all mature institutions, the University of Virginia lives in
multiple times: in its past, where it finds its values, traditions,
and enduring strengths; in its present, where it conducts its
work; and in its future, where it sets its aspirations. To have
Thomas Jefferson as our guiding spirit helps in this regard.
As the University adapts to new realities, new tasks, and new
expectations, we are fortunate to work in the shadow of a founder
whose belief in the future and in human progress was all but
Mr. Jefferson wrote often about his intent that the University,
like the country it serves, should change with changing times.
In 1816, in a letter to Samuel Kercheval, he noted the human
tendency to "ascribe to the men of the preceding age a
wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did to be beyond
amendment." Laws and institutions, he continues, "must
go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind," and
he argues that we should not "weakly believe that one generation
is not as capable as another of taking care of itself, and of
ordering its own affairs."
What we have understood in our own recent planning efforts is
that the Academical Village, in its largest sense, actually
lives in processes of change. Mr. Jefferson expected this community
to be generative and innovative in creating new knowledge and
empowering new generations of students. His concepts about education
and freedom constantly challenge us to be bold as we think about
Mr. Jefferson, who gave us such phrases as "the future
bulwark of the human mind" and "the altar of freedom,"
recognized that symbols matter when we envision futures. One
that has occurred to me repeatedly in this era of Virginia 2020
planning has been the figure of a bridge. For about twenty-five
years, we have been building bridges, both actual and conceptual,
at the University. In the next twenty-five, we will build more.
These bridges bind together a growing University. They are means
to preserve the Academical Village, our core symbol, even as
the range of the curriculum, of faculty research, and of the
Grounds themselves expands.
The most obvious bridges we have built and are intending to
build are, well, bridges. In 1973, when concern about student
safety and traffic on Emmet Street led to construction of the
bridge between Ruffner Hall and the Monroe Hill-Newcomb Hall
area, we entered a new era. Thereafter, all planning for new
buildings included efforts to open the Grounds to pedestrians
and to protect them from vehicular traffic.
Bridges now link our hospitals and clinics with the School of
Medicine. The Bryan Hall colonnade (behind the McIntire Amphitheatre)
works much like a bridge, connecting the Lawn to Clark Hall
and McCormick Road. Bridging a different kind of physical divide,
a new ramp at the Rotunda opens Mr. Jefferson's grandest
building to persons who cannot climb stairs.
A project called the Groundswalk is the most ambitious bridging
project now in planning. When this system of walkways and pedestrian
bridges is complete in a decade or so, students and faculty
will be able to move safely and conveniently on foot throughout
the University. The Board of Visitors believes, and I believe,
that the Groundswalk will integrate the University's more
distant parts into the Academical Village and that this change
will benefit everyone.
Intellectual bridges also connect our community of learners.
In programs such as bio-physics and media studies, or specialized
centers and laboratories devoted to topics ranging from automobile
safety to practical ethics, disciplinary cross-fertilization
takes place in a variety of ways. Important discoveries often
emerge from these points where different systems of knowledge
meet. We see this phenomenon in the achievements of Francis
Collins (College '70) and his effort to map the human genome.
We see it as well in Donald Hunt, University Professor of Chemistry;
Craig Slingluff, professor of surgery; and Victor Engelhard,
professor of microbiology, who are working together to develop
a vaccine treatment for melanoma.
Finally, we are spanning divides between people. We work to
make each student's experience of the University include
daily interactions with faculty and other students, and to make
these interactions occur both formally (in classrooms or laboratories
or faculty offices) and informally (in the Alderman Café,
in residential colleges, and in the joint faculty-student research
projects supported by the Harrison Fund).
The sum of the University's many parts--its history,
its mission, the beauty of its grounds, the vast array of its
academic offerings, the brilliant and honorable people who enliven
it, the work done in it and (after alumni leave to undertake
their own work elsewhere) because of it--is greater than
anyone can calculate. Incalculable also is the gratitude we
owe to our alumni and friends. You have supported the University,
its people, and the vision of future greatness in this institution
founded on a dream of the "illimitable freedom of the human
mind," in good times and bad. You have been our essential
partners, the ones with whom we could not do without.
August 1 marked the beginning of my twelfth year as president.
These last eleven years spent working with you, your daughters
and sons, and our common vision have been a keen and exquisite
pleasure. We have much yet to do. With you, I look forward to
the next steps in the remarkable partnership that is Mr. Jefferson's
University in our time. Together, we are building bridges to
futures that would delight and excite our founder.
John T. Casteen III