Leadership in Higher Education

Top Faculty

The high rankings achieved this year, while gratifying, provide an imprecise image of the vitality of the academic programs. We are fortunate to have a faculty committed both to research and to teaching of the highest quality. The achievements of history professor Paul M. Gaston demonstrate that this tradition remains as strong as ever at the University of Virginia. Known for his inspiring teaching for more than three decades, Gaston was one of eleven professors throughout the state to receive a 1994 Outstanding Faculty Award from the State Council of Higher Education. His latest book, a study of an Alabama utopian community founded by his grandfather, was published this year.

Other faculty were also singled out for national and statewide recognition. Among them was Melvyn P. Leffler, professor and chair of the history department, who received the Bancroft Prize - awarded annually by Columbia University to recognize books of exceptional merit in American history, biography, and diplomacy - for his latest book, A Preponderance of Power: National Security, the Truman Administration, and the Cold War. Anita K. Jones, professor of computer science, and Doris Kulhmann-Wilsdorf, University Professor of Applied Science, were selected as members of the National Academy of Engineering. Jones is currently on leave while serving as the director of defense research and engineering for the Department of Defense. Jean Sorrells-Jones, chief nursing executive, was named a Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing.

In addition, four of our professors - a remarkable number in a single year - were made Fellows of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences this year: Jerome J. McGann, the John Stewart Bryan Professor of English; Patricia M. Spacks, the Edgar F. Shannon Professor and chair of the English Department; E. Mavis Hetherington, the James M. Page Professor of Psychology; and G. Edward White, the John B. Minor Professor of Law. Hetherington was also named a William James Fellow by the American Psychological Association, and Spacks assumed the presidency of the Modern Language Association.

University president John T. Casteen, III, was named the year's Outstanding Virginian. The award, established by the General Assembly, pays tribute to a citizen of Virginia who, by his or her dedication and outstanding leadership, has made a distinguished and significant contribution to the Commonwealth. Casteen joins a select company that includes two former governors and two U.S. senators.

A Research Agenda of National Importance

Accolades like these are awarded only to members of the academic community who have made substantial contributions to their fields. These contributions require talent, intellectual rigor, and enthusiasm, often resulting in discoveries that bear directly on the well-being of the citizens of the Commonwealth and of the country as a whole.

One such noteworthy project under way at the University is the high-speed civil transport, a supersonic passenger plane with a range of 5,000 to 6,000 miles. With civilian aircraft now the nation's single largest export, the future of our economy rests to a large measure on our ability to produce the next-generation passenger plane. Crucial research for this plane - the development of an aluminum alloy for the airframe - is being conducted in laboratories in the School of Engineering and Applied Science. The University of Virginia is considered the leading center for aluminum alloy research in the nation.

Finding a more effective, nonnarcotic pain killer is a national priority in health care. In 1992 research scientists at the National Institutes of Health isolated a compound, epibatidine, from the skin of a rare South American tree frog. This proved to be two hundred times as effective as morphine in blocking pain, yet did not cause addiction. This year, T. Y. Shen, the Alfred Burger Professor of Medicinal Chemistry, announced that he had synthesized epibatidine in the laboratory. Working with a research group led by assistant chemistry professor W. Dean Harman, Shen's team created several promising analogs, which have been patented on behalf of the University and are licensed commercially for further development.

Paula D. McClain, chair of government and foreign affairs, has spent the last decade researching the increasingly multiracial politics of the American city. She believes that Americans, from policymakers to average citizens, need to take a closer look at our racial minorities: "The old labels - liberal, moderate, and conservative, so often used to summarize political attitudes and behaviors - fail to take into account the different viewpoints held by racial subgroups." McClain's research forms the foundation for a new book, coauthored with Joseph Stewart, Jr., of the University of Texas at Dallas, Can't We Just All Get Along: Racial and Ethnic Minorities in American Politics.

The University of Virginia is also a leader in environmental research. In 1993-94, the National Science Foundation granted $4 million to the environmental sciences department to continue work on the ecology of a 70-kilometer stretch of Virginia's Eastern Shore. The area selected for the Long-Term Ecological Research project is one of the most rapidly changing sections of shoreline in North America. University scientists are studying erosion patterns on barrier islands and the relationship between saltwater and freshwater ecosystems.

One measure of the quality of research is the support it attracts from both public and private sources. In 1993-94, the University of Virginia attracted a record $135 million for research, an impressive achievement considering that grant money has become increasingly scarce. Less than 2 percent of this money comes from the state.

Preparing Students for the New Century

The University's commitment to teaching remains as strong as ever. Continuing work begun early in this decade, we have sought new ways to ensure that graduates are prepared to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century. The McIntire School of Commerce this year added an international business concentration and approved a foreign language requirement for all entering students. In collaboration with corporate executives, it has also revamped its marketing concentration to prepare students to work productively as soon as they join the work force. Rather than enroll in a series of discrete courses, marketing students will pursue an integrated curriculum, working on projects that carry over from course to course.

In the School of Engineering and Applied Science, plans are under way to incorporate applied mathematics into civil engineering. The move, which achieves a modest administrative savings, reflects research showing that students learn mathematics better when it is taught in the context of applications. Looking ahead, the school is considering adding biomedical engineering and materials science options to its undergraduate program.

Students learn by working with and appreciating people of diverse backgrounds. The long-term commitment to increase the diversity of the student body is showing results. The latest application figures reflect this progress. This year, the University received 14,921 applications from highly qualified high-school graduates, including more than 1,400 from African American students, for the 2,785 places in the first-year class. Admissions statistics reveal that 54 percent of the new students are women, 36 percent are out-of-state residents, 12 percent are African American, 11 percent are Asian American, and 2 percent are Hispanic.

Black Issues in Higher Education found that the University now has the highest graduation rate for African American undergraduates (83 percent) of any institution and placed twenty-fifth among traditionally white institutions in the total number of bachelor's degrees awarded to African Americans. Total financial aid to black undergraduates increased from $3.4 million in 1987 to $9.5 million this year. In addition, Asian American students, whose families came from Korea, China, Taiwan, India, and Vietnam, have substantially enriched the academic life on Grounds.

The Office of Student Affairs has played a crucial role in this effort. This year, President Casteen named William W. Harmon vice president for student affairs. Harmon succeeds Ernest H. Ern, now senior vice president of the University. Formerly vice chancellor for student affairs for the 34,000-student University of Pittsburgh system, Harmon comes with the highest recommendations. "He has broad experience," said President Casteen, "and an understanding of the fundamental value this University places on student self-governance."


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