Authorized by the Board of Visitors in February 2016, the University’s Strategic Investment Fund has invested more than $300 million to date in advances in scientific research and innovation, educational opportunities, matching funds for student scholarships, recruitment and retention of distinguished faculty, enhanced student life, philanthropic endeavors, and more. The fund was created to provide funding to “transform a critical area of knowledge or operation; further research progress of the University; materially enhance the quality of the academic experience; support an affordable and excellent education for Virginians and expand economic development in the Commonwealth,” according to its website.
Funds for the SIF are drawn from the University’s reserves, which for many years were held in cash. More recently, they have been invested successfully alongside the University’s endowment. In 2016, the Board of Visitors began to spend the earnings from those reserves via the fund.
“The creation of the Strategic Investment Fund from the University’s cash reserves and the provision of those funds for investment by UVIMCO were a triumph of financial planning and management,” says former Law School dean and current law professor John C. Jeffries Jr. (Law ’73) “The potential for the University is enormous. It’s important to remember, however, that the reserves must be maintained. Only the earnings can be spent.”
Each SIF grant request is considered by several committees, including an Administrative Committee, a faculty Evaluation Committee (of which Jeffries is chair) and a Student Advisory Committee. The Administrative Committee—consisting of the rector, the vice rector, a former Board member and the executive leadership of the University—makes recommendations to the Board of Visitors concerning the grant proposals.
To date, Jeffries says, 153 proposals have been submitted. Of those, 36 have been funded either in whole or in part. In 2016-17, according to the SIF Annual Report published in June 2017, the Board had awarded approximately $216.4 million in grants to 27 initiatives, a figure that has increased to more than $309 million heading into 2018.
Below is a look at four of those initiatives.
- The Bicentennial Scholars Fund and the Bicentennial Professors Fund were recipients of a $100 million grant and a $75 million multiyear grant, respectively. Described by Jeffries as “the most important commitments from the SIF,” both are matching programs designed to draw private donors to match the University’s contributions. The scholars fund will help ensure affordable access to UVA for students of all backgrounds through need- and merit-based scholarships; the professors fund, endorsed by 10 deans at UVA, aims to continue the University’s commitment to attracting and retaining distinguished faculty through the creation of an estimated 70 endowed professorships.
- With $15.7 million committed by SIF in June of 2017, the University will build upon its advanced brain research, particularly increasing research capabilities concerning neuromodulation—the direct stimulation of the nervous system with electrical signals and its use in therapies for neurodegeneration and epilepsy. Complementing the efforts of the pan-University Brain Institute established in 2016, the funds will go toward research tools including brain mapping, focused ultrasound, bioinformatics, imaging and data mining.
- UVA is a national leader in the study of Type 1 diabetes; the $17 million investment committed in December of 2016 via the SIF “will allow us to develop further our artificial pancreas studies, create a statewide genomics screening program to identify children at risk of developing Type 1 diabetes and advance our existing work on human beta cell regeneration,” says Dr. Richard P. Shannon, executive vice president for health affairs at the UVA Health System, in the 2016-17 SIF annual report.
- To continue UVA’s positioning as a leading institution focused on strengthening global democracy, the SIF committed $10 million in June 2017 (with required matching philanthropic commitments) toward UVA’s Democracy Initiative, focusing on interdisciplinary research, education focused on humanities disciplines, as well as team- and project-based labs to engage students with leaders and scholars around the world.