VT Board Of Visitors Approves New Commission, Other Resolutions

BLACKSBURG, Va., March 10, 2003 – Commission on Equal Opportunity and Diversity -- After two years of extensive work conducted by the Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action committee and the Advisory Council on Diversity and Multicultural Affairs, the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors voted to create the Commission on Equal Opportunity and Diversity. The commission is charged to advise university council on policy and procedure as they relate to the university's responsibilities for equal opportunity, affirmative action, accessibility, and compliance. This is to include diversity planning, evaluation, training and education, as well as assessment of institutional climate.

The commission will also address issues of diversity and equity as they relate to the recruitment, retention, and advancement of faculty, staff, and students, particularly those from historically under-represented groups and from international populations.

The nation's top research universities have long understood and benefited from the intellectual talent and promise of individuals from widely varying backgrounds from the U.S. and abroad.

"This is an aspect of excellence that Virginia Tech must emulate in order to compete nationally and internationally with highly regarded peers," said Ben Dixon, vice president for multicultural affairs. "The research evidence demonstrates that the intellectual environment is deeply enriched by the contributions of individuals from many cultures and with widely varying perspectives and experiences. Continued expansion of these efforts to identify, attract, and retain highly qualified faculty, staff and students will only enhance the intellectual vitality of Virginia Tech and strengthen our university's attraction to corporate and government partners."

Diversity and community are significant components of each of the four domains of the university's strategic plan: research and scholarship, graduate education, undergraduate education, and outreach. The Commission on Equal Opportunity and Diversity will support the university's efforts to achieve these stated goals.

The new commission will include members from the faculty and staff senates, administrative and professional faculty members not represented by the two senates, three commissions, and the student government.

The university council will amend its constitution to include the membership of the Commission on Equal Opportunity and Diversity, and to remove the Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Committee.

VRS Opt-Out

In other activity, the Board of Visitors authorized the university to seek approval from the Virginia Retirement System (VRS) to "opt out" of the state administered defined contribution optional retirement plans (ORP) for faculty of the university. VRS has administered the state's defined benefit retirement plan for state employees, but will assume full responsibility for administering ORPs for universities beginning July 2003.

Several universities, including the University of Virginia and Virginia Commonwealth University, have already received approval from their Boards of Visitors and from VRS to "opt out." Those schools not approved to administer their own plans will automatically fall within the VRS ORP plan, and be required to adopt any changes that VRS determines are necessary.

The decision to opt out of VRS administration of the faculty optional retirement plan does not affect the regular VRS retirement defined benefit plan that all staff and approximately 800 faculty participate in.

"This move gives us greater institutional control over options and services we provide to faculty participants in the ORP. Although many of the smaller schools may benefit from VRS administration of their plans, we believe that we must have the ability to develop plans that are responsive to our current and future needs," said Linda Woodard, assistant vice president for personnel.

Doug Martin, benefits manager, stated that "by opting out, institutions are able to maintain their existing optional retirement plan programs that are compatible with other plans nationwide, and retain autonomy to review and upgrade retirement plans, including the selection of vendors."

Smoking Banned in Residence Halls

The BOV passed a resolution to revamp the university's policy on smoking. Smoking had been permitted only in residence halls and special-purpose housing but effective with the conclusion of the 2002-2003 academic year, smoking will be prohibited in all on-campus buildings, except designated smoking rooms in the Donaldson Brown Hotel and Conference Center.

The decision was based on Virginia Tech's commitment to providing a safe, healthy, and pleasant learning and work environment for its students and employees. In addition, a recent student survey supported the resolution.

The Residence Hall Federation (RHF) conducted a three-week online survey which gathered 2,482 responses from Virginia Tech students, including 23.5 percent of the university's on-campus residents. A resounding 68.8 percent of the on-campus participants believed that students should not be able to smoke in their own rooms. Results from participating smokers (15.1 percent of total responses) revealed that 62.2 percent do not currently smoke in their own rooms. A quarter of all surveyed believed that smoking should not occur in any building and more than 15 percent believed that smoking should be prohibited on-campus.