AccessUVA Scholarship Honors Jack Blackburn
Friends, colleagues, and admirers have established a scholarship fund in honor of Jack Blackburn, longtime University of Virginia dean of admission, who helped pave the way to a better life for thousands of minority and low-income students.
Mr. Blackburn, who was scheduled to retire in June, died of liver cancer on January 20, 2009. He was 67.
Already, more than 300 donors have contributed more than $1.8 million toward the scholarship.
The John A. Blackburn Endowed Scholarship for AccessUVA will support the financial aid program that enables academically qualified, low- and middle-income students to attend the University. Mr. Blackburn was a driving force behind the establishment of AccessUVA, making the scholarship fund a fitting tribute. As the University’s dean of admission, John T. Casteen III hired Mr. Blackburn as an associate dean in 1979. Mr. Blackburn was appointed dean in 1985.
“For nearly a quarter-century, Jack Blackburn selected the students for each year’s entering class with steadfast wisdom and uncommon integrity,” said Mr. Casteen, now president emeritus of the University. “He was one of the most respected and highly regarded deans of admission in the nation. Within the University, he was a beloved colleague and friend who worked tirelessly to build strength in our student body while ensuring access to education for students everywhere.”
Mr. Blackburn was known for his holistic admissions philosophy—one that viewed each potential student as a multi-faceted individual whose grades and standardized test scores were pieces of a larger puzzle. He looked for the talents and qualities each student would contribute as he built each incoming class of U.Va. students.
Mr. Blackburn believed that a by-the-numbers approach “perpetuated disadvantage and often discrimination,” Mr. Casteen said.
In the late 1990s, affirmative action in college admissions faced persistent challenges. Opponents alleged that efforts to build a diverse student body did not justify turning away qualified white applicants, and they threatened lawsuits against both U.Va. and Mr. Blackburn personally. While fighting to maintain race-conscious admissions policies—a position upheld in 2003 by the U.S. Supreme Court—Mr. Blackburn also initiated or expanded several related programs, including an outreach office to encourage qualified African-American students to apply and enroll.
Out of the affirmative action battle rose another concern: a growing lack of economic diversity at the University. Mr. Blackburn was concerned that the University was perceived as unwelcoming to students from low-income backgrounds.
He worked behind the scenes, calling on the University to bolster its financial aid efforts and to abolish its early-decision admission process, which he felt provided undue advantage to students who could afford to commit to the University without first seeing a financial aid offer. Mr. Blackburn led the University to become, in 2006, the first public university to end its early admissions program.
Mr. Blackburn graduated from Western Maryland College in 1963 with a sociology degree and a U.S. Army ROTC commission as a second lieutenant. At the height of the Vietnam War, he served on the family notification detail at Fort Dix, N.J.
After his discharge, he earned a master’s degree in student personnel management from Indiana University in 1968 and went to work as director of admissions at Mary Baldwin, a women’s college in Staunton, Va.
Mr. Casteen hired Mr. Blackburn as U.Va. sought to bolster the ranks of women in its student body. The number of women increased during his tenure—they currently make up about 56 percent of U.Va. undergraduates. The recruitment and admission of international students likewise grew under his leadership, reaching nearly 12 percent by last fall.
Last October, Mr. Blackburn received the Thomas Jefferson Award, the highest honor the University bestows upon a member of its community.
The John A. Blackburn Endowed Scholarship for AccessUVA fund is still open for gifts. Checks may be written to “U.Va. John A. Blackburn Endowed Scholarship” and sent to:
University of Virginia
Donations also may be made online. Please specify “John A. Blackburn Scholarship” in the Special Instructions box.