Dec.8, 2000-
Jan. 11, 2001
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Arts & Sciences gets $20 million gift
Ernie Ern to bow out with the year 2000
After Hours - Off U.Va.'s clock, surgeon operates as sculptor

Not just small talk about the weather

Religious Studies has multiplied like loaves and fishes at U.Va.
Fogarty part of Vatican's study of pope's role in WWII
Ochs urges Jews to take a fresh look at Christianity
In Memoriam
President's Report now available
Hot Links - "Censored: Wielding the Red Pen"
President John T. Casteen III's Holiday Open House
Notable - awards and achievements of faculty and staff
Lemons' legacy: Wise leader with a personal touch
West's quest: cultural continuance of Native American peoples

Arts & Sciences gets $20 million gift

Bill Sublette
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.

Staff Report

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.

Their 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.

The 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."

In 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.

"Much 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."

The $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 and practices.

"As 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.

Politics 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," Hunter said.

The 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.

"The 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."

Frank 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.


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