University Council Minutes

November 13, 2000

Present: Charles Steger, Bob Bates, Pat Hyer (for James Bohland), Elizabeth Flanagan, Eileen Hitchingham, Lu Ann Gaskill (for Janet Johnson), Bob Schubert (for Paul Knox), Kim O’Rourke, John Eaton (for Leonard Peters), Minnis Ridenour, Hap Bonham (for Richard Sorensen), Bill Stephenson, Tom Tillar, Susan Angle, James Martin, Virginia Buechner-Maxwell, Irene Leech, Marquea King, Frank Weiner (for Steven Thompson), Molly Cox (for Joe Hunnings), Wayne Durham, Jeryl Jones, Kamal Rojiani, Bob Tracy, Mitzi Vernon, John Hillison, Jack Davis, Slimane Adjerid (for Rebecca Crittenden), Sam Hicks, Pat Devens, John Williams (for Suzanne Murrmann), Dan Dolan, Bernard Feldman, Rodney Gaines, Pete Martens (by phone), Althea Aschmann, Debbie Wilson, Delbert Jones, Tracey Slotta, David Fowler, Brandy Ellen Cowing, Brian Montgomery (for Candace Wiltshire), Mac McCreery, Christina Coukos

Absent: Earving Blythe, Gregory Brown, Landrum Cross, Ben Dixon, Peter Eyre, Jennie Reilly, Raymond Smoot, Andy Swiger, Leon Geyer, Terry Herdman, Skip Fuhrman, Tim Pratt, Ashley Marshall, Donna Cassell, Benjamin Poe, Chris DelVecchio, Kylie Felps, Peter Logan

Guests: Carole Nickerson, Bruno Sobral

1.            Adoption of Agenda

            A motion was made and seconded to adopt the agenda.  The motion carried.

2.            Announcement of approval and posting of Council Minutes of

            October 16, 2000

Dr. Steger noted that the minutes from the October 16, 2000, University Council meeting have been voted on and approved electronically.  Once voted upon, University Council minutes can be publicly accessed on the Governance Information System on the WEB.  (/)

3.                  Ongoing Business – Second Reading

Commission on Research Resolution 2000-2001A,

Resolution Regarding “Regular” Appointments for Special Research Faculty

Pat Hyer presented the resolution for second reading in the absence of Terry Herdman, Chair of the Commission on Research.  She gave a summary covering the main points of the resolution.  Dr. Hyer noted that based on a discussion of the resolution that occurred at the first reading a modification has been made to item #5.  The language has been changed to indicate that the hiring unit should work closely with the Graduate School to ensure compliance with current INS regulations.

A question was raised regarding whether approval of these types of appointments would jeopardize funding for staff increases.  Both Dr. Hyer and Dr. Steger responded that staff increases would not be endangered.  Classified staff increases are mandated by the state.

A motion was made for approval.  The motion was seconded and approved by unanimous vote.

4.                  Council approved the following Commission minutes:

*        Commission on Classified Staff Affairs

September 27, 2000

*        Commission on Faculty Affairs

September 22, 2000

*        Commission on Faculty Affairs

October 13, 2000

*        Commission on Graduate Studies and Policies

September 20, 2000

*        Commission on Graduate Studies and Policies

October 4, 2000

*        Commission on Outreach

September 14, 2000

*        Commission on Student Affairs

September 28, 2000

*        Commission on Undergraduate Studies and Policies

September 25, 2000

*        Commission on Undergraduate Studies and Policies

October 9, 2000

5.                  For Information Only

It was noted that the minutes of the University Advisory Council on Strategic Budgeting and Planning for September 28, 2000 were distributed for information only.

6.                  Announcements

Dr. Steger will testify before the Arts and Higher Education subcommittee of the General Assembly House Education Committee this week concerning proposed legislation sponsored by Del. Jay O’Brien that would limit out-of-state enrollment of incoming classes at Virginia’s four-year public institutions to 33 percent.  In the past, the Boards of Visitors have been charged with setting enrollment policies.  Virginia Tech is one of four institutions – including the University of Virginia, the College of William and Mary, and James Madison University – which appear to be the focus of this issue.  (The proposed bill would exempt VMI, Norfolk State, and Virginia State University.)  A key issue is that the number of students graduating from Virginia high schools will be growing dramatically in the next 6-8 years.  Virginia Tech has accepted over 1,500 students since the early ‘90s for which we have received no funding.  Out-of-state students, who pay the full cost of their education, are a vital source of financial support for Virginia Tech and the other schools.

Minnis Ridenour discussed how the state’s current funding process for higher education works.  The House Appropriations Committee, the Senate Finance Committee and higher education are actively involved in formulating a new system that will be based on enrollments/projects.  Mr. Ridenour has played a key leadership role in the state in helping to shape the new system.  Dr. Steger and Mr. Ridenour are optimistic that the new system will generate additional faculty positions and funding. 

7.                  Discussion

Virginia Bioinformatics Institute

Bruno Sobral

Bruno Sobral, Director of the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute and Professor of Plant Physiology, Pathology and Weed Science, gave a presentation on the Institute.  Dr. Sobral, who holds a Ph.D. in Genetics from Iowa State University, came to Virginia Tech from the National Center for Genome Resources. 

Dr. Sobral explained that one definition of bioinformatics is the use of Information Technology (IT) to acquire, store, share, analyze and display large amounts of complex biological information.  The coupling of biology with data management and supercomputers is taking IT to new levels.  Biology has replaced the physical sciences as the new driver for IT.

One example of high-tech IT is IBM’s Blue Gene, a $100 million dollar hardware project to resolve how proteins fold.  This computer is 40 times faster than all of the world’s top supercomputers put together and is capable of downloading the entire Internet in one second!  Even with these amazing capabilities, the Blue Gene will require one year to compute how a 300 amino acid protein folds!  Partnerships between companies, such as the one between IBM and Incyte (for software), will be critical in this emerging field.

Biologists must deal with many variables as they answer fundamental research questions.  Some of the structures and mechanisms for conducting research include:  software tools and structures, computing and connectivity requirements, data represented, data types and sources, as well as the volume of the data.

The National Research Council is the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Engineering in providing services to the government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities.  NRC faces eight imposing challenges.  There are four immediate areas of concern:

1.                  Infectious disease and the environment

-            To prevent outbreaks of infectious disease there is a need to understand how pathogens are affected by changing environments

2.      Biodiversity and ecosystems functioning

-         Factors affecting biodiversity and how biodiversity relates to ecosystem function

3.      Hydrologic forecasting

-         Predicting changes in freshwater resources and environment caused by floods, droughts, sedimentation, and contamination

4.      Land-use dynamics

-         Human alteration of Earth’s surface as it affects global climate change and reduced biodiversity

Dr. Sobral explained that when the data was in incomplete sequences, the types and sources of data were fewer, and the volume of data was less, then the computing and connectivity requirements were low and there were many software tools.  Conversely, today when multiple databases must be integrated, the types and sources of data are numerous, and there is a large volume of data, the computing and connectivity requirements are high yet there are very few software tools and structures.

The Virginia Bioinformatics Institute is a group of entrepreneurial scientists tying together data with computers to yield new knowledge.  VBI was established to increase knowledge of plant and animal genomics and to develop tools for interpreting other genomics information.  VBI will initially focus on the molecular, cellular, and environmental determinants of infectious disease, particularly with an agricultural/environmental thrust.  In the new information economy, VBI can also play a role in economic development. 

The Virginia Bioinformatics Institute is located in temporary quarters in Building X at the Corporate Research Center.  Dr. Sobral can be reached by email at or by phone at 231-2500.  Dr. Clark Tibbetts, Associate Director of VBI, can be reached by email at

Dr. Steger adjourned the meeting at 4:00 p.m.

Respectfully submitted,

Kim T. O’Rourke

Assistant to the President