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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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University of Richmond begins spring semester with students back on campus, health and safety policies in place

Many policies in place on campus will mirror those implemented during the fall semester. Those prevention strategies include deep cleaning, reconfigured learning spaces, prevalence testing, and face covering and physical distancing requirements for faculty, staff, and students.

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The University of Richmond has resumed in-person instruction and the residential educational experience for the spring 2021 semester as of yesterday, Tuesday, January 19th, 2021.

Many policies in place on campus will mirror those implemented during the fall semester. Those prevention strategies include deep cleaning, reconfigured learning spaces, prevalence testing, and face covering and physical distancing requirements for faculty, staff, and students. Specific plans for the spring semester include:

“The University continues to monitor very closely pandemic developments, and we are prepared to modify our approach to instruction if conditions warrant,” said Jeff Legro, executive vice president and provost. “At this time, we believe we can safely and responsibly continue with our plans for an in-person spring semester, and our community is committed to adhering to our guidelines to make that possible.”

Testing and Screening Protocols

All students were tested for COVID-19 on campus prior to move-in or taking in-person classes. Students were asked to self-quarantine for 10 days prior to returning to campus by staying at home to the fullest extent possible and following additional health and safety protocols. All members of the University community must monitor their health daily. Faculty and staff are also being provided options for COVID-19 testing. UR will also continue COVID-19 prevalence testing, which involves testing a randomly selected group of asymptomatic people to assess the incidence of COVID-19 on campus. 

Move-In

In order to promote physical distancing and ensure adherence to health and safety protocols, student move-in is being phased over a period of 17 days and is expected to conclude Sunday, Jan. 24. Students moving in during this final week are starting their classes remotely and will begin in-person classes following their arrival to campus.

Red Stage Opening and Enhanced Rules

As in the fall, the University of Richmond will open in the Red Stage of its Physical Distancing Framework. During the move-in period, additional enhanced Red Stage rules were implemented to promote a successful and safe start to the semester. These policies provide guidance for students awaiting COVID-19 test results, limit visitors in student residences, and require residential students to remain on campus.  

Calendar and Class Information

The first day of classes is Jan. 19, and classes will conclude April 23. Finals will take place April 28 through May 6. There will be no spring break; however, UR has added two mid-week break days in Feburary and April. As was the case this fall, many courses will be offered in-person while some will be offered fully online or use a combination of approaches. In-person classes will continue to be offered in classrooms modified to support active learning while adhering to physical distancing and related safety protocols. Students could also choose to complete the semester fully online.

Dashboard Data

The University of Richmond COVID-19 Dashboard, which is updated at least weekly, remains a source of information to provide updates on COVID-19 data specifically related to the campus community.

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U of R announces socially distant service opportunities and virtual events in honor of MLK Day

Virtual events, such as luncheons and meditation sessions, are slated to take place on Zoom throughout the week in order to bring the campus community together to pause, reflect, and discuss the legacy of Martin Luther King and what it means to heal.

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The University of Richmond has announced it will be closed Monday, January 18th to allow the campus community to engage in physically-distanced service activities celebrating MLK Day.

Historically, UR celebrates the life and contributions of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. through a day filled with service opportunities completed alongside the greater Richmond community. Due to COVID-19, this year’s MLK Day events will foster opportunities for students, faculty, and staff to volunteer virtually by working on project kits developed by the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement. The kits entail projects such as transcribing documents from the Library of Virginia; creating birthday cards for Celebrate! RVA; making toys for the ASPCA; writing letters to elected officials; and more.

The community will also have the opportunity to use the Book Arts Studio’s printing press on MLK Day, to create book art and journals that align with this year’s theme, “The Revolution Then And Now: A Time of Healing.”

Virtual events, such as luncheons and meditation sessions, are slated to take place on Zoom throughout the week in order to bring the campus community together to pause, reflect, and discuss the legacy of Martin Luther King and what it means to heal.

“In the wake of two pandemics — COVID-19 and social injustice — we’re encouraging our community to reflect on what it will mean to heal as we look to the future and explore the ways that we can better impact the lives of those in our community and beyond who experience social injustices and are fighting their own individual revolution,” said Morgan Russell, associate director of multicultural affairs and event organizer.

Full details about UR’s MLK Day celebration are available at richmond.edu/mlk.

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RPS Superintendent Jason Kamras Statement on Trump Riot in DC

“Yesterday’s events were horrific. But rather than run from them, let’s confront them and the uncomfortable truths about race that they laid bare.”

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The Superintendent of Richmond schools, Jason Kamras, issued a strong statement yesterday in the aftermath of Wednesday’s attack at the nation’s Capitol.

Dear #RPSStrong Family,

As many others have noted over the past 24 hours, one of the most striking aspects of yesterday’s events was how law enforcement responded to the overwhelmingly white insurrectionists, as compared to how they responded to BLM protestors of color in Lafayette Park in DC this past summer.

Yesterday, mostly white men seized and vandalized the United States Capitol – and were then allowed to simply walk away.
Last summer, peaceful, mostly Black protestors, who had gathered a block away from the White House to make their voices heard, were gassed and forcibly removed with military tactics, including the use of a US Army helicopter. I shudder at the thought of what would have transpired if the individuals who attacked the United States Congress were Black.

As educators and parents, we need to talk about this with our children. And those of us who are white have a special responsibility to do so. For our national “reckoning” on race to yield tangible results, we must actively and repeatedly call out inequity, educate our children about it, and teach them to uproot it.

Yesterday’s events were horrific. But rather than run from them, let’s confront them and the uncomfortable truths about race that they laid bare. In doing so, perhaps we can take one more step towards fulfilling the ideals symbolized by the United States Capitol.

With great appreciation,
Jason

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