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UVa to go test-optional for fall applicants, rename education building

The University of Virginia will not require students to take either the SAT or ACT when applying this fall.

Provost Liz Magill said that with the COVID-19 pandemic, this was an easy call for officials, and one other universities have made in recent weeks. University officials will use this admissions cycle to learn about the impact of the policy change and decide next spring whether to extend the pilot.

“Our admissions office will continue to offer a comprehensive and holistic review of every application, and applicants won’t be at a disadvantage if they don’t submit test scores,” Magill said during a Board of Visitors meeting Thursday.

The pandemic, which closed schools and other businesses and pushed UVa online, disrupted in-person spring SAT and ACT testing.

College Board, the organization that administers the SAT, asked colleges and universities Tuesday to be flexible with their testing requirements as it announced it was suspending an at-home SAT option.

Magill noted other challenges with the SAT this year, including difficulties with the registration system and uncertainty about whether testing centers will be open.

“[These disruptions] underscore the fact that every college, including us at the university, needs to ensure as level of a playing field as possible in a year we don’t even know whether high schools are going to be open or test centers will be able to administer tests,” Magill said.

More than two dozen colleges have decided to waive testing requirements due to the pandemic, The New York Times reported last month, with the University of California system voting to phase them out entirely.

UVa’s pilot policy applies to all applicants for undergraduate admission. UVa also is pushing back its early decision application deadline to Nov. 1.

The university is planning to start the 2020-21 school year on-time and end in-person classes by Thanksgiving. A more detailed plan for fall classes is expected mid-June.

Racial issues

Earlier this week, UVa President Jim Ryan announced a task force that will make recommendations to improve racial equity at the university.

On Thursday, he discussed the task force and addressed national protests that have taken place since George Floyd, a black man, died under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer May 25.

“Our faculty, students and staff, especially those of color, are angry, upset and worried, understandably so,” Ryan said. “… They are looking to us as leaders, not just to talk about this, but to do something here at UVa, to make the university more equitable, more inclusive and more welcoming for all students, faculty and staff but especially for those of color who have not always felt that way.”

A letter signed by hundreds of students and staff members calls on Ryan to make substantial changes to address racial injustices and inequalities that African American students face at UVa and outlined 15 steps for change.

Board member Barbara Fried and student representative Mazzen Shalaby supported “immediately” creating a course about race and ethnic relations in America for all students to take — which would meet one of the student demands.

“I think there is a hunger on the part of the students, not just for a thoughtful analysis, which we will have to have, something immediate that says, we get it,” Fried said.

Tuition increase remains

Also on Thursday, board members approved a $3.85 billion operating budget for UVa’s academic division, the Medical Center and the College at Wise that was drafted before the pandemic started.

A revised budget will be presented in September after officials have more information about how much state funding may decrease and the pandemic’s impact on other financial metrics.

J.J. Davis, UVa’s chief operating officer, said she expects the revised budget to be smaller than what board members approved Thursday.

Rector Jim Murray said the tuition increase approved in December remains unchanged, though board members could look at that decision in September as part of the revised budget. Ryan said a commitment to meeting and expanding financial aid, as outlined in a recent strategic plan, remains critical.

Other schools in the state have made changes to upcoming tuition rates.

Building name change

Also, on Thursday, the board voted to rename Ruffner Hall, part of the Curry School of Education and Human Development, in honor of Walter Ridley, the first African American to earn a doctoral degree from UVa.

Earlier this spring, Dean Robert Pianta recommended changing the name of Ruffner and the school itself following an extensive review first announced in November 2018.

Ruffner was a former superintendent of Virginia’s public schools and first president of what is now Longwood University. However, the university said his accomplishments were overshadowed by his clear support for segregation and his stated belief that African Americans were intellectually and morally inferior to whites.

“We are delighted to celebrate Walter Ridley’s pathbreaking leadership and contributions to education and society,” Pianta said in a statement. “As a school dedicated to realizing human potential, we can look to Mr. Ridley’s writing, statements and actions as models for engaging in our work.”

The board will consider the proposal for removing Curry as the namesake of the education school at a later date, the university said in a news release.


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