Nov. 2-8, 2001
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Ayers: Why the university endures
Sabato receives Jefferson Award at Convocation

Edward Ayers and John T. Casteen III
Trisha Morrow
U.Va. President John T. Casteen III (right) and Arts & Sciences Dean Edward L. Ayers spoke at the Fall Convocation last Friday.

By Staff Report

Larry J. Sabato, the Robert Kent Gooch Professor of Government and Foreign Affairs at the University and one of its best-known teachers and scholars, received U.Va.’s highest honor, the Thomas Jefferson Award, at Fall Convocation ceremonies Oct. 26.

Convocation, which marked the beginning of Family Weekend, also featured Edward L. Ayers, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, who gave the keynote address, and the conferring of intermediate honors on third-year students.

The Thomas Jefferson Award honors a member of the University community who exemplifies in character, work and influences the ideals of U.Va.’s founder.

“Without his tremendous energy and passionate public-mindedness, the quality of research and teaching at the University, and of political understanding across the state and nation, would be poorer,” said President John T. Casteen III, reading from Sabato’s award citation.

“His contributions to students, to his profession as a prolific and distinguished scholar … and to the public as an incisive and eminently sane political analyst — all of these activities have made him indispensable.” He was also honored for his quiet, behind-the-scenes efforts to help people.

After the ceremony, Sabato said he was “thrilled and grateful” to receive such a “beautiful surprise.” While the recipient is not supposed to know about the honor until his or her name is announced, Sabato said he had an inkling of what was happening.

“My mother doesn’t usually pop up on a weekday morning from Norfolk,” he said.
Sabato has spent most of his adult life at U.Va. He majored in government and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University in 1974 and became a Rhodes Scholar, receiving his doctorate in politics from Oxford University. He taught there before returning to U.Va. in 1978 to join the government faculty. Recently, he established the Center for Governmental Studies and has also reached out to Virginia’s middle and high school students through the center’s Youth Leadership Initiative.

Trisha Morrow

He is the author of many widely discussed books on national politics, including Feeding Frenzy: How Attack Journalism Has Transformed American Politics. He publishes a definitive annual series, Virginia Votes, analyzing all statewide elections in detail. He has also served on many national and state commissions, including the National Commission for the Renewal of American Democracy and the U.S. Senate Campaign Finance Reform Panel. In 1993 received the Outstanding Professor Award from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.

Sabato is so frequently quoted about politics in national news media that “he seems to be everywhere. We may even take him for granted, like the air we breathe,” Casteen said in presenting the award. But in all that Sabato does, Casteen added, “he has illuminated issues that are at the heart of our ever-changing democratic process.”

Sabato, 49, said this award would not change his life. “I have a young staff and they are good at sticking pins in my head when it gets too swelled,” he said with a laugh.

Ed Ayers, speaking at his first convocation since becoming dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, talked about the university as the most “real” place in the world.
“Isn’t it real to talk about the big questions, the things usually swept under the rug, the things that matter and endure for generation after generation?” he asked.
He said the modern university, developed 900 years ago, has become one of the most adaptable and enduring institutions anywhere.

“People in one culture after another have adopted the university and made it their own. In fact, rather than a fragile ivory tower, the university may be the single most successful, adaptable and useful institution ever devised over the last thousand years,” he said.

Universities last, he said, because they embody curiosity, civility, tenacity, patience and memory. They are also places where people think beyond the obvious and standard, working out difficult questions with passion.

“The privilege of teaching college students demands that we work hard to stay ahead of — and often catch up with — the smart and energetic people who come to us looking for the right questions, if not always the full answers,” he said.

Following his address, 644 intermediate honors were presented to third-year students with a cumulative grade point average of 3.4 or better at the end of their first two years.


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