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Letter to Alumni and Friends of the University

November 2001

Dear Alumni and Friends of the University:

Each fall I review the past year's work as preparation for writing this annual report to you. This is the twelfth letter of this kind that I have written. Our common experience of September 11 and events since have made this one the most difficult of all to compose. I have been tempted to write primarily about how students and faculty and staff have reacted to the attacks and their aftermath -- and I will do so toward the end of this letter because I think you will want to know and (to be blunt about it) because the news is very good indeed. But thinking about what I owe you by way of an accounting of the year's work and our University's condition, I have realized that the debt is something more than a summary of the most recent weeks. So let me begin by outlining developments that involve the University generally, and say that by any standard, this has been a red-letter year.

December 2000 saw the formal end of the capital campaign that has enabled the University to build new and already well-recognized academic strengths despite the state budget cuts of the early nineties. One of the largest and most successful efforts of its kind undertaken in any American university, this campaign generated substantial sums for improvements in academic programs, buildings, endowments, and scholarships. The final total for the campaign exceeds $1.43 billion. This total alone is, of course, great news. What may prove even more valuable in the future is the happy discovery of a vast network of women and men -- volunteers who are alumni, friends, faculty members, and students and their parents, who are now taking responsibility for envisioning, planning, and building the University of the future. This letter goes out to some 200,000 persons, of whom more than 142,000 took active roles in this campaign. To you, the University and I personally are more grateful than we can ever say. Thank you.

A wealth of evidence demonstrates the University's and the hospital and clinics' continuing worth to all of us. This year, U.S. News & World Report ranks us second among public universities behind California at Berkeley, with which we have played tag for several years. In separate national assessments, both the Medical Center as a whole and eight of its departments were ranked among the nation's top 100. Individual faculty physicians appear in unprecedented numbers in the new editions of the publications that list top practitioners by specialties.

This has been a banner year for recognition of the quality of faculty work. Funded research now exceeds $225 million, eloquent evidence of the high esteem of the national selection committees and review boards that award research support to individual faculty members. Brooks Pate, a young faculty member in Chemistry and a 1987 alumnus of the College, won a MacArthur Foundation "genius" award in October -- an award that matters both for what it says about Brooks' pioneering work in sub-molecular structures and for what it says about the quality of young scientists among the faculty. Once again this year, students and recent graduates have had extraordinary success in the competitions for the major post-baccalaureate scholarships. And Larry Sabato, who received the Thomas Jefferson Award at the fall convocation, is, once again (and deservedly), the most frequently quoted college professor in America.

This year has seen many changes in the University's leadership. Those in the cohort of great deans, vice presidents, and faculty leaders who sustained us through the 1990s have now begun to move to other duties and (in some cases) to retirement as they have wrapped up their campaign duties.

  • We have a new chief academic officer. Peter Low finished an uncommonly productive term as provost, and Gene Block of Biology and our former vice president for research and public service, assumed the position in late summer. Peter is again teaching criminal law, but he is continuing to work on U21, the global, Internet-oriented consortium of universities with which we are affiliated. For his part, Gene is hard at work on the faculty phase of the VA 2020 planning effort that drives progress in the schools.
  • The College has a new dean. History professor Ed Ayers succeeded Mel Leffler when Mel completed his term in mid-summer. In addition to other projects, including continuation of his work with electronic databases for research in the humanities and social sciences, Ed is now shaping plans for much-needed improvements in the College's physical facilities. Along with the other deans of the undergraduate schools, he is working with faculty in the first year of what will be a two-year reconsideration of our undergraduate curricula.
  • In the Law School, John Jeffries has succeeded Bob Scott as dean. Bob is on leave this year while serving as a visiting professor at Columbia University. Earlier this month, John presided over the Law School's 175th anniversary celebration, which included a major address by Chief Justice of the United States William Rehnquist.
  • The Darden School has new leadership. Robert Harris, a senior faculty member and also chief learning officer for United Technologies Corporation, has become the school's seventh dean. With impressive teaching and research credentials and wide global experience as a corporate officer for a Fortune 50 company, Bob seems to me to be the ideal leader for an institution recognized globally for advancing research and teaching in business management.
  • Student affairs vice president Bill Harmon became senior vice president following Ernie Ern's retirement, and Patricia Lampkin has stepped in as interim vice president while we conduct a national search.
  • Restructuring of the University's central administration has brought to us Yoke San Reynolds from Cornell to serve as vice president for finance. R. Edward Howell from the University of Iowa will begin work in February as vice president and chief executive officer of the Medical Center. Ed's new position is a part of the larger strategy to build on the Medical Center's success in providing high-quality health care while securing its financial position in the future.

To round out this summary of the year's high points: In collaboration with the College Foundation, the Board of Visitors has recently committed to replacing New Cabell Hall on its current site, and to developing a major new College building (and affiliated parking garage) to be built across Jefferson Park Avenue from the eventual new New Cabell Hall. At the same time, the Board approved the renovation of Cocke and Rouss halls for new uses -- projects whose eventual price (to be paid by a combination of state and donor moneys) is estimated to be $126 million when the work is completed.

At about the same time, the new arena, which will replace University Hall, continues to move forward on time and on track. With two commitments of $20 million each and a growing number of other gifts to support components of the work, the new facility is now in the middle stages of design. A volunteer oversight group that includes Pete Gillen and Debbie Ryan has identified a site across Massie Road from the McCue Center and is making rapid progress on the proposed design. This building will include space for both women's and men's basketball. Because, unlike University Hall, it will be air-conditioned and equipped with modern technology, it will accommodate concerts and other cultural events as well as conferences. Our goal is to occupy the new building no later than 2006, preferably in 2005.

Other major projects now in advanced planning or construction include research and teaching facilities for the Medical School, major Engineering buildings related to the VA 2020 science and technology initiatives, a rebuilt and vastly improved baseball stadium to be built around the existing field next to Klockner Stadium, buildings for the VA 2020 fine and performing arts initiatives, and new buildings in both the North Fork and the Fontaine research parks. Most of these projects have been privately financed, but several have also attracted state support. These include the Small Library and the Harrison Institute, which comprise the new special collections library (mixed funding); the final phase of the designs for the new Darden School and the Law School (financed by private donors); a new student dining hall to replace the Observatory Hill dining hall (financed by student fees); a five-story addition to the School of Nursing's McLeod Hall that will provide 30,000 additional square feet of teaching and research space (mixed funding); and the final phase of expansion of Clark Hall to accommodate state-of-the-art laboratories for Environmental Sciences and an expanded science-technology library (mixed funding).

My previous letters have included general summaries of faculty achievements, and this year there are many to report. It has seemed to me, however, that in light of the events of September 11, you may have special interest in current faculty work that has figured in the national response to terrorism. This summary is by no means complete, but the work described in the following paragraphs matters to all of us now in ways that it may not have prior to September 11.

Some names will be well known to most alumni for their work as consultants for governmental agencies, commentators for the media, and faculty members engaged on a daily basis with students here:

  • William B. Quandt (Government and Foreign Affairs), the vice provost for international affairs, formerly a member of the National Security Council and an active figure in shaping the Camp David accords of 1978;
  • Ruhi K. Ramazani (Government and Foreign Affairs emeritus), a widely recognized expert on Middle East politics who contributed to the negotiations to release the US hostages held in Iran between November 1979 and January 1981, and who consults regularly on US policy in the Middle East and the US interest in the security of the Persian Gulf;
  • W. Nathaniel Howell (Institute for Global Policy Research), the US ambassador to Kuwait who remained at his post in Kuwait City while it was under siege during the Iraqi invasion that preceded Desert Storm in 1990;
  • Philip Zelikow (Miller Center of Public Affairs and History), now serving on President Bush's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board;
  • John Norton Moore (Law and Center for National Security Law), formerly board chair of the US Institute of Peace and principal U.N. advisor in the determination of the post-war Kuwait-Iraqi border, and expert on the legal aspects of foreign policy, national security, war and treaty powers, and democracy and human rights.

Faculty members whose names are (or are rapidly becoming) equally well known have taken significant roles in protecting the national information infrastructure against cyber-terrorism, in providing expert medical and scientific advice as the government has moved to counter bio-terrorism, and in interpreting the complex cultural, religious, and ethnic challenges that confront shapers of diplomacy, military strategy, and other aspects of the world after September 11.

  • Anita Jones (University Professor and Computer Science), an expert on the security of computer infrastructures and former head of research and development at the Department of Defense and current vice chair of the National Science Board -- as well as a principal shaper of our own VA 2020 science and technology initiatives;
  • Lawrence E. Adams (Critical Incident Analysis Group), an expert on how religion and politics influence political responses to national crises and research director of a consortium of scholars, law enforcement officials, and professionals who seek to analyze, anticipate, prevent, and mitigate critical incidents (see, which includes the recent CIAG publication, "Threats to Symbols of American Democracy");
  • Yacov Y. Haimes (Systems Engineering and Center for Risk Management of Engineering Systems), who studies cyber-terrorism and the interconnectedness and interdependency of infrastructures;
  • Abdulaziz Sachedina (Religious Studies), an expert on Shiite Islam, Islamic extremists, the concept of holy war, and on Middle Eastern politics;
  • Peter Sheras (Education), a clinical psychologist whose adolescent stress index is a basic tool for addressing the impact of violence on young people;
  • Robert I. Webb (McIntire School), an expert on futures markets and a former financial futures and options trader at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange who has served as senior financial economist at the White House and in the federal Office of Management and Budget.

Finally, a group of faculty members whose names may or may not appear in the media, but whose work bears directly on steps now being taken to build domestic security and improve preparedness.

  • Gabriel Laufer: (Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering), working with Avir, a local start-up company that is part of the Darden School's Progressive Incubator Program, to develop a chemical weapons detector, the size of a cell phone, to pick up traces of lethal nerve gases such as sarin, blister agents such as mustard gas, and blood agents such as cyanide gas;
  • Pamela Norris: (Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering), working with Veridian Systems on biological warfare sensors, including a "smart aerogel" to identify bacteria and viruses such as anthrax and small pox, a concept recently explained to the Board of Visitors by one of Professor Norris's students whose work has been supported by a Harrison Fund Undergraduate Research Award administered by the Faculty Senate;
  • Ronald Taylor: (Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics in the School of Medicine), pursuing treatment of infectious diseases with specially sensitized red blood cells with the goal of clearing especially virulent pathogens (including viruses and bacteria) from the bloodstream.

As we near the end of this year 2001, many things about the University are very much the same as always. Leaves still flutter down from the sycamores in front of the Rotunda. Students push them along with their feet as they walk toward Alderman Library, and they listen as you and I did to the sounds of leaves crumbling underfoot. In this late part of the year, yellows, tans, and reds have replaced late summer's faded greens, and of the broad-leaf trees only the oaks and beeches seem still determined to hold onto last season's plumage. The chapel's bells ring each day as students make their way to the Corner or toward Rugby Road or back to classes or libraries or laboratories. The familiar sounds of professors lecturing and of students working together around seminar tables catch the ear as one walks through classroom buildings. We gather at football games here and at alumni meetings away from here and in less formal venues where Mr. Jefferson's University is known and loved. These elements of life here and in our extended community are especially sweet for their goodness and timelessness even in this year. Yet things and times have changed in ways that will themselves endure, and all of us know that truth just as we know our values and ourselves better than we did before September 11.

In the attacks of that day none were spared grief. We grieve for the deaths of those unknown to us, and those dear to us–five alumni, the parents of two current students, and friends and families of many members of the University community died on September 11. And we feel the loss of the peace shattered by the terrible events of that day. So within the apparent sameness of continuity of life here, the mood is different this fall. Although children (1,400 of them actually, costumed as everything from black cats to Snow White) gathered as they do every year on the Lawn at twilight for trick or treating, and other events proceed as they have and should, many here, including our students, display a powerful new sense of common purpose as they progress through the works and rituals of the fall.

A university like ours exists at the junction between the individual and society where it shapes and serves both. In the hours and days immediately following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, faculty and students organized teach-ins on many issues, including the Middle East. A particularly powerful one occurred after dark on September 12 at the foot of the Lawn, where some 2,500 persons gathered. Like many other communities, we created a memorial to those who had died. Students from the School of Architecture designed a place near Memorial Gymnasium where we could attach notes, flowers, or other tributes to those who were lost. Over the next few weeks, people returned often to this spot to see how others had expressed their thoughts and emotions. By the thousands, students, faculty, and staff took part in blood drives, including one of our own at Onesty Hall.

Students stop me on my walks to say how very fortunate and sometimes how innocent they were prior to the attacks. They understand that no one, no human being, and no institution, can be fully prepared for so massive and vicious an assault, but they understand with sudden clarity a new aspect of Mr. Jefferson's intent to educate them to be and remain strong, free people. And they need to talk about this realization of why they are here. Similarly, no one could have predicted the ways in which students, faculty, and staff have participated in our national grief, sense of outrage, and growing determination to protect and sustain our republic. In silent gatherings in which students (and indeed many of us whose student days are long past) absorbed the enormity of these events and learned to grieve and feel outrage in ways unlike what generations since Pearl Harbor have known; in public forums and classrooms where issues range from personal recognition of reality to the strategies of sustaining national security in a new era; in earnest daily contact with faculty members and other students and visitors from Washington and abroad—the University and its community discovered new validity in the work intended from the beginning to be done here.

Today, as the weeks have passed and the nation has begun to learn new habits of diligence and new concerns, the University, like America generally, is resuming its daily life and daily rituals. Other more ordinary events have lately asserted pride of place in the University's attention. The state's budget crisis -- Virginia is experiencing a $1 billion shortfall in state revenue collections -- has added a note of financial uncertainty to the political uncertainty of recent weeks. Still, our University, like our republic, was founded on optimistic faith in the ability of free people and democratic institutions to set things right. What we do here confirms the durability and continuity of that faith, as also does the loyalty and generosity of our alumni and friends. I am grateful to all of you for support that over the years has made all the difference. And I am grateful that, as members of the University's family, you return year-in and year-out to sustain the human ties and recall to mind the first things that have made this place, its founder, and its values such powerful elements of our common culture. Best wishes for peaceful and joyous holidays.


John T. Casteen III