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Education

New book by former VCU president, history professor tells four-decade history of the university

“Fulfilling the Promise: Virginia Commonwealth University and the City of Richmond, 1968–2009,” by Eugene Trani and John Kneebone illuminates the past and future of American public higher education.

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In “Fulfilling the Promise: Virginia Commonwealth University and the City of Richmond, 1968–2009,” VCU President Emeritus and University Distinguished Professor Eugene P. Trani, Ph.D., and Associate Professor of History Emeritus John T. Kneebone, Ph.D., tell the story of VCU from its founding in 1968 through the end of Trani’s tenure as president in 2009, and the university’s role in Richmond.

The book, published by the University of Virginia Press and released in September, shows how VCU — created from the merger of the Medical College of Virginia and Richmond Professional Institute to serve a city emerging from an era of desegregation, white flight, political conflict and economic decline — reflects a larger, national story of urban universities and the past and future of American higher education.

Sen. Tim Kaine wrote the foreword of the book, and dust jacket blurbs were provided by former UVA President John Casteen III; former VCU basketball coach Shaka Smart; Susan Gooden, Ph.D., dean of VCU’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs; bestselling novelist and VCU alumnus David Baldacci; and Roger Gregory, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and former rector of the VCU Board of Visitors.

The authors’ royalties from sales of the book will go to the VCU Foundation to fund student scholarships.

Trani and Kneebone recently spoke with VCU News about “Fulfilling the Promise,” which they say shows how VCU has been, and continues to be, a force for positive change in Richmond and Virginia.

What inspired you to work together to tell the story of VCU?

Kneebone: We were coming up on the 40th anniversary and, at that time, people felt like we had something to celebrate. The city had come back and VCU of course was quite successful — it had a large enrollment, enrolling more Virginia students than any other city university.

The book cover of “Fulfilling the Promise: Virginia Commonwealth University and the City of Richmond, 1968–2009."
“Fulfilling the Promise: Virginia Commonwealth University and the City of Richmond, 1968–2009″ published in September. The authors’ royalties will go to the VCU Foundation to fund student scholarships.

In the summer of 2009, I got a call from the president’s office. Dr. Trani, who was just stepping down, proposed that he and I work together on a history of VCU. My first instinct was to think, well, maybe this isn’t for me. Let me propose to him that I’ll do oral history interviews and we can put together a biography of Dr. Trani, a transformative leader.

He immediately said, “No, that’s too narrow. VCU’s story is much bigger than just one person and more complicated.” He said, “You know, VCU’s last history was Virginius Dabney’s 1988 book on the 20th anniversary. And he gave more attention in that book to the history of the Medical College of Virginia and Richmond Professional Institute than to VCU itself. So VCU really needs a proper history.”

We talked a bit and I said I know a lot about Virginia and Richmond. I’m not sure about higher education. And he said, “Well, I know something about higher education, so we can collaborate.” We set out with me doing research on the earlier years and interviewing him, sort of preliminary interviews.

Of course I could come to him and say, here’s something that was going on in Virginia higher education back then, do you have any thoughts? And he’d go, “Yeah. You know, this is what I was seeing in Nebraska. This is what seemed to be happening in Missouri.” So we had a sense of that larger context as well. We talk about the process in the book’s introduction. I think our different strengths actually worked together.

What is it about VCU’s story that makes it serve as a good microcosm for higher education in the U.S.?

Trani: Sen. Tim Kaine, in the foreword to this book, states there have been three trends that have led to a “powerful transformation in Richmond.” They are the emergence of VCU, the desire of its citizens to change long patterns of discrimination, and a concerted effort to emphasize the city’s natural beauty, especially the James River. This book explains the first of the three, how two institutions — MCV and RPI — came together to create a university that has worked with its community and that by doing so, showed that a large public institution with a significant medical center can not only survive but thrive and play a role in what is known as the “eds and meds” phenomenon that is typically played in urban America by elite private institutions with large medical centers. In that way, VCU can be a role model for higher education in the U.S.

Kneebone: We say that VCU is sort of exemplary of the fall and rise of urban universities. And we tell the story. Urban universities, of course, have always existed but today’s universities in urban areas are more than half of the total number of institutions. City education has become the norm, and that wasn’t always the case. Higher education, the idea was that putting students out in the countryside in a bucolic location where they weren’t distracted gave them a chance to engage in the high jinks of fraternity and sorority life and college life in general.

Urban universities, which catered to working-class immigrant minority students, students who were occupation oriented rather than liberal arts types you might find at traditional schools, seemed to be lower status. The higher status was for more selective schools and schools engaged in research. Urban universities, coming from a low point where they were in the midst of cities that were falling apart, suffering from suburbanization and white flight and conflicts, and with a mission to help solve some of these city issues as well, ended up becoming sort of the exemplars of higher education.

Students today at just about every school are career oriented, are thinking ahead to what they’re going to do in the future, less connected and less worried about fraternities and sororities. And urban universities, particularly, I think, for students who grew up in the suburbs, are a place that is actually lively and exciting instead of scary and dangerous as it was 40, 50 years ago. So it’s a success story that we’re telling.

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Education

Nuckols Farm Elementary School named a national ‘Blue Ribbon School’ for the second time

“Being named a 2022 National Blue Ribbon School is a tremendous honor,” said Crystal Metzger, Nuckols Farm principal. “Nuckols Farm is a family of educators, students and community members who work tirelessly each day to support our school and one another. I am exceptionally proud to serve as the school principal.”

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Nuckols Farm Elementary School has been named a 2022 Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education, an honor the Henrico County school also earned in 2012, making it the only school in the division to be honored twice. The designation was announced this morning by U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. The recognition is based on a school’s overall academic performance or progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups. Nuckols Farm is one of 297 schools across the nation to receive the designation this year.

“Being named a 2022 National Blue Ribbon School is a tremendous honor,” said Crystal Metzger, Nuckols Farm principal. “Nuckols Farm is a family of educators, students, and community members who work tirelessly each day to support our school and one another. I am exceptionally proud to serve as the school principal.”

“This recognition reflects the intentional work of our teachers and staff to meet every student where they are in their learning and provide them with the support and resources they need to be successful,” said Amy Cashwell, Henrico County Public Schools superintendent. “It also acknowledges the staff’s innovation, creativity, and grit in serving students and ensuring meaningful engagement and growth amid the global pandemic.”

“The school board is thrilled to join the Nuckols Farm community in celebrating this incredible honor,” said Micky Ogburn, Three Chopt District representative on the Henrico School Board. “Our schools, teachers, and students are truly the Heart of Henrico.”

Nuckols Farm and other recipient schools will be honored in November at a ceremony in Washington. The program is in its 39th year.

Henrico County schools that have earned the honor are:

  • Nuckols Farm Elementary School, 2022
  • Deep Run High School: 2018
  • Twin Hickory Elementary School: 2014
  • Nuckols Farm Elementary School: 2012
  • Shady Grove Elementary School: 2007
  • Pocahontas Middle School: 2006
  • Short Pump Elementary School: 2003*
  • Quioccasin (formerly Harry F. Byrd) Middle School: 1999-2000
  • Jacob Adams Elementary School: 1998-99
  • George Baker Elementary School: 1996-97
  • Tuckahoe Middle School: 1994-96
  • Douglas S. Freeman High School: 1992-93
  • Mills E. Godwin High School: 1988-89
  • R.C. Longan Elementary School: 1985-86
  • Brookland Middle School: 1984-85
  • Hermitage High School: 1983-84

*In 2002, the U.S. Department of Education began awarding the designation for calendar years instead of school years.

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Crime

New VCU study directly connects derelict properties to risk of violence in Richmond neighborhoods

Negligent landlords — those who allow their properties to become dilapidated despite having tenants — are a significant predictor of violence in Richmond neighborhoods, even more than personal property tax delinquency, population density, income levels and other factors, according to a new study by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University.

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By Brian McNeill, VCU News

Negligent landlords — those who allow their properties to become dilapidated despite having tenants — are a significant predictor of violence in Richmond neighborhoods, even more than personal property tax delinquency, population density, income levels and other factors, according to a new study by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University.

“Negligent landlords contribute significantly to violence in Richmond neighborhoods via the environment,” said lead author Samuel West, Ph.D., an alum of the Department of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences and an assistant professor of psychology at Virginia State University. “This impact was above and beyond the impact of those who live in these neighborhoods in terms of the state of their respective properties.”

West and other researchers at VCU collected data on violence events, tax delinquency of company-owned properties (such as rental homes and apartments), tax delinquency of personal properties, population density, race, income, food stamps and alcohol outlets for each of Richmond’s 148 neighborhoods.

Tax delinquency of company-owned properties was the only variable that predicted violence in all but four of Richmond’s 148 neighborhoods.

The researchers replicated the analysis using violence data for a different time period and found the same result.

“The key finding here was that the company delinquency was a stronger or more important correlate of violence than personal delinquency,” said West, who initiated the project while serving as a postdoctoral researcher with the Injury and Violence Prevention Program at VCU Health.

The study, “Comparing Forms of Neighborhood Instability as Predictors of Violence in Richmond, VA,” was published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS One.

In addition to West, the study was authored by Diane L. Bishop, an instructor in the Division of Epidemiology in the Department of Family Medicine and Population Health in the School of Medicine; Derek Chapman, Ph.D., interim director for research at the VCU Center on Society and Health and an assistant professor in the Division of Epidemiology in the Department of Family Medicine and Population Health; and Nicholas Thomson, Ph.D., director of research for the Injury and Violence Prevention Program at VCU Health Trauma Center.

The findings are consistent with previous research that suggests “slumlord buyout programs” are tied to reduced violence in cities, West said. For example, a program in Philadelphia purchased neglected properties in the East Liberty neighborhood and provided them to community residents to renovate and rehabilitate. It led to a decline in violence over a sustained period of time, West said.

“Although we acknowledge this would be a massive effort, the data do support the use of such programs to curb violence among other social difficulties,” West said. “I believe that Richmond is a perfect place to attempt a program like this at a larger scale than was done in Philadelphia (i.e., a single neighborhood).”

There are no laws in Virginia protecting tenants from eviction if their landlord loses their rental property to state property auction, West said. In Richmond, along with most medium to large cities, delinquent properties are seized and auctioned off to recoup costs, he said.

“When this happens, the winners of the auction are typically given carte blanche to decide what to do with the tenants as they no longer have a valid contractual agreement,” he said. “This aspect greatly endangers the residential stability of our neighborhoods.”

West was inspired to explore this topic through his observation of dilapidated buildings next to new construction in Richmond.

“Given the preponderance of real estate development and the aggressive housing market in Richmond, it seemed important to better understand how these seemingly inane facets of our society may impact some of our deepest problems,” he said.

The researchers hope their findings will contribute to a growing perspective by scholars that research should break away from the traditional view that members of a community hold the majority of the blame for violence that occurs there.

“Our work, along with other recent research, emphasizes that we need to be examining and addressing the impacts of forces from outside high-violence communities that carry such major consequences,” West said.

He added, however, that individual autonomy might also be considered a key factor.

“Social psychologists place a major emphasis on autonomy as a psychological need. In the case of a negligent landlord, the tenant(s) may live in a constant state of highly salient violations of their own autonomy which may further undermine attempts to improve the conditions of their own communities,” he said. “As evinced by the East Liberty project from Philadelphia, when this autonomy is restored, it is used in a productive fashion such that it improves the quality of life and safety of all in their communities through restoring their collective efficacy.”

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Education

University of Richmond adds new course opportunities for 2022-2023 school year

These changes include launching the Africana Studies program and adding minors in sustainability and data science and statistics.   

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The University of Richmond has announced curriculum changes that will provide new academic opportunities for students and faculty in the 2022–23 academic year. These changes include launching the Africana Studies program and adding minors in sustainability and data science and statistics.

Africana Studies

The Africana Studies program will launch this fall with a variety of courses and programming in the humanities, arts, and social sciences. The program explores the complex socio-political landscapes, economic structures, and cultural traditions that shape, impact, and stem from the African diaspora.

“The push for this program was strong, and students will now be able to major, minor, and receive degrees in Africana Studies,” said Ernest McGowen, Africana Studies program coordinator. “It is a great opportunity to direct one’s studies towards their interests and fulfill our liberal arts mission.”

Africana Studies courses during the fall semester include “Introduction to Africana Studies” and a “Rumors of War” seminar, which will examine the history of slavery and colonization before and after 1492 and how they shape the African diaspora. The program is housed in the School of Arts & Sciences, but students may take elective courses across disciplines in A&S, the Robins School of Business, and the Jepson School of Leadership Studies.

Mathematics, Computer Science, Data Science, and Statistics

This summer, the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science became two separate departments — Department of Computer Science and Department of Mathematics and Statistics. The change is a result of growing interest in the fields of statistics, mathematical economics, and computer science. Students can now minor in data science and statistics, which focuses on collecting, understanding, and presenting data from a variety of different domains and contexts.

“Within this minor, students explore everything from data-oriented programming to the ability to identify and address the ethical and privacy concerns regarding data analysis,” said statistics professor Taylor Arnold, data science program coordinator.

Geography, Environment, and Sustainability

Starting this academic year, the Department of Geography and the Environment will become the Department of Geography, Environment, and Sustainability. Sustainability will also be offered as a minor, allowing students to explore sustainability through the lens of acting for positive change.

“We have seen a surge of deep interest over the past few years with students interested in topics related to sustainability and the climate crisis,” said Todd Lookingbill, department chair. “So many of our students want to work toward improving conditions that foster the well-being of people and the environment, and this new minor will allow more of our students to explore this critical area.”

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We need your help. RVAHub is a small, independent publication, and we depend on our readers to help us provide a vital community service. If you enjoy our content, would you consider a donation as small as $5? We would be immensely grateful! Interested in advertising your business, organization, or event? Get the details here.

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