Eugene P. Trani, Ph.D., was appointed the fourth president of Virginia Commonwealth University on July 1, 1990, and served until June 30, 2009. He also served as president and chair of the board of directors of the VCU Health System and holds a tenured appointment as professor of history. He is now president emeritus and university distinguished professor. As professor, he continues to research and write, with books on Harrison Salisbury and a history of VCU in progress, and teaches in the Honors College.
Virginia Commonwealth University
Virginia Commonwealth University, a Carnegie Doctoral/Research University-Extensive, is located in Virginia’s capital city of Richmond. Enrolling more than 32,000 students, the university offers 217 degree and certificate programs for full- and part-time students in its 11 schools and three colleges. With 2,338 full-time faculty attracting more than $275 million in research grants and contracts and with a total of more than 22,000 employees, VCU and the VCU Health System’s combined annual budget exceeds $2.2 billion.
The VCU Medical Center, one of the largest and most comprehensive health sciences complexes in the nation, offers programs through the College of Health Professions and the schools of Dentistry, Medicine, Nursing and Pharmacy. The VCU Health System has been ranked as one of the best academic health centers in the nation in “The Best Hospitals in America.” The VCU Medical Center, a Level I trauma center, provides primary and secondary care to the Richmond metropolitan area and serves as a tertiary care referral center for the southeast region.
The Monroe Park Campus, with one of the nation’s largest School of the Arts and the south’s oldest School of Social Work, offers degree programs through these schools, as well as the schools of Business and Education, the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, and the colleges of Engineering and Humanities and Sciences (which includes the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture and the School of World Studies). Nineteen graduate programs are ranked among the best of their peers by U.S. News & World Report. Two programs, sculpture and nurse anesthesia, are ranked No. 1 in their respective disciplines.
Trani reported to the VCU Board of Visitors and served as the chief executive officer of the institution, overseeing the operations of VCU and the VCU Health System.
Trani established an active administration at VCU. Among his first initiatives was to formalize relationships with the Richmond area through a number of community programs. These programs placed VCU Police in the troubled corridor of Grace Street next to the Monroe Park Campus that led to the establishment of the community advisory boards for both campuses. Their centerpiece is the Community Service Associates Program, which pairs VCU faculty with members of the community on special projects designed to benefit from academic expertise.
During his VCU tenure, Trani also guided the development of “A Strategic Plan for the Future of Virginia Commonwealth University,” which produced significant organizational changes in programs and administration, including a comprehensive administrative streamlining report; a new framework for establishing interdisciplinary centers that combine VCU’s strengths in teaching, research and service; a new faculty roles and rewards policy and a companion review process for VCU’s promotion and tenure policy; a master-planning effort that incorporates new architectural guidelines into the development of the campuses in a way that complements their surroundings in the community; and a comprehensive technology plan developed in collaboration with area businesses for the entire institution.
Among the strategic plan’s important areas of focus has been enhancing VCU’s growing importance to economic development in Virginia. Trani spearheaded the development of the Virginia Biotechnology Research Park, which has attracted the biotech industry to Virginia, serving as chair of the Research Park Authority Board. Currently, almost 70 private sector companies, nonprofit organizations, VCU research institutes and government labs are housed in nine buildings, occupying more than 1.1 million square feet of space and representing an investment of nearly $525 million. These tenants employ approximately 2,400 scientists, researchers, engineers and technicians. The park’s newest building, BioTech Nine, home to the Altria Center for Research and Technology represents an investment of more than $350 million. The park is at approximately two-thirds of its ultimate capacity of 1.5 million square feet of space and an employee base of more than 3,000 life science professionals.
The plan also brought the development of a new engineering school (now the College of Engineering), uniquely designed with a manufacturing and biomedical focus tied to the biotechnology and industrial needs of the region. The college offers undergraduate, master’s and doctoral degrees and graduated its first class of undergraduates in May 2000. The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology has accredited the undergraduate programs in chemical, electrical, mechanical, and biomedical engineering and computer science. The college is playing a major role in attracting the microelectronics and health sciences industry to Virginia and in regional and national rankings of Virginia and the Richmond region as top business development environments.
Trani also led the development of new strategies in response to health care reform in a plan called “Building a Health Care Delivery System,” with a goal to secure the financial future of the academic health enterprise and create new relationships with different sectors of the community concerned with the delivery of health care. These relationships include a community primary care partnership; a Medicaid HMO, Virginia Premier; new relationships with area specialists; alliances to establish primary care centers in Richmond; and relationships with insurance providers, businesses and corporations. In 2000, it also led to the establishment of the VCU Health System, comprising all of the clinical activities of the VCU Medical Center, the Medical College of Virginia Hospitals and MCV Physicians.
Throughout his tenure as president, Trani directed VCU’s efforts to internationalize its campuses. He established significant linkages with universities in the Middle East, Europe, Africa, South America, India and China. Currently, VCU has developed significant universitywide partnerships with 15 universities around the world, most with academic medical centers.
One of the most notable international partnerships established under Trani’s leadership resulted in the creation of the VCU School of the Arts in Doha, Qatar, in 1997. The Qatar Foundation, which was established in 1996 by the emir of the State of Qatar, and VCU’s School of the Arts developed an agreement to establish the VCU-Qatar College of Design Arts in Doha, the capital city of Qatar. The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia approved the awarding of bachelor of fine arts degrees in graphic design, fashion design and interior design at the college, creating a third campus of the university. In June 2002, the college graduated its first students. VCU was the first university to establish a school in what is called Education City, a 2,500-acre campus on the outskirts of Doha, which now hosts branch campuses of some of the world’s leading universities, as well as numerous other educational and research institutions. The universities that have joined VCU include Cornell University, Texas A&M University, Carnegie Mellon University, Georgetown University and Northwestern University.
VCU Life Sciences, another important strategic accomplishment under the direction of Trani, was launched at the beginning of the fall 2001 semester with the completion of the Eugene P. and Lois E. Trani Center for Life Sciences. The Trani Center is named in recognition of the couple's tremendous contributions to the university, the health system, and the local and state communities. VCU Life Sciences is dedicated to training the workforce of the post-genomic/technology era and conducting the research that will lead to advances in community, economic and health care development. The VCU School of Medicine, the VCU Health System, the Inger and Walter Rice Center for Environmental Life Sciences and the university’s programs in basic and clinical sciences, the humanities, engineering, business and education have been integrated to offer undergraduate and graduate programs in fields ranging from forensic science to genomics to environmental studies. VCU Life Sciences is unique in its focus on undergraduate education, beginning at the freshman level with Academic and Career Options in Life Sciences, or LFSC 101, the gateway course for freshmen to learn about the scope of life sciences from the university’s top researchers.
Between 1990 and 2009, Trani spearheaded a $2.2 billion investment in infrastructure. More than $100 million was invested in construction on Broad Street — one of Richmond’s main thoroughfares — which has attracted more than $100 million in new business activity to the area. A master site plan, VCU 2020, identified approximately $1 billion in capital projects and includes new academic, medical, recreation, student housing and parking facilities. In all, the plan included more than 40 new facilities between the two main campuses. Highlights include a new School of Medicine building, a new School of Nursing building, and a critical care bed tower on the MCV Campus; and on the Monroe Park Campus, the School of Business and College of Engineering come together on a new residential campus to foster interdisciplinary teaching, research and public service.
Trani has received numerous awards and recognitions for his academic and community leadership, including:
- Central Richmond Association’s Leadership and Achievement Award (1992)
- Distinguished Leadership Award from the National Association of Community Leadership (1994)
- Richmond Humanitarian Award from the National Conference of Christians and Jews (1995)
- Greater Richmond Technology Council Industrial Leadership Award (1996)
- Flame Bearer of Education Award from The College Fund/UNCF (1998)
- Virginia Biotechnology Association’s Biotechnology Leadership Award (1999)
- Richmonder of the Year, as well as one of the top 100 Richmonders of the Century (1999)
- His leadership in VCU's role in community and economic development was recognized as one of two national case studies, along with Columbia University, in “Leveraging Colleges and Universities for Urban Economic Revitalization: An Action Agenda,” by CEOs for Cities and the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (2002)
- Richmond Joint Engineers Council’s Community Service Award (2002)
- Corporate Giant Award from the Central Virginia Business Construction Association (2003)
- Hope Award from the Central Virginia Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (2003).
- Honored by the Arthritis Foundation at the annual Crystal Ball event (2005)
- Dr. Richard B. Caspari Award by the Richmond Area Association of Peri-operative Registered Nurses (2006)
- National Community Leadership Award by the Association of University Research Parks (2006)
- Ranked No. 1 of Richmond’s most powerful people by Style Magazine (2007)
- Woodrow Wilson Award for International Engagement from the World Affairs Council (2007)
- President’s Award for Excellence in Leadership from the Virginia Minority Supplier Development Council (2007)
- Neilson J. November Award for Community Service by the Virginia Holocaust Museum (2008)
Trani held numerous board appointments, including ones for Crestar Bank and Universal Corp. In 1997-1998, he served as chairman of the Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce, after serving on the board of the chamber for seven years. From 1998 to 2006, he served on the board of directors for the Collegiate School. From 2000 to 2002, Trani served on the board of directors of the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development. From 2001 to 2004, he served as chair of Richmond Renaissance (now Venture Richmond), the city’s major organization devoted to downtown revitalization.
Trani remained a scholar of history and U.S. foreign affairs throughout his tenure at VCU. His areas of expertise include, among others, community and economic development, the international role of American higher education, U.S. foreign policy and the American presidency.
In the summer of 1995, Trani went on sabbatical at the University of London, where he worked on his research on the presidency of Woodrow Wilson. The result, a book titled “The First Cold War: The Legacy of Woodrow Wilson in U.S.-Soviet Relations” that he co-authored, was published in English in August 2002 by the University of Missouri Press, and in Russian by Olma-Press Publishing House in Moscow. The Chinese-language version was published by Peking University Press in China in 2007. The book was reviewed in 20 scholarly historical journals and newspapers, with enthusiastic and positive reviews. He has lectured extensively on the book, both domestically and abroad at venues that include the Institute of United States Studies at the University of London; the Truman Presidential Museum and Library in Independence, Missouri; and the Kennan Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.
As a recognized scholar on the presidency of Warren G. Harding, Trani was invited to serve as an expert commentator on the Harding presidency on C-SPAN’s “American Presidents” series. His book, “The Presidency of Warren G. Harding,” was selected in 2000 by Book: The Magazine for the Reading Life as the best book on President Harding.
In the spring of 1998, Trani served as a fellow commoner at St. John’s College in Cambridge, England, where he completed a comparative study of technology development in Cambridge and in Richmond called “Richmond at a Crossroads: The Greater Richmond Metropolitan Area and the Knowledge-based High Technology Economy of the 21st Century.” During the summer of 2002, he served as a visiting professor at University College Dublin to study the role of higher education in the making of the Irish “Celtic Tiger” economy. That report, “The Dublin Diaries: A Study of High Technology Development in Ireland,” was completed in December 2002. He has been invited to present lectures and participate in panel discussions on issues relating to his report on numerous occasions.
During the summer of 2005, Trani served as a senior visiting scholar at Lincoln College, Oxford, where he continued to work on his book “Distorted Mirrors: Americans and Their Relations with Russia and China in the Twentieth Century,” co-authored with Donald E. Davis. This book has been published in English by the University of Missouri Press, in Russian by Vagrius Publishers in Moscow, and in Spanish by the University of Cordoba Press. In the fall of 2006, “Russia 2006: Criticize but Don’t Exclude” — an opinion piece in which he explores U.S.-Russian relations and their implication on the burgeoning alliance between China and Russia — was published by the International Herald Tribune. From July through September of 2007, Trani returned to St. John’s College, Cambridge, as a senior visiting scholar, where he completed a comprehensive review of his manuscript, published in 2009. Another book, "The Indispensable University: Higher Education, Economic Development, and the Knowledge Economy," was published in 2010 by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers and the American Council on Education. In the summer of 2008, he served as a visiting scholar at the John F. Kennedy School at Harvard University, where he worked on the book on universities and their impact on economic development.
In September 2010, Richmond’s Future, an independent 501(c)(3) think tank, was established to address issues that are vital to the future of the Richmond metropolitan region. Trani serves as chairman of the board of directors and executive director of the organization. Richmond’s Future, which has four years of funding committed by its sponsors, is regionally focused and will conduct two to three studies per year, exploring the drivers that are crucial to the long-term prosperity and well-being of the Richmond region.
From 2006 to 2010, Trani served on the board of directors of the New College Institute in Martinsville, Virginia. He co-chaired the 2012 Planning Commission for the future of the New College Institute, a higher education center serving southside Virginia. Currently, he is chairing the committee to examine branch-campus possibilities for New College Institute, which would result in the institute becoming a campus of a four-year public Virginia university.
Trani continues to teach in VCU’s Honors College, as well as write. His most recent book is a biography of New York Times reporter and editor Harrison Salisbury. He has given presentations on his research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Southern Illinois University, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, St. Petersburg University in Russia, the Institute of Education at the University of London, the Beijing Foreign Studies University in the People’s Republic of China, Clemson University and the University of Mary Washington.