Oct. 20-26, 2000
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Tradition, technology mix at Fall Convocation

By Dan Heuchert

Tradition hung warmly in the Indian summer air Oct. 13 as the University celebrated Fall Convocation. The historic Lawn, an academic procession, messages from two secret societies and a remembrance of the many contributions of retiring Senior Vice President Ernest H. Ern lent a retrospective feel to the afternoon ceremony, in which intermediate honors were bestowed upon some 742 third-year students and David T. Gies won the Thomas Jefferson Award (see David Gies honored with Thomas Jefferson Award).

But as falling yellow leaves softly pelted students, faculty and guests, there was also a clarion call to a high-tech future from keynote speaker Anita K. Jones, University Professor and Lawrence R. Quarles Professor of Engineering and Applied Science.

"This is an era in which technology, science and engineering, have come to the fore," said Jones, who chairs the Virginia 2020 Commission on Science and Technology. The commission recently released its final report, calling for up to $800 million in new investments in science and technology by 2020.

The work being done at universities nationwide is pushing the technology boom, she said, but U.Va. has lagged in those areas. "It is appropriate and necessary to raise science and engineering at the University to be on a par with the humanities," she said, later declaring, "Today, a person is not considered educated unless they are literate in science and technology."

To illustrate her point, she referred to several recent local and national news stories, all of which posed scientific or technological questions: possible water contamination at the Ivy Landfill, remote traffic surveillance at intersections, credit-card privacy on the Internet, and a couple's genetic selection of a baby to provide future stem-cell transplants for an ailing older sibling.

"I think this is ample documentation that citizens of this country or any other -- particularly our students -- must have enough technical literacy to make these decisions, she said.

Strengthening the University's science and technology across the board would be prohibitively expensive, Jones said, so her commission identified several priorities in areas of existing strength: information technology, quantum and nanoscale science and engineering, and biodifferentiation.

"These are areas in which our classic disciplines are poised to explode," she said. "We have critical mass in those areas."

The University "is at a cusp of time," she said. It has the capability of becoming a leader in these fields, given ample resources. But failure to invest wisely, she said, could be disastrous.

"Without strengthening, I believe this University will become inadequate or second-rate in the future," she warned.

University President John T. Casteen III departed from the program to pay tribute to Ern, who was attending his final University-wide ceremony before his scheduled retirement in December -- "A retirement," Casteen said, "that is hard for many of us to comprehend. Like the Lawn and the pavilions and the Rotunda, we thought he would be here forever."

In his more than 30 years at the University, Ernie Ern "touched in some way every significant initiative that has occurred here," Casteen said. He helped plan for the admission of women to the College of Arts and Sciences in 1970, and establish the Office of Minority Affairs in 1976. He was a member of the committee that implemented recommendations of the Corrigan Report on academics and athletics in 1978 and 1979, and made the decision to end Easters Weekend in 1982. He helped kick off the Campaign for the University in 1995, and has served on several important search committees. More recently, he was a member of the Board of Visitors' special committee that examined affirmative action in admissions last year.

Ern received an extended standing ovation.




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