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Alumni News — Summer 2005

News, Both Good and Bad

In the middle of a chilly and damp March, we have only seen occasional crocuses and daffodils at Carr's Hill. Walking the dogs this morning I found no redbuds visible, and just a bit of snow or ice blowing in the morning wind.

This year's achievements have been as numerous as the year's snow squalls. In my last essay in these pages, I wrote about extraordinary distinctions won this year by our students—two Rhodes scholars (the seventh time since the program began when two have won in a single year—only 32 Rhodes scholars are selected each year), a Luce Scholar (only 15 are selected each year), a Mitchell, and a number of awards still pending. The three winners of these most prestigious of awards are interesting in part for the range of their activities and interest. One took his degree last spring, and now serves as a missionary in a clinic in Haiti. One chairs the Honor Committee. The third is a global health scholar who is planning a career in international health policy.

Despite the weather, the major building projects are moving ahead steadily. Expansion of the hospital's operating suites is on time and on track. Wilsdorf Hall in the Engineering school is about half finished. The John Paul Jones Arena will open in June 2006, and we are now working to book the major concerts and similar events that the arena and the stadium will let us bring back to the Grounds, albeit (we hope) without the disorder that ended Easters two decades ago. We will break ground in April for the new McIntire School behind Rouss Hall and followed several months later by the new studio art building on the north side of Carr's Hill, just below the fine arts library. Planning and fund raising for the South Lawn project and for the new concert hall and museum at the intersection of Ivy Road and Emmet Street are moving rapidly. A major new scientific research building will go into Fontaine late this year. And the Goodwin pedestrian bridge connecting the North and South Grounds near the new arena is complete.

More good news: The General Assembly acted favorably, and by unexpectedly large majorities, on the charter proposal (now called "restructuring") expanded to include opportunities for all of the public colleges to participate in varying degrees. Relatively little that our Board of Visitors sought in this proposal fell to the wayside during the legislative session, and the bill provoked very little opposition, none of it unified. We have already implemented various aspects of the legislation by way of pilot projects, most notably with regard to purchasing, capital construction, and other functions that were too-tightly regulated in the past. Faculty members will benefit especially as we are able to offer expanded, competitive benefits and to use tuition and private money to improve compensation, and they are protected by a grandfathering provision that guarantees them no lesser future enhancements than continuing state employees receive. Classified workers, sad to say, will have distinctly limited opportunities to benefit. Several legislators were concerned that the state's direct costs for its own groups of classified employees might be pushed upward as we respond to the local Charlottesville marketplace, and so they placed limits on what we can do for classified workers—an issue to pursue in future years.

Needless to say, all here are grateful to alumni and friends who contacted legislators and the governor on this matter; to our elected officials, who used this bill to address some of the hardest public policy questions now being debated in states across the country; and especially to those who came to the public sessions in which we discussed and refined the proposals.

Not all of the news is good this spring. Like other major universities, we are seeing more overt racial hostility this year than last, more complex issues involving sexual assaults and abuse of alcohol, and we are having to deal with somewhat more violent behavior among students and aggressive acts against students by nonstudents, including some persons from the surrounding community. Vice President for Student Affairs Pat Lampkin and staff, the University police and others are addressing these issues, about which I will write to you later.

While traveling earlier this month, I read Tom Wolfe's I Am Charlotte Simmons, which is a vision of collegiate life as a kind of Inferno—a very dark satire indeed. We are not seeing here the excesses that Wolfe describes at his fictional DuPont University, but I am struck by the almost surgical accuracy of his descriptions of the least attractive aspects of collegiate existence in this time.

We have some assets that are perhaps missing at Wolfe's DuPont, not least the student leaders, student affairs staff members, and University police, none of whom turn up as forces in Charlotte Simmons' life at DuPont. But the novel, like my daily contacts with students who pause at street crossings and in coffee shops to tell me how they live and what is on their minds, brings into sharp focus the importance of the good health of the community of students and faculty members who make the University work. A community, like a young life, is a work in progress. It requires constant cultivation. Our goal has to be to direct more toward missions in Haiti, toward service in the Honor System, toward academic successes in Asia or at Oxford, and to ensure (paraphrasing Mr. Bush) that no student is left behind.

John T. Casteen III