Our Honor

March 6th, 2012

In the late fall of 2010 as the economy was beginning to recover from a crisis that destroyed so much of the wealth of the middle class, a number of documentaries and docudramas appeared that asked probing questions about the causes of this catastrophe. One such film was Inside Job, about the culpability of the nation’s elites—not just on Wall Street and Capitol Hill but at research universities, in faculty offices of “thought leaders” who influence policy. In this film professors appeared as technocrats, publishing papers whose economic analysis benefited the corporations where they served as consultants. Read the rest of this entry »

Pitch Perfect

June 8th, 2011

On May 30, Jim Tressel, one of the most successful coaches in the history of Big Ten powerhouse Ohio State, resigned in the wake of an NCAA rules violations investigation. It was big news everywhere, but especially in Ohio, where college football couldn’t possibly be any bigger. The Tressel episode is only the most recent case study on the perils of big-time sports at American universities. Storied football programs and the immense funding they both generate and require have put universities like Ohio State on the national map. Yet Derek Bok, the former president of Harvard, argued in a book titled “Universities in the Marketplace: The Commercialization of Higher Education” that college sports, long expected to boost alumni giving, are not in fact good money-makers, especially at universities not near the top of the national football rankings. Instead, Bok says, they exploit students who are often admitted with low grades and test scores and are then given too little time to study. Still, he adds, competition among universities and colleges has kept up the pressure for more aggressive athletic programs, often undermining their educational values. Read the rest of this entry »

Forever Young

May 18th, 2011

This week, the TJ Society, a gathering of U.Va. alumni who graduated 50 or more years ago, returned to the Grounds for their reunion. My remarks to them reflect on how the University and its people – much like Mick Jagger, Madonna and other modern “amortals” – evolve and change over time, yet remain ageless in their consciousness and aspirations. Read the rest of this entry »

The “Scientific Conspiracy of Nations”: Virginia in Berlin

December 20th, 2010

Fifty years after David Bruce (College ’20), one of the most distinguished diplomats of the 20th century, occupied the residence of the American embassy in Germany, another Virginian followed in his footsteps. Tammy Snyder Murphy (College ’87) is married to the current U.S. Ambassador, Philip Murphy. To celebrate the College’s budding relationship with Humboldt University, Ambassador and Mrs. Murphy hosted a dinner last month, bringing to their residence not just the delegations from Virginia and Humboldt but representatives of Germany’s great foundations—the Max Planck Institute, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the Leibniz Society, and the Alexander Humboldt Foundation. Read the rest of this entry »

The Grounds and the Fury

June 11th, 2010

The sound was china breaking, and the fury was that of Faulkner’s housekeeper — as I discovered when reading a funny essay by 1961 College alumnus Ken Ringle that is part of a new archive about the great southern writer’s residencies at the University of Virginia. “Faulkner at Virginia: an Audio Archive” is the work of Stephen Railton, a professor of American literature in the College, and others in English and at the University Libraries. With a note of thanks to Ken, I am pleased to share his perspective with you on my blog. Read the rest of this entry »

“Virginia” at Forty

April 6th, 2010

“But if ever a girl looked as if she were cut out for happiness!” exclaimed an old school teacher when she caught sight of Virginia, the heroine of Ellen Glasgow’s novel of the same name, set in a southern town called Dinwiddie. In the story, Virginia wasn’t ready for happiness: the virtues she had been taught—to be self-effacing, to make no demands, to put others before herself, to be bound by duty and honor—would prove a hindrance to the happiness that she had seemed destined for, given her good family and good looks. “Virginia” is a tableau of a “southern lady,” an idée fixe that was already fading when Glasgow’s novel was published in 1913. She called the novel “a history of manners,” one that sought to give meaning to “the South,” as so many writers had done in the decades before.

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In Loco Parentis

March 14th, 2010

Last week, as the Class of 2010 prepared to graduate and join the ranks of some one hundred thousand alumni of the College, they received a letter from me that adumbrated an aspect of their new life that our alumni know all too well: I asked them to consider making a gift to the College. There would be no amount too small, for the point of the fourth-year gift is in the act of giving itself, a rite of passage marking an exchange of roles between student and teacher. As students, they were supported by their teachers, receiving instruction and advice that will direct the course of their lives. As alumni, they become the patrons of their teachers, providing the opportunity for others to receive the same education, while offering support and counsel to their teachers. I offered to match a portion of their giving from my own funds under a program the students call “Make the Dean Pay”; if more than 2,010 members of the Class of 2010 (which numbers 2,968) participated, I promised to commit more.

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Remembering Edward Kennedy, Virginian

September 2nd, 2009

The University of Virginia witnessed the passing of another great Virginian—a Virginian in the sense of his association with the University—just shy of two centuries, or 183 years to be precise, after the passing of the founder of the University. Ted Kennedy’s ties to Virginia, of course, do not compare to those of Mr. Jefferson. Yet they are, in a sense, two bookends on the long and growing bookshelf that is the University, with the architect at the beginning and a man emblematic of an important moment in the University’s history further down the shelf.

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A Different Kind of Diversity

July 12th, 2009

It was not until the 1950s that the first African-American students graduated from the College; the first class of women graduated in 1974, thirty-five years ago. Diversity seemed a little more elusive for us than for other distinguished universities—until today. When you step into Newcomb Hall, along with the clanking of the utensils, you hear Spanish, Filipino, Korean, and Chinese.

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