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 »
At an academic panel in Atlanta on the morning of the Virginia-Auburn bowl game, an alumnus posed a question that has been posed many times, and with increasing frequency: Given all the national emphasis on the STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), what did I think was the prospect for the liberal arts at the University of Virginia? Read the rest of this entry »
When the student organizers of the Second-Year Council Dinner Series extended their gracious invitation to me to speak, I asked about the topic. I was surprised that they wanted to hear about me. Suddenly I had a chance at Andy Warhol’s dream of fifteen minutes of fame. After a moment of more serious reflection, I realized that the request was a fair one: as their teacher and dean, I ought to be an open book for them to read, one in which they might see a future that means something to them. Read the rest of this entry »
The magic of youth can transform a nightmare into a memory. Over the past weekend, the students and the University commemorated the ten-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks with a dizzying array of events—speeches, conferences, exhibits, interfaith dialogues, flag runs, and candlelight vigils. Ubiquitous on the Grounds were students wearing yellow ribbons: we remember 9/11. Read the rest of this entry »
In remarks this week to the College’s Class of 2015 and their parents, I spoke about the complex and venerable concept of common sense and its vital place in higher education.
George Santayana, one of America’s greatest philosophers, was also one of its finest cultural observers. In an essay that discusses materialism and idealism in American life, he describes an encounter with the president of Harvard, where he had long been on the faculty. As they walked together, the president asked Santayana how his classes were going. Santayana said fine—the students are intelligent and keen. The president stopped, turned to Santayana, and said, “I meant, how many students are in your classes.” Read the rest of this entry »
This week, I spoke to an orientation meeting of Arts & Sciences department chairs and program directors. Plucked from the faculty ranks, they are creatively taking on the immense and complex challenges of the College while helping to redefine what it means to be an academic leader in the twenty-first century.
The orientation for department chairs and program directors is the last event of the summer, and the first event of the academic year, the cockcrow heralding a new day, a new season, a new year. So at this time I always find myself excited, and full of hope. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
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 snow began falling on the Lawn in the hours before dawn of Sunday, March 27. The voices of the students, strolling in twos and threes down the arcades, drifted up to my bedroom in the pavilion and then they grew faint. The snow fell all morning over the Grounds and through the afternoon. It fell silently on the trees that had been planted when the University was founded and in the years that have followed. I watched the snowflakes drifting through the branches of trees already in bloom—cherries, plums, Bradford pears, and star magnolias—and those about to flower. I saw it falling on the daffodils, hyacinths, periwinkles, and Virginia bluebells, and all the brilliant forsythias. When the snow finally stopped, the day suddenly turned dark and cold, with a wind that bites hard into the flesh and into the bone. I remember hearing that with a cold snap like this, flowers may not produce fruit. I was vaguely troubled by what might happen to the white flowering quinces and apricots in the back, whether they might have been damaged. That night, Thomas West Gilliam IV, fondly referred to as “Tommy Four” by family and friends, scaled the roof of the Physics Building with friends. They wanted to take in the night view of the Grounds. Slipping on ice, Tommy fell forty feet to the ground. Read the rest of this entry »
Last week I made a visit to Semester at Sea, a shipboard program which the University of Virginia sponsors. It is essentially a floating university that circumnavigates the globe, offering an experience akin to a string of study abroad programs. Nineteen students and four faculty from the University of Virginia are participating this semester, on a voyage that so far has taken them to the Bahamas, Dominica, the Brazilian Amazon, and Ghana; as I write, the ship should be hewing close to the west coast of Africa on its way down to Cape Town. Read the rest of this entry »