In an interview yesterday with the Bullet, President Rick Hurley indicated that during the presidential turmoil last spring, he felt the time was finally right for him to apply for the job. As president, he said, he is now focused on improving faculty salaries and Mary Washington’s name recognition, along with creating a new Master Plan and setting a limit on increased student enrollment.
“When the university was searching for Dr. Hample, that’s when I knew that I did not want to apply,” Hurley said.
He said it would have been too risky to apply for the position during his time as acting president. If he had applied and been rejected, he said, he would have felt that he needed to leave the university.
But the events pertaining to former President Hample’s resignation unfolded after he had announced his pending retirement. Since everyone knew he was leaving, he already had a backup plan, so there was less risk involved.
“When she announced her resignation and they asked me to be acting [president], I immediately began to think, to wonder if I wanted to do this, should I do this, should I apply,” he said. “The answer was yes. If I didn’t get the job, I could go ahead and retire.”
Although he said in his August address to UMW faculty and staff that he didn’t feel ready to lead during his first run as acting president, he feels more than ready now, after a year of previous experience.
“I just felt like I was an experienced president,” Hurley said.
Hurley is officially recommending an undergraduate enrollment cap of 4,500 students to the Board of Visitors. Undergraduate enrollment is currently about 4,300 students.
Name recognition is also a key issue on Hurley’s mind now that he is in office. He said the more that UMW’s name is seen and heard, the more likely it is that people will ask about the university, thus increasing its familiarity.
“It’s less a reputational thing, which to me has a quality kind of definition to it, so I’ve very deliberately been saying increased knowledge of our existence,” he said. “If people do research on us, the reputation part will take care of itself.”
Hurley hopes to increase the university’s presence in the surrounding area by encouraging faculty and staff to get involved in places nearby, like in Quantico, where Hurley hopes to create a campus similar to the Dahlgren one.
He also said three billboards are up along two major highways in Richmond, Interstate 95 and Interstate 64. They advertise UMW as “Virginia’s Only Best Value,” a phrase given to Mary Washington by Fiske college reports.
Currently, Hurley said Mary Washington is working with other universities and the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) to examine faculty salaries.
“George Mason has been the point institution in this effort to get SCHEV to understand that cost of living should be considered when determining faculty salaries,” he said. “[Our] recommendation is that you should consider the cost of living when considering faculty salaries. SCHEV has to decide if this will be on their agenda.”
Hurley said SCHEV was supposed to vote on the issue in July, but that it was pulled from the agenda. He is not sure when they will consider it again.
Along with cost of living, Hurley is trying to move UMW into a different peer group for financial comparison. Mary Washington faculty salaries are compared to several different public and private universities in the nation, which together comprise a peer group that Hurley feels doesn’t give UMW an accurate representation right now.
He said that if UMW were in a more comparable peer group, the university will be eligible for state-provided increases in faculty salaries that Mary Washington currently misses out on.
“I am optimistic that we can change the faculty peer group,” Hurley said. “The peer group is the important factor there. I take issue with the schools that they identify as our peers, and I’m trying to get that changed.”
With the help of many committees, Hurley is in the process of developing a new Master Plan and Strategic Plan for the university.
The Master Plan focuses on the physical development of the campus, while the Strategic Plan focuses on programmatic aspects, Hurley said.
“One’s focused on buildings, [and] the other’s focused on programs and services,” he said.
A draft of the new Master Plan, which calls for residence hall renovations, a new performing arts center and a new dining hall and student center, was presented to the Board of Visitors in July. Hurley said it’s time now to begin having conversations with students, alumni and the City of Fredericksburg about how they feel about it.
“The plan will be presented for student and employee input during the fall semester,” he said.
He also confirmed that the hiring freeze, put into effect by Hample, has been lifted.
“We believe that were beyond any additional budget cuts, so we have been replacing and, where necessary, creating new positions,” Hurley said.
One of the new positions being created is the Special Assistant to the President for Diversity and Equity. Hurley said it’s the right thing to do in light of his attempt in the Strategic Plan to address poorly coordinated diversity initiatives.
“I can’t remember the whole cost, but let’s assume the cost of the position was $150,000,” he said. “I budgeted half of that, figuring I could hire someone in the fall to begin in January. I haven’t even started the search yet, [though]. I’ll be working on that through the month of September, getting that all underway.”