Something New Under the Sun

Last Friday, I shared my vision for the College with the members of the boards of the College Foundation and the Benefactors Society. Here is an excerpt from that speech, reflecting on the influences that have defined and guided the College. It is a story about the cultivation of character and virtue, the importance of relationship and place, and the value of cognitive diversity. -MW

Ernest Boots Mead, who taught Music in the College, once told me about a young man who wrote his final exam on Bach’s Goldberg Variations, a beautiful but elusive piece. It consists of thirty movements that explore, through a series of harmonic and rhythmic variations, a theme—but the theme is fleeting and discrete. At the end of the essay the student wrote this postscript: “Mr. Mead, I have experienced many variations in my life. Now, I am in search of a theme.”

As the University approaches its bicentennial in 2019, this is an appropriate time to look back and to look forward; to recall our many “variations” since our founding but also to find our theme: who we are, what shapes our outlook and aspirations, and how we define our mission.

The fundamental fact about the University, and the College that is its core, is that it is a great American institution—American not in the sense of the geographic entity that lies between the shores of two oceans, but in the breathtaking ideals that America represents.  It is a university for its students and faculty and an historic place for the nation, part of every American’s heritage. But the University is also a cultural institution representing something special—“iconic” seems to be an adjective that the New York Times uses whenever the University is mentioned.  As we gather here today to give renewed purpose to this iconic and quintessentially American institution, it is important to trace the influences that have imparted character to this place and charted its path.

Philosophers use the term “habitus” to connote places that are historically situated and derived, a “past that survives in the present,” or a “history turned into nature”—our second nature. Habitus is a routine practice or convention, a disposition in a community, influencing the way we make sense of the world around us. This morning I would like to offer three historical narratives that in my view come together to create the “habitus” for the College, and which in turn creates in our students, in the fullness of their innocence, something new and marvelous.

The first narrative has to do with the importance of virtue and character.  Among the many wonders of the mind of Thomas Jefferson, one is not often mentioned: his vision for his university remains as vital in the 21st century as it was in the 18th century. Jefferson was already an old man when, with a ruthless singularity of purpose, he dedicated the last nine years of his life to creating his university, vowing to “die in the last ditch” to realize “this immortal boon to our country.” In 1818, at the age of 75, Jefferson traveled, on borrowed money, to Rockfish Gap in the Blue Ridge—where he served as chair of a commission and the author of its report. It is in that report, known today as the Rockfish Gap Report, that Jefferson offered the most comprehensive statement of his educational philosophy. Nested at the heart is his desire for the habituation through discipline, order and knowledge, of virtue. Virtue to him was not a “chimera,” but something real, to be acquired through upbringing, accumulation of knowledge, constancy of practice, and ultimately, habit.

Professor Tal Brewer, one of our philosophers in the College, argues that we cannot fully understand the intrinsic value of any human action without grasping its place and relationship in the overall narrative one wishes to create for oneself: a life well lived. The ability to evaluate the actions we take as ipso facto good (rather than being driven by desires or utilitarian goals), and to situate it in the full flourishing of life, is something that cannot be learned through discursive reasoning. It can be learned only through example and experience. The importance of the good company of friends, teachers, and mentors is paramount, then, something that Aristotle underscores in his Nicomachean Ethics when he says that “human beings must enter into active intimate relations with each other if they are to understand what sort of being they themselves are, and what aspirations are fitting for them.” We remain committed to that ideal of intellectual and ethical community today. That includes being aware and awake to the value of the people around us—and reflecting on the larger meaning of life, including for one that was cut short last spring.

In the Rockfish Gap Report Jefferson also wrote of the need to push the frontiers of knowledge, incessantly and endlessly. He saw knowledge as neither settled nor canonical, but constantly evolving—“indefinite [italics in the original] and to a term which no one can fix or foresee.” Fourteen years earlier, then President Jefferson had sent Lewis and Clark across the continent to the “Northwest Territory,” to find out what it was that the president had bought from the French with his “Louisiana Purchase.” This expedition embodied his idea of evolving, unfixed, indefinite knowledge. Of course it did much more—it doubled the American territory, and revealed that a massive continent stood between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Suddenly Jefferson could begin to envision his “empire of liberty,” precisely by overturning received wisdom (and sending the cartographers back to the drawing board).

The second narrative is about the importance of relationship and place. One could not be a person like me, coming from the other side of the globe, and not notice the uncomplicated and pure attachment that people have for the University as a physical place. Perhaps it has to do with the University’s early days, when its students were young men from land-holding families—men who inherited the houses they were born in, and for whom honor and virtue were in some sense inseparable from the love of place.  But this place was not only home to men of privilege. The love of hearth and home was also felt by African Americans, like Catherine Foster, a seamstress and laundress who built a home and community called Canada which stood in part where the South Lawn is.

Perhaps because I live with my family on the Lawn, this sense of place is always with me. But even if I lived elsewhere, I think the importance of place—our place—cannot be overemphasized. It is often said that with the digital revolution, higher education gets dislocated and enters cyberspace, the “ether” of our time (like so many for-profit online universities which are publicly traded). But the College is not primarily a dispenser of knowledge—and how can it be, when information and knowledge is becoming perfectly free, a public good? The College is a community where learning is based on a different web, an intricate web of relationships that go beyond digital media. Few of our graduates would trade the experience of four years of being here for a hastier ingestion of what they learned. Make no mistake: we head toward a future where all knowledge can be gathered on the head of a pin—or at least in a thumb drive. But there are still so few who can turn data into information, information into knowledge, and knowledge into wisdom. In this sense the College is a profoundly local place, where students learn to understand the meaning of relationships—in constant interaction with their friends and their professors—which will become the foundation of their quest to forge and nurture their intelligence, to eventually find lives well lived. This love of place, and the habit of anchoring life in a multitude of good relationships, should be portable, travelling with our students wherever they go, to all corners of the world and throughout their lives.

The final narrative relates to the imperative of bringing diverse talents together to solve some of the complex problems facing our society. In 1965 President Lyndon B. Johnson, with one brilliant stroke of his pen, leveled the playing field for immigration and thus changed the demography of this country forevermore. That was the unheralded part of the Civil Rights movement, liberating African-Americans but also terminating invidious racial definitions of who could, and who could not, immigrate to the United States. This opened floodgates that soon brought talents from around the world: a harbinger of a great future imparting unparalleled creativity, energy, and intellectual strength to this country.

This law transformed America’s great universities, including Virginia. Within decades of the 1965 immigration law, the children of the new immigrants, no longer bound by legal constraints, became significant and substantial parts of the student body—numerically and intellectually.  These new Americans would be dedicated to the motto inscribed on the seal of the United States—e pluribus unum, out of many, one: but unless one understood the pluribus, the unum remained a mystery. And certainly at the core of the pluribus you see today on Grounds, is a respect for scholars, higher education, a special history, and the cultivation of character and virtue, thereby adding deeper hues to the original purposes that founded the University. When I walk down the Lawn and look at the undergraduates in this vibrant place, I realize that the world is not just a vast penumbra that lies beyond the water’s edge, but that it is also within the Commonwealth of Virginia, especially in northern Virginia, increasingly a polyglot place with citizens in search of greater opportunities.

In his letter to John Adams in October 1813, Jefferson argued that there is a naturally occurring aristocracy, among the rich and poor, based on virtue and talents—as opposed to the artificial aristocracy founded on wealth and birth. He considered this natural aristocracy as “the most precious gift of nature, for the instruction, the trusts, and the government of society.” It is the mission of the College to nurture this natural aristocracy for the university, the state, the nation, and the world. Who knows which of our students will solve the most pressing problems facing us today? It might be a scion of the landed aristocracy like Jefferson, it might be a descendant of Virginia slaves, it might be a young woman from the Punjab or a young man from Nairobi.

These, then, are three narratives that form the theme for the College. The first emphasizes the cultivation of virtue in our students, so that they make decisions not primarily in terms of desires or ambitions but in terms of the larger good, leading toward a life well lived. The second emphasizes the necessity to acquire that virtue through a myriad of good relationships—mentorships and friendships—that the College attracts and provides, a genuine intellectual community. And third, to do all that by being true to our founding ideas, by gathering together the best talents that one can find from everywhere in the Commonwealth and in the world—people who can provide what Scott Page, my friend from Michigan, calls “cognitive diversity.”

Let me now turn to our strategy for the future—our goals and objectives—as we try to remain faithful to the themes we lay out for the College.

The retrenchment of the last two years has been a painful experience. But we have learned a great deal from this crisis. We have had to think constantly about where we are and where we want to come out at the end of the process. In the course of these deliberations, we have gained an expert understanding and appreciation of our faculty strengths, in anticipation of the emerging structure and organization of knowledge, fifteen or twenty years down the road. It has also required of us an understanding of the political economy of this country and of the world, and its requirements for manpower at the highest professional levels. As we go through one of the toughest times in the history of the College, when the dust settles we must emerge strengthened and revitalized in our core missions.

First, we must remember that the cultivation of virtue, the expansion of knowledge, and the creation of a natural aristocracy through diversity, can only grow from the rich soil of a community of teachers and students, in a relationship. The strength of the College rests unquestionably on the quality of its undergraduate education, and we must draw the line right there, protect our most precious heritage however we can.

Education for virtue rests on reasoning, not on preaching or recitation of virtues qua virtues. The best way to teach about citizenship is not to extol its virtues but to foster critical thinking, like teaching about citizenship through a close reading of Antigone—an ancient play about a heart-wrenching conflict between the state and the self in time of war. Or we might learn about the complexities of familial relationships through studying King Lear or by watching the Albee play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. In Chemistry, Professor Brooks Pate—a MacArthur genius fellow—teaches our students about interstellar molecular activity, showing them how vast quantities of data about the galaxy are captured, how they may be sorted into information, then into knowledge, and finally into wisdom about the origins of the universe—and for that matter, about all things.  We simply must create more opportunities for seminar and smaller pedagogical settings. It may not be possible to reproduce, in exactly the same shape and manner what Thomas Jefferson said was the best example of the tutor-pupil relationship—that of the “affectionate deportment between father and son.” But we also cannot create a space of what the sociologists call anomie in the classroom where the teacher is but a talking head with power-point slides.

Second, we are re-imagining and remapping the structure of knowledge in the College. We are identifying and championing the expertise of our faculty that may have remained hidden in the shadows created by the glare of the disciplines. We will start where it matters, from the foundation, basing ourselves on the strength of the top fifty or so faculty, and figure out how to build on their accomplishments to enhance the strength of the College. Our university grew from the bottom up, and has an enormous fund of experience, heritage, and “habitus” as a result. That will never change. But the ecology of knowledge is too fecund, too complex, and the speed of discovery too fast, to rely on planning from outside. So we need to reverse the process, go from the bottom up, doing what we do best: nurturing local talent, and then building around them. The faculty are the best resource for intuiting and pushing forth the new spirit of the age, both artistic and scientific.

As we remap the intellectual strengths of the College, we also need to make choices about the areas—or subfields—that need to be accentuated and nurtured, as we prune weak or unnecessary branches. No university has every possible department and no department has every possible subfield. We will endeavor to be known for the fields and subfields—some old, some new—in which we have unquestionable strength.

Finally, we need to rethink how to create the best ensemble of all the talents we require to maintain our excellence. We need to call into question the one size fits all model of academic careers. The finest minds in research do not always make the finest teachers. There ought to be enough complexity in the College to attract genius in every sphere, in research, in teaching, in mentoring, and make sure they stay focused on what they do best. The College should welcome all talents—tenure track faculty, researchers, clinicians, artists, designers, professors of practice, alumni with real life experience—all jumping into the heart of knowledge-making.

In a letter to Joseph Priestly in March of 1801, Jefferson spoke with satisfaction about the fruits of the American Revolution. “As the storm is now subsiding, and the horizon becoming serene, it is pleasant to consider the phenomenon with attention. We can no longer say there is nothing new under the sun. For this whole chapter in the history of mankind is new.”

Higher education has been transformed in this country through dramatic events: the American Revolution itself, the Civil War, the Depression, the G.I. Bill after World War II, Sputnik, the Civil Rights movement, the arrival of millions of new immigrants to the country, and the digital revolution. We are witness today to another great transformation: reinvention—under the most demanding constraints of political and economic challenges—of the College that is the core of the University.

How we come out at the end of it in the next couple of years, and the decisions we make, will determine the future of the University and the College—whether we will remain the kind of place that Mr. Jefferson would recognize in all the wisdom and worth of his creation. If we come out of the Great Recession of the last two years only to suffer another body blow, we will unquestionably fall far behind the other great universities. But if we do this right with your support, give meaning and reward to the last two years of cut after cut, and return to great vitality and vibrancy, we will be able to say that in the history of the College and of the American higher education, there is something truly new under the sun.

We will then be able to stay true to our core values of virtue, place and locality, a true educational community of lasting relationships and mutual learning, thus nurturing for ourselves and for the country the gift of Mr. Jefferson’s naturally occurring aristocracy.

The Goldberg Variations is a curious piece. Its composition is both intelligible and in the end, ethereal; comprehensible yet utterly original—a little like the nature of inquiry, a little like the College.  Just as there is a theme in the College, there is actually a theme in the Goldberg Variations. It is in the opening melody, which, after so many variations, returns at the end to remind us of its original brilliance.

15 Responses to “Something New Under the Sun”

  1. G Steven McKonly says:

    The message set forth herein will be saved. Each year, the afternoon of December 31, after my staff has left my office, I take time to consider what I might do for an encore. I’ll be certain to reread our Dean’s message. If nothing else, it may be time to factor a theme for myself.

  2. The physical spaces of Jefferson’s “Lawn,” and the natural spaces that are so integral to it, are also part of the vision for the future that the University represents. As the University has expanded and made new, and often revolutionary uses, of the spaces that radiate out from the Lawn into Charlottesville, Albemarle County, and Virginia (Wise, etc.), it has reflected its values in the ways it uses land, urban and natural. As Dean Woo says, “Perhaps because I live with my family on the Lawn, this sense of place is always with me. But even if I lived elsewhere, I think the importance of place—our place—cannot be overemphasized.”

    This sense of place is not only important in its own right (beautiful and functional architecture, beautiful and transformative natural spaces), but because “places” are always where education occurs. The great faculty and great students that any university brings together need certain spaces and special places in which intellectual and academic activity can flourish: seminar classrooms, lecture halls, research labs, libraries, natural field-sites, wilderness preserves. In this regard, we now need a new concept and a new word to describe that concept. The new word we need is “urbanature.” The concept this word describes is the idea that nature and urban life are not as distinct as we have long supposed. Here is why.

    Hawks are roosting on skyscrapers near Central Park East and Central Park West. Peregrine falcons are feeding on the Flatiron Building, and owls are nesting throughout Manhattan. Meanwhile, thousands of environmentalists board carbon-gulping airplanes and fly thousands of miles (carrying tons of Gore-Tex) to get “back to nature” in Montana. At the same time, the World Wide Web tells us that Thoreau said, “In wilderness is the preservation of the world.” Over 600 websites say so. But Thoreau did not say, “In wilderness is the preservation of the world.” He said, “In wildness is the preservation of the world.” This difference-–”wildness,” not “wilderness”–-makes all the difference.

    Urbanature (rhymes with “furniture”) is the idea that all human and nonhuman lives, all animate and inanimate objects on our planet (and no doubt beyond) are linked in a complex web of interconnectedness. We are not out of nature when we stand in the streets of Manhattan any more than we are in nature when we stand above tree-line in the Montana Rockies. When nature-lovers say they long to return to nature, they are making what the philosophers call a category mistake. As Tyler Stalling has recently noted, “There is no ‘real nature’ to which to return. Rather, in the face of burgeoning technologies such as nanotechnology and genetic manipulation, the once defined border between nature and culture is obsolete.”

    The time has clearly come to apply urbanature–or some concept like it–-all around us, from the semi-wild edges of the Sahara and the Himalayas to the ecologically–contiguous villages of the European Alps and the Indian subcontinent. Urbanature, as I envision it, also describes the wide suburban sprawls filled with billions upon billions of flowers, trees, squirrels, and raptors, reaching all the way from the Pacific edge of the Americas to the Ural edges of Europe. Our new linking of urban spaces with natural places will likewise need to include captive and semi-captive creatures, from wild animals in zoo cages and pets in high-rise condominiums to plants and animals on sidewalks, roofs, and skyscraper ledges from Bombay to Caracas, from Beijing to Brooklyn.

    We are never fully cut off from wild nature by human culture. This is the central aspect of all true ecology. Nothing we can do can ever take us out of nature. There is nowhere for us to go. We are natural beings from the moment we are biologically born until the moment we organically die. Instead of describing the nonhuman world anthropocentrically—in human terms—we now have many good reasons to describe the whole world ecocentrically [eco-: oikos, house]. Our nonhuman, natural house is the same place as our fully human, cultural home. Our universities need to reflect this balance in their physical spaces and in their land-use planning for the future.

    Urbanature includes the biggest of big pictures: birds on buildings, fish in fishponds, chemists making medicines, mountaineers climbing mountains, every dolphin and domestic dog, every gust of solar wind and every galaxy. To be “natural” originally meant, “to have been born”: natura—“birth” and also “essence,” as in “the nature of the problem.” The human-made is no less natural because it has been shaped, no less born or essential because it has been fashioned by human hands. The bird makes a nest, and her nest is no less natural than the bird herself. Human hands make a house, and the house–or even the skyscraper–is no less natural than the human hands that shaped it. In this regard, it is as important that we give attention to saving our urban spaces as it is that we save the “wild.”

    The Lawn, the University, and the wonderful city that surrounds it, already represent one version of “urbanature.” All of those who care about the future of the University and the countless people if affects, should reflect on the increasing necessity for this balance between urban and natural in the places we care about and in the lives of all those people we care about.

    Ashton Nichols
    John J. Curley ’60 and Ann Conser Curley ’63 Chair in the Liberal Arts
    Professor of Language and Literature
    Department of English
    Dickinson College

  3. Victoria Vosbein McCooey CLAS '82 says:

    Truly inspiring.

  4. Robert E. Kanich Coll '58 says:

    I was always proud of being a graduate of the University. Your excellent treatise gives me substantive basis for this pride and the assurance that the University will continue to flourish and be a guiding light long into the future.

  5. Rich Robins says:

    “In the Rockfish Gap Report Jefferson also wrote of the need to push the frontiers of knowledge, incessantly and endlessly.”

    That quote inspires me to wonder what the University can do to inspire more students to explore this pioneering governmental website:

    It reflects an ongoing new effort to convert more and more government research procurement practices into results-oriented competitive prize offerings which folks at U.VA. could in turn win while also pushing the frontiers of knowledge, as Jefferson wanted us to do

    Will U.Va. create a website at which alumni and aspiring allies (and recruiters) could find U.Va. teams that aspire to compete for the growing quantity of such prizes, and offer their support? Increased alumni donorship rates could help U.Va. boost its rankings in U.S. News & World Report, which checks for such things… And the University’s academic reputation could improve with each achievement, too. Sponsors could become increasingly interested, as could those seeking to license the technology that gets developed. How could this offer anything but a win / win situation for an ambitious university such as U.Va.?

    Part of the beauty of these prizes endeavors is that the teams competing will need more than just an assortment of engineers, chemists, biologists, physicists, astronomers, and programmers from within the university community and its supportive network. They will also need marketing students and anyone else interested in helping to secure sponsorships, procure goods & services, engage in strategic planning or keep the teams functional. Ideally they will also need commercialization pioneers to help license out technologies successfully developed even by unsuccessful contestants which nevertheless come up with potentially marketable breakthroughs of some sort. Meanwhile, liberal arts majors can play a role in interfacing with federal, state and local governments and the media in order to make such prizes more prevalent, adequate and useful. Unprecedented possibilities for interdepartmental collaboration could emerge from such prize pursuits. Such an outcome adheres to the spirit of Mr. Jefferson’s Academical Village. Isn’t it refreshing imagining what all of this could do for our student & faculty recruiting & retention, among other things?

  6. Robin Millay says:

    My husband said that hearing this speech was incredibly moving and important to him. After reading it, I can see why. It is a beautifully tuned piece that meshes the personal, global, historical, and present and future perspectives in a way that celebrates all aspects of human intellectual endeavors everywhere, but especially in the community that is familiar to us, the University of Virginia.

  7. It is truly humbling to see the continued growth and stature of Mr. Jefferson’s university. Congratulations for this speech that so clearly defines the future path.

  8. Rebecca Tversky says:

    This is a beautiful, real and inspiring concept. I agree. The description reminds me of discussions I’ve had regarding meditation. So many of us think we have to have a separate quiet space to reconnect with the flow of the universe, which makes interruptions seem negative and intrusive. That very separation goes contrary to the primary goals of meditation: understanding and unity. When we integrate meditation into our daily routine, we expand the possibilities of understanding. Quiet, alone time in and out of doors is important, but stillness and immobility are not necessary for the mindfulness and gratitude that enable deeper understanding.

    Thank you for sharing this.

  9. Rebecca Tversky says:

    Thank you for articulating so beautifully many of the feelings I have about the University. Character and history can enrich our modern experiences with gratitude and commitment to deeper themes. The inspiration of Mr. Jefferson and other founding fathers brought me to the university and continue to draw me back to the beauty of the place.

  10. James R. Brett, College '62 says:

    Today my father would have been one hundred years of age, and had he lived this long he would have been amazed at the proliferation of knowledge, but he would have been no less amazed at the much slower pace in which wisdom accumulates from it. I, being also an academic, but in History rather than English, understand Dean Woo’s good essay as a message to many constituencies, but particularly in the second half to her faculty in the College.

    The creators of knowledge are one element of the habitus of The College, and sorely vexed they are these lean, sour days, but the students who must simultaneously assimilate this knowledge are the ones who play an important role in determining whether wisdom is fashioned from it. So, it was with some qualms I read that some faculty will be sacrificed as “weak or unnecessary”–and maybe that decision is made not by the dean but by the faculty at large themselves–but based on what has always been the main chopping block of academe: publish or perish. In California I worked in a chopping block environment for a quarter of a century, and I know that there has to be a better way.

    When I was there for four amazing years my sense of the College was that it was, among all the organizations of the University, the single one wherein a freedom of thought existed that transcended the College catalog and the expectations of a Fourth Year as much as a First Year student. I think that this owed to the unusual teaching skills of some of my professors, (and I shall mention Thomas Taylor Hammond as the best example of this). So, to my point, skillful teaching MUST be part of the habitus of The College, and its place in retention, tenure, and promotion deliberations must be honored. Evidence of skillful teaching must be skillfully examined and, as difficult as it is, integrated into the administrative processes of the College.

    The College is the heartland of the University, and yet it is likely the organization most likely to sustain budget hits the effects of which can be devastating in the longer term. The professional schools have a much easier time deciding what can be dispensed with, what can be delayed, what can be augmented and what must be emphasized. Accreditation boards must be listened to, of course, but they need not be slavishly obeyed. But, in the College there is a natural vulnerability that must be taken in to consideration. Yes, Dean Woo, you must look to the faculty you have and go on from there, but also to the faculty you must soon hire, the post-docs you must cultivate, the bright students in whom you want to invest our resources, all of whom must begin to materialize soon. It is for the President and the Dean and her Associates to make the convincing arguments about quality and about intellectual freedom, to connect resources to things about to happen whenever possible.

    James R. Brett, College – History – 1962

  11. This is an interesting and thoughtful reflection. I particularly like the recognition that the best researchers are not necessarily the best teachers. I remember my favorite professor, Julian Bishko, a specialist in medieval Spanish History but a vastly learned and articulate teacher about much else. He only published one article but was widely known and respected in the field of history. He taught me a great deal, as did, of course, other professors, some of them much more widely published.

    Beyond that, allow me only to reflect about “the breathtaking ideals that America represents.” In line with the critical thinking that you rightly espouse, I must say that the United States does not always represent and has not always represented the “breathtaking ideals” laid out in the Declaration of Independence, largely written by Thomas Jefferson. Witness slavery, which he himself practiced, intolerance, lack of generosity, and many other evils so often present in U.S. history and still present today, though present-day slavery is much more hidden than it was before the Civil War.

    Instead of saying what you did, I wish you had written about _The American Promise_, the title of an excellent textbook by multiple authors whose emphasis is explained in its preface: “American history is an unfinished story. For millions, the nation held out the promise of a better life, unfettered worship, representative government, democratic politics, and other freedoms seldom found elsewhere around the world. But none of these promises came with guarantees. And promises fulfilled for some meant promises denied to others. As we see it, much of American history is a continuing struggle over the definition and realization of the nation’s promise. That hope, kept alive by countless sacrifices, has been marred by compromises, disappointments, and denials, but it lives today.”

    The University can help in the further realization of that hope, which still has a long way to go before it is completely fulfilled. We should not rest on our laurels and simply celebrate our real achievements, but as you suggest in part, we should continue to work on the realization of the American promise and that of the University.

    J.D. Hunley
    Retired Historian

  12. Mark Basham says:

    I find your vision to be remarkable and admirable. As a native born Virginian and grauduate of the College who no longer lives in state, I am appalled however by the tremendous lack of vision on the part of the Commonwealth, both in its financial support for higher education in general and for the University in particular, and in its growing attacks on secular reasoning, rational thought, and the open exchange of ideas. I fear for the University as the State uses opportunity after opportunity to weaken and attack It, which a rational human can only regard as perverse, as i truly believe the University to be among the greatest, if not the greatest, asset of the Commonwealth. Best Wishes to you and the faculty and students of the College in the next year.

  13. James Sherlock says:

    I am a 1966 graduate of the College and truly enjoyed your article. After reading it, however, I returned to your statement “The College should welcome all talents—tenure track faculty, researchers, clinicians, artists, designers, professors of practice, alumni with real life experience—all jumping into the heart of knowledge-making.” I believe that this construct unconsciously reflects a view of an academic world that is far too constrained. I respectfully suggest that you consider a class of persons that you have not named here – non-alumni who have achieved greatness in business and government endeavors. Seek especially those pre-disposed to action rather than research and teaching – persons you will have to work hard to convince to join the faculty. They will challenge assumptions and enliven the pursuit of not just knowledge but wisdom. I believe that such persons are vital to the balance you wisely seek.

  14. Fred Paliani, Coll '79, Law '83 says:

    This is an interesting and thought-provoking speech that resonates with me and, to be sure, will do so with many of my fellow University alumni, especially because it recognizes how important physical place and relationships are in making the experience at the University so extraordinary and unique. You never really leave this place after you graduate. Instead, you bring so many of its attributes with you into your professional and personal lives, which also helps to enrich the lives of those around you. It sounds like you have identified the right path for its future which, understandably and necessarily, draws deeply on its rich history and the ideals of its founder. Keep up the good work!

  15. Tom Renda -- College 80; Law 84 says:

    I had two thoughts about this blog:

    One, I really do not think there is much risk at all that the University will “fall behind” other academic institutions.

    Quite the opposite, the University is ideally positioned to prosper going forward in the new era of “austerity.” It is literally number one in terms of value for a (very) prestigious education, and that means a lot these days. The students seem to be happy and engaged (I have a daughter who is a first year) and the faculty, deans and other administrators I have met with recently at reunions and other University events also impress me as upbeat, despite the current economic constraints.

    I know the University needs financial support and I am not questioning the urgency of the need to keep up alumni gifts.

    But look, the unemployment rate is 9.6%, we have state and municipal governments on the verge of bankruptcy (my field, by the way), and the economy is growing so slowly that some perceive we are still in a recession. So let’s not diminish the one real bright spot for those of us who are tied to the University community.

    Two, my sense is that the University is reaching out to alumni in unprecedented ways. I am very grateful for the opportunity to participate in these programs; during college, I was too busy working my way into law school to really learn much. (Besides, it was the mid-seventies. As along as we weren’t rioting, nobody really cared WHAT we did. It’s a treat to go back and actually pay attention to the lectures.)

    I have to believe these alumni out-reach efforts will pay handsome dividends in the immediate future and I hope you keep them up.