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Letter to Alumni and Friends of the University

June 2003

Dear alumni and friends:

This spring has been wet here in Charlottesville. As though making up for the droughts of the last three or four years, the rain came early, and it has stayed with us. Frogs, gardeners, and people who like English weather have been happy here this spring. Everyone else has been wet.

The 17,000+ people who gathered on the Lawn for the Final procession and exercise huddled under orange-and-blue umbrellas in the face of a driving rain and chill wind. As I made my way to the platform on the steps of Old Cabell Hall, one graduate offered to lend me a green plastic trash bag to wear over my gown. And as Mortimer Caplin addressed the graduates, a classic Piedmont Virginia cloud settled down over the Rotunda. By the time I stood to say good-bye to the graduates, the Rotunda was lost in the mist.

Still, our Class of 2003 was not denied its final walk down the Lawn, and (if my mail is any guide) all but three felt that braving the rain was worthwhile. Even parents and grandparents sloshing through inches-deep puddles to their seats seemed happy to be there. Among those who made their way to Carr's Hill to dry out when the ceremonies ended, more than one asked where to leave their green plastic trash bags.

Finals Weekend and Reunions (three weeks later and all but equally wet, if warmer) brought the University's year to its end in a spirit of buoyant optimism—a mood that has been very much the spirit of this place in the months since 9/11. This year's graduates have seen the ground change beneath them in their years as students. Warfare, recession, new systems for internal security—each of these developments and others have spun childhood's assumptions into adult realities. And these graduates have emerged from this first phase of adult life with the talents and intellectual skills that their families and schools prepared them to master, but also with their qualities of optimism and perseverance intact, even strengthened. Old Wahoos will enjoy getting to know these young Wahoos as they move into our businesses, neighborhoods, and families.

The Year's Issues

The State's all-but-perpetual financial crisis has been much in the news this year. Our expendable revenues from endowment and current gifts will exceed the State's general fund appropriation in next year's operating budget. (Total receipts from private sources, including monies placed in the endowment and monies spent on capital projects—sums not counted as operating monies—have exceeded state appropriations since the Wilder cuts of 1991.) The State will contribute 8.1 percent of the FY04 budget, the lowest percentage in history, while operating revenues from the endowment and gifts will be 8.3 percent. Other significant components of the operating budget: patient revenues, 42.1 percent; tuition and fees, 15 percent; grants and contracts, 15.1 percent; auxiliary enterprises (i.e., dorm rents, merchandise sales, athletics income), 8.6 percent.

Despite the deficiencies in State support, the VA2020 plans are making good progress, and the schools are moving ahead with their internal plans for improvement. One reason is that philanthropic giving has continued to grow in the months since we completed the last capital funds campaign in December 2000. In FY02, the University and its affiliated foundations received more than $255 million in gifts—the largest total ever. As I write, Bob Sweeney does not have year's end figures for FY03, but he estimates that the final total will be very close to last year's.

The year just ended brought two of the largest single contributions ever made to the University, as well as nearly $34 million in annual giving from more than 50,000 donors. In April, Carl and Hunter Smith, whose philanthropy had already touched virtually every corner of the University, pledged $22 million to help finance a performing arts center/concert hall. This building will eventually occupy the corner of Massie Road and Emmet Street just south of the new arena. Two months later, Paul Tudor Jones, another alumnus whose prior gifts have had broad impact on our academic programs, increased his commitment to the new arena to $35 million. The Board of Visitors has named the arena The John Paul Jones Arena to honor Paul's father (Law '48). That other John Paul Jones' challenge during the battle between the Bon Homme Richard and the Serapis—“I have not yet begun to fight!”—will resonate in the Jones Arena.

Alumni groups with whom I have met while traveling have expressed considerable interest in news reports about racial confrontations here on the Grounds. I have written previously to share what we have known at various times during the spring. I see three significant reasons for the confrontations. First, everyone is aware that the Supreme Court is deliberating on the two Michigan cases, which deal with minority student access to selective public colleges. As I write, the decision has not yet been issued.

Second, a hotly contested student election pitted a minority candidate for Student Council president against various incumbents—a contest not necessarily driven by racial considerations, but obviously one likely to expose whatever racial antipathies may have existed before it. During this contest, a minority student reported that she was assaulted by a person who uttered a racial insult in connection with the election—a combination of factors that brought the FBI into the investigation under the federal hate crimes law. The investigation continues at this time.

Third, and in some ways most provocative, minority students have complained repeatedly about racially offensive conduct at student parties, including one held by students in Architecture and another held by two fraternities. In one instance—the so-called black-face incident—evidence in the form of party photographs turned up on the web. These photographs have been circulated widely.

My own reasoning, and I think the Board's also, has been that we need the clarification of law that the Supreme Court will have provided before you receive this letter. We have operated in no-man's land for too long without clear legal guidance on the basic issues that are in question in the Michigan cases, and the Court owes the nation the bright-line standard that we have needed for at least a decade.

The issues raised in the student election are thornier. Both the Student Council and the Vice President for Student Affairs have seen the need for election reform. The issues do not involve hanging chads, but they do involve regulation of the election process. The reforms are in the works. It appears to me that the students will resolve this issue on their own in the fall. If they do not, we are prepared to use the University's authority to make sure that interested parties do not have the capacity to set election rules while an election is in progress.

The third issue will take time, and a lot of common effort. Everyone has heard stories about reverse segregation in which minority students are said to keep to themselves. These tales about racial affronts at all-white parties reflect an inverse situation in which racial insults are thought by some to be acceptable because no minority persons are present to witness them. One student assured me that nothing wrong was done because no one was there to hear the tree fall in the woods.

Alumni who knew about our local problems and who came to the spring alumni meetings generally recognized that episodes like these can be construed as defining a hostile climate—a concept all know from the business world. And they know that the hostile climate is the enemy of the collegial community of learning that the University was designed to be. Many talked about the need for remedies that start when children are young. Others talked about the viciousness of jokes that make all members of one race targets of derision.

Obviously, the students and we need help with this one. We are approaching the problem in two complementary ways. First, Mr. Rainey, the Rector, created a special committee on diversity in his first official act as rector. Working under the direction of Visitor Warren Thompson, a Darden School alumnus whose business is often cited for its success in addressing racial issues in the workplace, this group has begun work on policy issues that relate to the University's climate and culture.

Second, Senior Vice President William Harmon has been at work for several weeks on a comprehensive survey of best practices in comparable universities and elsewhere in preparation for work set to begin in the fall when an internal commission begins to address steps that can be taken here to foster a more humane climate for student life. Two faculty members will chair this commission. Its members will come from the student body, faculty, and staff, and also from students' families, residents of the surrounding neighborhoods, and the alumni.

Important values are at stake here. Openness and civility among students translate into an environment in which all can learn effectively. A hostile climate for women or minority students or any other subgroup undermines education's effectiveness. Sorry though I am to see this kind of tension reassert itself within the University, I know, as no doubt you do, that old hostilities die hard, and that each new generation has to learn its parent's lessons for itself. Santayana's rule that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it perhaps holds true with special tenacity in our civilization where matters of race are concerned. If you have not read Paul Gaston's essay on the coming of minority students to the University, I recommend it. It appears as part of an on-line archive of educational materials for our students at

Marks of Progress

Last fall, I asked for your help in supporting the General Obligation Bond (GOB) referendum that went to Virginia's voters in November. The results were uncommonly affirmative, and I thank you for your backing. The GOB passed with a majority of 72 percent of the votes cast. The bonds include some $68.3 million for nine University projects, including $24.2 million toward a new medical research building, $14.3 million for a new building for the College, and $12.5 million for infrastructure projects. These funds will be released over several years as the State begins its first-ever attempt at long-term planning for building projects.

Construction, including early GOB work, is moving briskly this summer, and more will come as the summer progresses. Bring boots if you come: rain and red clay make for what E.E. Cummings might call mud-sticky walking. The underground special collections library project continues to advance. Both the Small and the Harrison buildings are fully framed, and interior work has begun. The work on Clark Hall is beginning to wrap up. You can visit the new Science and Technology Library and also see good samples of the laboratories and other facilities created for Environmental Sciences. The west addition to the Aquatics and Fitness Center on Alderman Road beside the stadium appears to be about half done, and I noticed while walking yesterday that the Darden School and Law School appear to have finished all of the work included in their expansion projects. And the bustle on the back of the Hospital, actually a component of the long-term plan for expansion of clinical facilities, continues to grow. The Emmet Street pedestrian bridge that will link the new arena and the concert hall to the central Grounds is in progress, and so are several of the re-openings of natural streams that are elements of the Groundswalk plan about which I wrote several months ago.

Other, more ambitious projects are coming soon as the Board implements its VA2020 vision of the University's next generation. The McIntire School of Commerce is headed back to the Lawn with a 125,000-square-foot complex including a restored and revitalized Rouss Hall. The College is continuing work on its South Lawn Project, and the first major commitment, from Bobbie and John Nau of Houston for the new history building, is now in place. Other schools, including Nursing, the Curry School, Architecture, and Engineering, have projects in advanced planning. All told, projects under way or moving through planning amount to about a decade's worth of construction and building renewal. You can track this work by way of the physical site master plan on the web at

I report all of this physical activity with mixed emotions because the ongoing collapse of State operating support for all of Virginia's public colleges has become a genuine crisis for more than a few faculty families. The State has actually met its own bench marks for faculty and staff salaries in only one of the last 12 years, and these shortfalls compound for faculty members whose retirements are in contribution-defined annuity plans, as virtually all are. (I will not discuss non-faculty staff here because these employees' salaries and retirement plans are State matters rather than University matters, although I have concerns about them as well.) Faculty members and their families absorb both the market fluctuations that all of us feel and the peculiar second hit that comes when the State fails to pay market salaries even in the best years. Top faculty have stayed with us through some very tough times. Their commitment to the University is monumental by any assessment. But our Board is aware, as I am and many alumni leaders are, that it is time for more than one-time fixes. The Board is now exploring ways to blend State, tuition, endowment, and other resources as a means to build and protect faculty earnings.

We have sent regular reports on VA2020 and the programs created because of our effort to sustain planning even in bad times. A complete summary here would be very long indeed, but here are short notes. Let me know if you want to know more about any of these.

Morphogenesis and Regenerative Medicine Institute, headed by Barry Gumbiner, held its inaugural symposium, bringing together top researchers in the field from around the world.

Institute on Aging, headed by Mark Williams, is forming now to promote health and independence for older people through collaborations among researchers, scholars, and health care professionals in Medicine, Nursing, Law, Engineering, the College, the Darden School, the Curry School. The initial footprint for this work is Charlottesville and Central Virginia.

Fine and performing arts initiative. The core issue here is the lack of adequate buildings, studios, and labs. The Smiths' commitment to the performing arts center and the private and GOB support for the studio art building together give us a solid start on these projects. Fund raising for the performing arts center continues. A new architectural design contract for the studio art building was signed last month.

International Affairs, headed by William Quandt, who will shortly return to his faculty position, now has programs in South Africa, St. Petersburg, London, Lyons, sites in China, and Rabat, Morocco, and strong enrollments in programs that have existed for several years. SARS and international crises have kept the programs in China and Morocco from developing this year, but total enrollment has grown solidly. If this year's numbers hold, 25% of our undergraduates will study abroad before graduating.

These spring letters are a challenge because I would like to list the news that defines the year in my own mind, and yet I know that a letter too long is a letter unread. I want, however, to acknowledge that several of our most distinguished faculty members have retired this year. Among those best known to alumni are C. Ray Smith of the Darden School and Barbara Brodie of Nursing. And I want to acknowledge the deaths of several whose personal distinction has added value to the entire University. Few communities enjoy the service and good company of persons of the quality of Cecil Lang, Champ Clark, Frank Finger, Jeffrey Hadden, Charles Vandersee, and Bob Cross. Like many of you, I feel the loss of each of these teachers and colleagues, and I know that you join me in appreciating deeply their many contributions.

Reflecting on this year, I am reminded of my own years as a student and as a member of the faculty. I think that my memory of walking back from the Corner to the Alderman Library or to Lefevre House is essentially accurate. I know that I remember the sound of ruggers colliding in Mad Bowl and in Nameless Field. Mr. Faulkner's squint as he puffed his pipe and watched the shadows accumulate while standing beside the Rotunda steps on the Lawn side; the thrill of that 28-0 win in Scott Stadium; the excitement when the first large groups of undergraduate women and black students enrolled—these are the common memories that belong to us, no matter when we came here, a past that through telling belongs to our collective memory.

Spring is the time for affirmation, for remembrance of things past but also for new beginnings. This rolling together of past and present and future defines a great tradition, one that shapes each younger generation as surely as it did their parents and grandparents. Come back this summer, stop and visit with us, walk through the old and the new here on the Grounds, imagine those 17,000 people in the rain and their predecessors who attended your own Final Exercises. Perhaps you will feel as I do just how vital and quintessentially American Mr. Jefferson's experiment in educating the young of a new land is in our own time.


John T. Casteen III