Nov. 21-Dec. 4, 2003
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Edward Ayers, National Professor of the Year
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Children’s fitness clinic opens at U.Va.
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Edward Ayers, National Professor of the Year
Cited for his passion and commitment to teaching history
Ed Ayers
Photo by Andrew Shurtleff

By Robert Brickhouse

Edward L. Ayers, dean of the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, has been admired for his teaching, scholarship and public service for so long that it should come as no surprise that he has been chosen as the 2003 national Professor of the Year at doctoral and research universities. The annual award for dedication to undergraduate education was given Nov. 13 by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) in Washington.

One of the country’s foremost Southern history scholars, Ayers has continued his teaching and advising of undergraduate and graduate students and his outreach in history
education nationwide while serving as the top administrator of U.Va.’s liberal arts core. He and honorees in three non-doctoral college categories were selected from among 400 distinguished professors nominated around the country.

“As an educator, mentor and advisor, Professor Ayers has had a lasting impact on both the University of Virginia and on his discipline,” said Vance T. Peterson, president of CASE.

“Students seek him out for his wise counsel and guidance because of the extraordinary commitment he brings to everything he does.”

In addition to being an exemplary teacher and award-winning author, Ayers has been a national advocate for exploring the potential of computer technology to enhance scholarship and teaching. He previously received the Outstanding Faculty Award from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia and currently serves as a presidential appointee to the National Council for the Humanities and on the executive board of the National Council for History Education.
“His infectious passion for learning invigorates every encounter with students, whether in a class of 400, a seminar of 10, or an individual conference,” said Vice President and Provost Gene D. Block, who nominated Ayers for the award.

Among the first wave of scholars to tap the power of emerging technologies for learning, Ayers created and directs an authoritative Internet archive, “Valley of the Shadow: Two Communities in the American Civil War,” that has won numerous major awards for its contributions to education. It is used in classrooms at all levels throughout the country and makes available thousands of original sources for students and scholars to conduct their own research and draw their own conclusions about history.

A finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award for his 1992 book “The Promise of the New South,” he has also recently published a groundbreaking new book about the coming of the Civil War, “In the Presence of Mine Enemies.”

Block noted that Ayers’ passion for teaching carries beyond his own work to close collaborations with his graduate students, as they prepare for teaching careers, and to long involvement with the University’s Center for the Liberal Arts in mentoring K-12 classroom teachers around the state and country.

While teaching, serving as dean, writing books and fund raising for educational projects, Ayers holds regular undergraduate office hours each week and encourages his students to visit him. He requires students at all levels to conduct their own original research into what he has called “the messy complexity of the past” in order to gain a deeper understanding.

“He regards classroom walls as the most arbitrary of boundaries and never stops instructing or inspiring those around him,” said Charles F. Irons, who received his B.A. and Ph.D. in history at U.Va. and was one of several colleagues and former students who sent the awards committee letters testifying to Ayers’ effects on their personal lives. “In every circumstance, he spreads his boundless enthusiasm and helps his listeners to imagine a better tomorrow.”

“He is so much a part of the University — and what is right about it — that it is difficult to extricate him from it,” wrote Lee J. Hark, a doctoral student in education. “He occupies an almost mythic status in the minds of students. I found the process of studying with him quite unsettling, which, it seems, is exactly what he wants.”

Ayers confirms that notion. “Unless we come to terms with the hardest parts of this nation’s history, we cannot see it clearly,” he wrote in a statement about teaching. “And unless we see our nation clearly, we cannot know how best to live within it. Coming to terms with the past demands that students confront its problems for themselves.”

Ayers received his doctorate in American Studies from Yale in 1980 and joined the U.Va. faculty that year. He has been dean of the College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences since 2001.

The U.S. Professor of the Year awards, created in 1981, are the only national honors for excellent undergraduate teaching and mentoring.
The other national winners included Outstanding Master’s University and College Professor Patty Hale, a professor of nursing from Lynchburg College and an alumna of the U.Va School of Nursing.

The national winners and winners of state Professor of the Year awards were honored at a luncheon at the National Press Club.



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