builds on founders model
Dean plans to invigorate College Grounds, student
By Matt Kelly
L. AYERS, Hugh P. Kelly Professor of History, has spent his entire
professional career at U.Va., starting here in 1980 fresh from
earning a Ph.D. in American Studies from Yale. He recently accepted
the mantle of the dean of the College
and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences at a time of expansion
and change at the University. Ayers, a nationally known and respected
historian, moves in the past and the future simultaneously, placing
the Civil War on the World Wide Web with his Valley of the Shadow
electronic archive and narrative of the years before, during and
after the war.
spoke of the changes facing Arts & Sciences in a recent interview
in his office at New Cabell Hall, which is slated to be torn down
and replaced with a more modern building incorporating the latest
technology and adaptable for future upgrades.
What is the importance of the South Lawn project, with its renovations
to Cocke and Rouss halls and the new New Cabell Hall and B-1 building?
This new South Lawn project is the clearest chance weve
had since Stanford White finished these buildings 100 years ago
to remake the Central Grounds and the central buildings in which
the College of Arts & Sciences conducts most of its business.
We have 6,000 students a day coming through New Cabell Hall. Cocke
and Rouss have not been repaired in a long time and we have a
150,000-square- foot space shortage, according to SCHEV.
teaching spaces of New Cabell Hall simply arent adequate.
The classrooms here are un-air-conditioned, barely heated in the
winter, not configured properly for active discussion. There are
no public spaces for people to gather, no places for faculty and
the students to get together outside of the office or the classroom.
The present space is not worthy of our aspirations.
folded the Digital Academical Village into these new buildings
to use new technologies to make teaching and learning better.
Were going to weave that innovation into the entire educational
process of Arts & Sciences.
South Lawn project allows us to re-imagine the humanities, social
sciences, the sciences and arts at U.Va. Its an almost unprecedented
possibility to rethink what the liberal arts are for the next
century. Jefferson believed in an interconnection and unity of
knowledge that the original Lawn embodies, in which a student
would understand philosophy and music and science and languages.
Were trying to recreate that with the new South Lawn project.
be two major emphases in the new buildings. One will be international
learning, bringing together all our language departments, government,
religious studies, and perhaps others, to focus on areas of the
world beyond the borders of the United States. That will probably
be where New Cabell is. The other emphasis will be devoted to
science, technology and society. Our sciences will have some of
the teaching spaces, but well also have programs that focus
on biomedical ethics, philosophy, and media studies that are about
the interrelationship between these new technologies and society.
other thing that I picture is that both buildings are going to
have easily recon-figurable digital space in which we can update
technologies as they change. People will have access to video
conferencing with colleagues and students abroad. We can take
advantage of new technologies through every department.
What is the role of technology in learning?
My goal is for technology to become transparent. The technology
is not the purpose of learning, but merely a tool toward learning,
and every discipline can use that.
What do you see as the future of higher education? How is higher
education to prepare students for this allegedly different world?
Jefferson, from the very beginning, brought in leading professors
from Europe to internationalize the University and make it cosmopolitan
and ambitious in its reach. Thats what we want to do with
the university in the 21st century. I want us to be a global university
where we are very firmly of this place, a University of Virginia
that would not exist anywhere else, but that is dedicated to the
universal ideals that Jefferson had in mind. If we stay true to
those original ideas, well be one of the most innovative
said he wanted to create the most broad, modern and liberal university
in existence. Thats still what I have in mind here.
What are students getting here that they cant get anyplace
We combine an intimate undergraduate experience with the advantages
of being at a research university. Our competitors are all much
larger and are not able to create the same rich experience that
our undergraduates repeatedly say is the best thing about being
at U.Va. It is also that concrete physical place embodied in the
original vision of the University that lies at the heart of the
a fragile mix, and Im afraid we could lose what makes us
special if we arent vigilant. Thats one reason I talk
so much about the quality of the undergraduate experience. Its
the main thing I want to focus on.
What is your commitment to the Arts Grounds?
My vision is that were going to embrace the Central Grounds
at both ends, with the arts precinct on the northern side and
these new buildings on the southern end. When you put the two
together, were going to have a revitalized College of Arts
How do you see the arts integrated with the rest of the package
that youre offering students?
Increasingly, students who come to U.Va. are looking for as full
an educational experience as they can get, and clearly the arts
are a major component of that. We know that there are far more
people who want to take classes in digital art or in new forms
of music than there are spaces for them. If you can move forward
in your own [field] but also have an appreciation for art, music,
drama and dance, then youve really gotten the full benefit
of a liberal arts education.
new spaces include more than classrooms and offices. Im
hoping there are going to be places for the collective life of
envisioning performance spaces, and places
to eat, workshops and studios.
What are your plans to address the problems of some departments
being taxed by undergraduate teaching loads?
The very first thing I asked for when I took this position were
new junior faculty lines for those departments that are especially
stressed by student demand, and I received four tenure-track positions.
Some departments had very compelling statistical rationales showing
how many more people try to get into their classes and how rapidly
their majors have grown in recent years.
How are spouse placement and balancing office space being handled?
We have remarkably good success in attracting the best junior
faculty in the country. Were a remarkably attractive place
to begin your career and to continue it. Its a buyers
market right now and the quality of the people were able
to bring in is just breathtaking. Were actually quite successful
in that. We do find impediments [but by 2005 we should have remedied]
the substandard teaching [and office] space.
the last thing that needs to be remedied is the tough spousal
hiring situation that we have. Weve talked to colleagues
around the country. It turns out that this is a problem everywhere.
of the things that were working is to create a more coordinated
effort to locate jobs, not only within the University but at other
universities and in businesses in Charlottesville and beyond.
are delighted to be a part of the University. One thing I would
say in fact is that we talk so much about all the challenges that
we face is that we forget that in the eyes of American higher
education, this is really one of the plum jobs and one of the
great places to come. UVA and Charlottesville are extraordinarily
attractive and we want to keep it that way.
a wonderful place to raise a family. Were a less wonderful
place I think to come if youre single, or if your partner
is far away. But, these are systematic problems of lots of places
and Id just say, of the list of things I worry about, landing
a large proportion of the people to whom we offer jobs is not
one of them. Ive seen the best universities in America have
a difficult time hiring at the senior level.
history of Ed Ayers
EDUCATION: University of Tennessee, B.A. American
Studies, summa cum laude; Yale University, M.A. American
Studies; Yale University, Ph.D. American Studies.
HOBBIES: Basketball, studying
CURRENTLY READING: Frank Rhodes, Creation of the Future:
The Present State of the University.
FAMILY: Wife, Abby; son, Nate,
20; daughter, Hannah, 15.
AWARDS: Member, American Academy
of Arts and Sciences; E-Lincoln Prize for best digital project
on the era of the American Civil War; member, Society of
American Historians; Frank L. and Harriet C. Owsley Award
for best book on Southern History; James Rawley Prize for
best book on the history of race relations in the U.S.;
National Book Award, finalist for nonfiction; Pulitzer Prize,
finalist for history; David A. Harrison III Award for Distinguished
Service to U.Va.; Teacher of the Year, Phi Eta Sigma; State
Council of Higher Education for Virginia Outstanding Faculty
PUBLICATIONS: The Valley of
the Shadow: Two Communities in the American Civil War
the Eve of the War; American Passages: A History of the
United States; The Oxford Book of the American South: Testimony,
Memory and Fiction; All Over the Map: Rethinking American
Regions; Promise of the New South: Life After Reconstruction;
The Edge of the South: Life in 19th Century Virginia; Vengeance
and Justice: Crime and Punishment in the 19th Century American
South. Edge of the South: Life in 19th Century Virginia;
Vengeance and Justice: Crime and Punishment in the 19th
Century American South.
What is it that makes this place so special for you and why have
you decided to stay?
Im a historian of the American South, and we have one of
the premier collections in the world in our library devoted to
the American South. I draw sustenance every day from living in
the same landscape that I spend so much of my imaginative time
I thought of leaving in earlier years, it struck me that itd
be a wonderful opportunity to stay and see if I couldnt
help U.Va. wrestle with some of the complexities and tragedies
of the past. Im generally a very cheerful person, but for
my living I think about a lot of the worst things in American
history slavery, origins of segregation, war and
I think to live in the place where those things transpired helps
me focus my energies.
Why have you decided to continue teaching while being a dean?
Im delighted to be dean, but Im still a professor
and do not cease to think of myself as a teacher and scholar.
It never really occurred to me to give up teaching.
are devoted to two things: teaching and scholarship. The deans
job is to make it possible for those to flourish and I can best
help if Im practicing them myself.
still have all my graduate advisees who Im trying to see
through to doctorates and into the job market and into publication.
Thats one of the great pleasures of my career and Im
not tempted to give up a bit of it.
What most limits the Colleges ability to reach its aspirations
and how do you plan to move beyond that?
Two simple but fundamental things: space and funding.
for space. Its what I call the cinderblock ceiling. One
of the things that I said made U.Va. special is its scale. We
are a place where people know each other. But that places a limiting
effect on some of our departments.
one of the things that makes us strong is one of the things that
places limits on our aspirations. We need to try to find ways
to grow some of our departments, especially in science, even as
we maintain the intimacy of our undergraduate education.
recent hiring freeze has driven home how fragile our funding in
the College is. Clearly, if we want to move beyond our current
status, we increasingly must rely on private gifts. My job is
to help define the goals so that those gifts may come to us.
The only limit to our aspirations is the amount of resources that
we have to put toward them. Its clear if you look at any
numerical ranking, that this is a great university of over-achievers,
that what we do with the amount of resources we have is remarkable.
struck by how many superb graduate students still choose to come
to U.Va. because of the quality of the graduate experience we
offer, but I would like to treat them better by offering graduate
fellowship support commensurate with their abilities. Were
at a tremendous disadvantage as we compete for the best graduate
students. Thats one of the things Im going to be working
on very hard.
Do you think that the undergraduate experience has changed a lot
since you began teaching?
Yes. I came here in 1980 when the student body was not nearly
as diverse as it is now. The ethnic and national diversity of
our student body is now remarkable. One of my goals is to help
create a faculty as diverse as our student body.
makes the undergraduate experience so remarkable here is the degree
of involvement both within and beyond the classroom. At the same
time, those same students whore working so hard somehow
find time to volunteer so much with Madison House and to participate
in so many extracurricular activities.
been, I think, the great accomplishment is even as weve
been able to make our student body more inclusive by gender and
ethnicity, the same things that the alumni loved about the University
in 1960 still flourish. Its that sense of community. That
community may be more complex now, because people belong to several
different kinds of organizations, some of which are specific to
their own identities and some of which transcend those identities
for a larger common purpose, and so I think that we have been
able, through some alchemy, to maintain what was best about the
University in the past even as were able to reinvent it
for the present and the future. That sounds like an advertising
brochure, I know, but I really believe all this. I do.