& Sciences gets $20 million gift
U.Va. will benefit from the generous gift of Frank (center)
and Wynnette (right) Levinson. The Levinsons recently met
in the home of Arts & Sciences Dean Mel Leffler (second
from left) with James Hunter (left), who is working on the
new Center for Religion and Democracy, and Robert Rood (second
from right), who chairs the astronomy department.
Frank and Wynnette Levinson of Palo
Alto, Calif., have committed $20 million to the University to
be divided evenly between the department
of astronomy and a new interdisciplinary center that will
study religion and democracy.
multifaceted gift is one of the top five in U.Va. history and
the largest ever from a former graduate student. Levinson received
his master's degree in astronomy from U.Va. in 1978 and his doctorate
in 1980. Wynnette Levinson worked in the archives at Alderman
Library during their years in Charlottesville.
Levinsons' choice to direct their philanthropy to such distinctly
different initiatives is uncommon among University donors, but
emblematic of the Levinsons' wide-ranging interests. They rank
among a new generation of philanthropists who are helping shape
the strategic objectives of the programs they support, according
to Melvyn P. Leffler, dean of the College
and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. "We are immensely
grateful for the generosity of their gift," he said, "and
we are also deeply indebted to them for their expertise and insight
into how the gift should be utilized to maximize its impact."
recent months, the Levinsons have worked with University leaders
to ensure that their gift would help U.Va. fund academic research,
acquire vital equipment, hire professors, pay graduate student
researchers, and disseminate research findings beyond the University.
The $10 million in operating funds for astronomy will enable the
department to pursue two main objectives -- to join a partnership
in a large optical telescope project, and to create a leading
team of telescope instrumentation designers. The department will
need to raise an additional $6 million to $8 million to meet all
of its goals.
"This generous gift is the cornerstone of our future as a leading
astronomy department," said Robert T. Rood, chair of the department,
which presently is ranked among the top 20 astronomy programs
in the nation.
of our reputation is due to a very strong group of theoretical
astrophysicists," Rood said. "However, our observers are at a
disadvantage compared to those at more highly ranked institutions
where most have guaranteed access to state-of-the-art telescopes,
which increasingly are available only to closed groups. We only
have guaranteed access to our small local telescopes, and otherwise
must compete for time on national facilities.
"Joining as a research partner with other institutions on a major
eight-meter or larger optical telescope project is a paramount
objective," Rood said. "We can no longer get by with chancy allocations
of publicly available observing time. We need to join in as a
shareholder in a major project in order to secure the guaranteed
research access needed to further improve our status as a department."
$10 million to launch the Center for Religion and Democracy includes
a mixture of operating and endowment funds to help start its research
and outreach programs, to endow a professorship and other positions
and to give long-term support to its programmatic activities and
public outreach initiatives. Undergraduates, graduate students
and faculty from numerous disciplines will examine the dynamic
role religion plays in the formation of democratic ideals, institutions
Thomas Jefferson observed, democracy must be renewed in every
generation and within the circumstances in which each new generation
finds itself. It is essential for our generation to come to terms
with the changing realities that both sustain democratic life
and threaten to destabilize it," said James Davison Hunter, the
William R. Kenan Professor of Sociology and Religious Studies
and chair of the sociology department.
alone cannot provide what democratic vitality requires, Hunter
said. "Democratic vitality depends upon its ability to sustain
coherent and binding moral understandings -- a common vision for
a common good.
"The center has great potential for galvanizing interdisciplinary
interest across Grounds and for serving the broader public good,"
center's researchers will explore how such common ideals are generated
through two-year cycles of study organized in themes. The first
research cycle, spanning 2002-2004, will explore religion, pluralism
and public discourse. In addition, the center will hold semi-annual
forums for its post-doctoral fellows, sponsor an annual fall lecture
that brings a distinguished scholar to U.Va., and at the end of
each cycle, host an academic conference likely to attract leading
scholars as well as civic and religious leaders.
Levinsons' creativity in structuring their gift set a new standard
of commitment from those who have received their advanced degrees
from the University," said President John T. Casteen III. "Their
thoughtful analysis of present and future needs ties in closely
with important work already begun by Virginia 2020."
Levinson is chair and chief technical officer of Finisar Corporation,
a fiber optic communication systems company that he founded in
1988. Wynnette Levinson is chair of the Celerity Foundation, a
non-profit family foundation administered by the Peninsula Community
Foundation in San Mateo, Calif.