Providing the margin of excellence by Amy Boyce

In his Founders Day speech on April 28, 2000, President Charles Steger outlined a vision for Virginia Tech--one that would make the university a member of a select group of research institutions known for their academic excellence. But Virginia Tech faces a number of challenges on this journey, and private philanthropy is critical to overcoming them.

"In order to become a top research institution, Virginia Tech has to be able to compete both nationally and internationally with universities that are already in the top tier, as well as other schools who aspire to that status," says University Provost Mark McNamee. "Top institutions have always been able to enhance a strong foundation with private funds to provide a margin of excellence. That allows these universities to focus their resources toward endowed professorships, scholarships, and new facilities."

Virginia Tech has a number of truly outstanding faculty members, but it needs to be able to adequately support existing faculty and to attract more. One challenge Virginia Tech faces in attracting these individuals is the fact that the university must make progress in enhancing overall faculty salary levels. Private philanthropy helps provide funding for endowed chairs and professorships, which not only supplement salaries, but can also allow for graduate assistants, equipment, or other operating expenses. "Such support makes Virginia Tech more attractive to talented faculty," McNamee says.

Another hurdle is the need to improve the University Libraries. Although Virginia Tech has built a strong library system with limited resources, the university's libraries are not at the level of other top research institutions across the country. "We can't play catch-up," says McNamee. "We need to ask ourselves what will a library be like 10 years from now and what types of services and innovations the ideal library will have in 2010."

Virginia Tech is working to build the library of the 21st century, an enterprise that will allow students and faculty around the world to access the university's digital holdings of information and literature at any time. Private philanthropy ensures the support needed to create this leading-edge library.

Another way that private philanthropy can help improve the university is through unrestricted funds. This discretionary funding gives faculty and administrators the freedom to act on unforeseen opportunities, such as attracting a world-renowned researcher to campus or earning a key foundation grant because the university was able to meet the matching fund requirement.

State-of-the-art libraries, superior faculty and students, and the resources to leverage opportunities as they present themselves--all of this is made possible through the loyalty and generosity of Virginia Tech's alumni and friends. It is these individuals who truly provide a margin of excellence for the university.

Amy Boyce is a special projects editor for the Office of University Development.