and freedom of expression.

In order to meet those goals, the task force issued a draft statement on freedom of expression and constructive discourse and proposed a two-year action plan focused on the outcomes, to be followed by future action plans moving into the future.

Some components of the initial action plan include a student response team trained by an outside facilitator; embedding the current work of the Constructive Dialogue Institute into orientation; the modeling of good practices by faculty and administrators; relevant guest speakers each year; and increased online access to First Amendment resources.

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Board members Mark Lawrence (left), who has completed two full terms, and Lisa Throckmorton ’94 (center) and David A. Smith '85, M.S. '87 (right), who have completed one full term, were recognized for their service.

Last year, Gov. Glenn Youngkin sent a request to the Council of Presidents of Virginia’s public colleges and universities, asking them to promote intellectual diversity and the free exchange of ideas. Soon after, Radford became one of a dozen Virginia schools to partner with the Constructive Dialogue Institute, and at a Board of Visitors meeting in December, Danilowicz cited a statement to be issued by the Virginia Council of Presidents that conveys “our collective agreement in the support of freedom of expression on our campuses.”

During the June 9 meeting, the president reaffirmed the school’s commitment to free expression.

“This has to be a university priority,” Danilowicz said. “It’s critical for enrollment management, making sure that for students coming here, everybody is welcome and everybody is welcome to have a dialogue.

“I fully embrace the recommendations for what this task force is doing.”

The board voted for a second term for its current rector, Debra K. McMahon, Ph.D., who ascended to that position on July 1, 2022. It also selected Marquett Smith ’85, BOV liaison to the Radford University Foundation, to serve as its new vice-rector; Smith succeeds Jay A. Brown, Ph.D., who just completed his second term.

Board members Mark Lawrence, who has completed two full terms, and David A. Smith '85, M.S. '87, and Lisa Throckmorton ’94, who have completed one full term, were recognized for their service.

In her remarks, Throckmorton said she remains eligible for another term and hopes to return.

“I just want to share how grateful I am for the opportunity to serve the commonwealth and my alma mater on this Board of Visitors,” she told the board. “It’s been one of the most meaningful experiences… one of the best experiences of my life.”

She thanked others for inspiration and assistance, including members who passed away over the past year – Fowlkes, as well as Susan Whealler Johnston, Ph.D., and Charlene A. Curtis ’76.

“I’m so proud to be in your company,” Throckmorton said.

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(L to R) Radford University President Bret Danilowicz, student representative Michaela Baker and Board of Visitors Rector Debra K. McMahon, Ph.D.

New graduate Michaela Baker delivered her final report as the board’s student representative. noting that she recently met with student leaders to develop their plans for the fall semester, with an eye toward helping smaller groups on campus find greater exposure.

She also connected with the incoming student representative, Troy Stallard, a biomedical science major from Roanoke, Virginia, who will serve in 2023-2024.

Baker told the board that although she was active on campus across all four years of her undergraduate career, she’d still found the prospect of being the student representative somewhat daunting.

“It was just something I knew I had to do because I really wanted to be involved,” she said, later adding: “It’s been a great opportunity to learn from you all and have this experience.”

In other business, Kirk Cox, president of the Virginia Business Higher Education Council, joined Mark Pace, a VBHEC board member, in a dual presentation on their organization’s behalf. They spoke of the importance of supporting the state’s higher education institutes, giving Virginia-educated graduates incentives to stay local and of the mutually beneficial relationship between those graduates and the state’s economy.

The next quarterly Board of Visitors meeting is scheduled for Sept. 7-8, 2023 with a Board Retreat on July 23-25, 2023.

Video of the full meeting can be streamed on YouTube, and the board’s agendas and meeting materials are available online.

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Jun 30, 2023
Neil Harvey