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 »

A Bitter Valediction

May 17th, 2010

In the days since the death of fourth-year student Yeardley Love, the thoughts of many in our academic community have turned to loss and remembrance. To provide a perspective from the classroom, I have invited Michael Suarez to be the first guest essayist on my blog. He’s the new director of the Rare Book School at U.Va. and a professor of English who two weeks ago found himself, and his students, working through a remarkably timely piece of classic English poetry. -MW 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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More Like Us

February 14th, 2010

Like so many, both inside and outside the academy, I tend to mark the passage of time by the books I read. For me, the 1980s opened with a book by Ezra Vogel, entitled “Japan as Number One,” which foreshadowed all the worries about our loss of industrial supremacy that would come to haunt that troubled decade. In the book Japan seemed superior to America in every way: its government and corporations were as efficient as they were efficacious, increasing productivity while preserving social welfare; its politicians reigned over a stable polity as its bureaucrats wisely figured out everything from controlling crime to alleviating the energy shortage and reducing pollution. Meanwhile, its citizens were highly educated, amid all the uproar about why Johnny can’t read—and Fumiko can.

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E Pluribus Unum: An Address to a Jeffersonian Class

October 16th, 2009

Today, I had the honor of delivering the main address at Fall Convocation, the event that honors the academic achievement of the top 20 percent of the Third Year Class. This post contains the text of my remarks. My remarks also are available on the University’s YouTube channel. Read the rest of this entry »

To the Parents of Incoming Students

August 24th, 2009

Last weekend I greeted many of you who were fortunate enough to accompany your children to Charlottesville and help them move in as they start a new and important phase of their life. For those parents I was not able to meet, let me offer my greetings in print, as Dean of the College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, but also as another parent. The older of my two children is starting his third year in a university in Chicago; so two years ago, I was in the same situation you are in, sending off a child to be on his own.

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The Price of Inspiration

August 4th, 2009

Last week I received a letter from an anguished parent, distressed about the study-abroad fees levied on U.Va. students attending non-U.Va. programs. (There are fewer fees for students participating U.Va.-sponsored programs abroad.) To study in Freiburg, Germany this spring, his daughter had to pay two administrative fees that added up to $550 plus an application fee of $90; to study art in Italy this summer, she was asked to pay yet another $400 in administrative fees, plus another application fee of $90. The total came to $1,130—not a trivial sum, especially coming on the heels of other hidden costs associated with transplanting a child to Europe.

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