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Dynamic Synergy

Teaching and Research at the University of Virginia

"Our intention is that professors shall be of the first order in their respective lines which can be procured on either side of the Atlantic"

-- Thomas Jefferson
on his vision of the
University of Virginia
October 29, 1822


During the academic year 1999-2000, the Faculty Senate of the University of Virginia, chaired by David T. Gies, focused on the relationship between classroom teaching and scholarly research. After considerable study, comment, revision, and discussion, the Senate has produced this short document which we hope will underscore not only our commitment to high-quality teaching and research, but also to the undeniable connections between the two which enrich our lives and those of our students.


Effective Teaching has several important objectives. Among the most vital are:

Enabling students to attain a deep and comprehensive understanding of the subjects they are studying.

Helping students learn how to break down and solve intellectual problems in a variety of disciplines.

Developing within these students a keen analytical capacity, and the ability to articulate their insights with clarity, precision, and conviction.

Kindling a life-long love of learning and inquiry.

Preparing students for careers and contributions to society.


Research stimulates intellectual activity and produces new knowledge for the future. Competition among universities for innovation and research funds is fierce, and it is essential for a first-rank university to maintain the focus and discipline necessary for meeting the challenges of a new century. More than half of all the nation's basic research is conducted at America's research universities. Research leads to:

Sustaining economic development and global technological leadership.

Educating a knowledge-based work force.

Ensuring continued medical breakthroughs and improving public health.

Maintaining national security.

Keeping young minds alive to new ideas.


Active research keeps the learning process current and alive.

Students who work in classrooms or laboratories with instructors engaged in scholarly research are not merely passive recipients of "yesterday's wisdom." They encounter the latest thinking on the subjects they are studying. This is particularly important in our fast-changing world when intellectual breakthroughs on all fronts are occurring with increasing speed. Students at the University of Virginia have the opportunity to learn directly from those who are at the forefront of new scholarly revelations.

Instructors conducting active research programs communicate the excitement and passion of scholarly discovery.

As Carlos M. N. Eire, a recipient of the Board of Trustees Teaching Award in 1990, puts it: "Nothing can quicken the pulse of a class more effectively than an anecdote or conclusion drawn from the teacher's original research." Many instructors report that the best teaching takes place when they themselves are grappling with a new insight, a new text, or a recent scientific breakthrough.

Instructors engaged in research can more readily convey to their students the structures and processes of scholarly inquiry itself.

When teachers describe a problem they have confronted in their research, and outline the ways in which they approach the solution to that problem, students gain a personal glimpse of the scientific method at work.

Teachers engaged in research find themselves stimulated by student responses to their work, and the result is often an original, collaborative project involving student and teacher together.

Students in biomedical engineering regularly work with clinical and teaching faculty at the Medical School and the School of Nursing. Together they design, develop, and test new medical devices and techniques. Faculty members conduct research with students in order to translate advances in patient care directly into the clinical setting.


The University of Virginia has many of the best research scholars in the world on its faculty. Increasingly, this faculty is finding ways in which the classroom itself becomes a kind of dynamic research laboratory, and the student assumes an active role in the creation of new knowledge.

A representative example is History of the US 403: Digital History and the American Civil War, a course co-taught by Professor Edward L. Ayers, the Hugh P. Kelly Professor of History, and William G. Thomas, the Director of the Virginia Center for Digital History. Students in this course investigate the possibilities of writing a digital history of the American Civil War. They conduct all the research in the experience of a wide range of people Northern and Southern, black and white, male and female, soldier and civilian in the American Civil War. They build large Web sites, oversee and execute all the design issues, and work with technical staff as well as with their professors. The goal of the class is to create history using the new medium of digital technology which would nevertheless meet traditional expectations of scholarly excellence and integrity. Student response has been extremely positive; as one student wrote: "HIUS 403 was the best academic experience I have had at the University. Not only was I encouraged to explore a topic that I was interested in, but every minute challenged me to think about history in a new way."

Similarly, when asked about his participation in an undergraduate research project with- in quantum mechanics, UVA alumnus Francis Collins, the head of the Human Genome Project and a major figure in genetics research, replied that his "most intense experience" as an undergraduate was with that research.

To attend a top research university and to share a classroom or laboratory with some of the finest scholars in America sparks a fire of enthusiasm which cannot be replicated elsewhere. Stephanie Lynn Taylor, a recipient of one of the Faculty Senate Undergraduate Research Awards, evoked the moment when learning becomes living scholarship as she described her research on an eighteenth-century French scientist: "I wish I had the academic terminology for that click, that flaring moment when my interest became forever ignited, when, as they say, I encountered my biographical subject....But I don't think there is a vocabulary for that moment."

These are the kinds of moments that the faculty of the University of Virginia seeks to inspire in students. Having felt that "flaring moment" in their own programs of scholarly research, hey bring their passion and enthusiasm for intellectual inquiry into the classroom, and they encourage students to embark upon their own personal voyage of exploration and discovery. Outstanding scholars not only teach their students at UVa the most important new things but it is their work which is taught to students around the world.

Prepared by
The Faculty Senate
University of Virginia


© Copyright 2000 by the Rector and Visitors
of the University of Virginia

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