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President's Letter In the University of Virginia Magazine:'Bon Voyage'

Fall 2006

The author of a letter published in a recent issue of this magazine asked about travel programs for alumni. Good question. Our travel programs are evolving in several important ways, and it is time for a report. For a generation, Alumni Hall ran most of our travel programs, and did uncommonly good work. Ten or so years ago, the travel market changed. It became difficult, often impossible, for Alumni Hall to break even on its programs. The international travel slump following 9/11 made that situation worse.

After study, all of us acknowledged that Alumni Hall should not lose money on programs that (regardless of quality) benefit a small proportion of all alumni. We began looking at programs from other University sponsors in hope of finding ways to maintain (indeed, perhaps even improve) offerings that could break even financially while serving larger numbers of alumni and friends.

The School of Continuing and Professional Studies, with experience from its successful alumni lifelong learning courses at Oxford, in Paris, and elsewhere, took on part of the responsibility for travel, and expanded its Travel and Learn program. The development staff created Cavalier Travels, which offers both more and less expensive programs for alumni with different budgets and tastes. Ernie Ern and I began leading small trips for alumni to places we happen to know.

The program I know best is called Virginia Voyages, which has become successful during the last two years. Last fall, on the third trip, Betsy and I walked in Tuscany with a University group. For a week, we walked through Renaissance towns and past farms, vineyards and olive groves. Many of the byways we used date to Roman times. We hiked the Via Francigena, a medieval pilgrimage route, and we ate and stayed in lodgings along the way. Our guides were a wonderful Italian couple whose knowledge of the region's history and culture made every sight vivid. This fall's Virginia Voyages trip explores the region of Burgundy where Jefferson traveled while serving as minister to France.

During the next year or so, we will expand the range of travel offerings by including trips on the MV Explorer, the ship that carries Semester at Sea. In June, I was aboard the ship for the official launching of the new partnership between the Institute for Shipboard Education—Semester at Sea's parent organization—and the University. I was impressed by the itineraries (Asia and the Southern Pacific this summer for study of U.S.-Asian trade, financial and cultural interactions) and by the stature and seriousness of the faculty members I met. There will be three academic (student) voyages each year—two 100-day around-the-world trips, and one 65-day summer trip. Spaces for University alumni and friends, traveling singly or in organized groups, will be available on most of these voyages.

We are working now on travel programs built around University assets, including the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection (housed at Pantops) and the Jefferson collections. Most programs involve faculty members and alumni as leaders.

All of the new programs offer choices as to pricing and locations. Julian Bond's Virginia Voyages program titled "The Civil Rights South" should cost $1,900 per participant for a rich week of travel through the civil rights movement's heartland. This program is set for spring 2007. Travel on the MV Explorer should cost less than travel on commercial cruise ships, and allow alumni to be students if they wish. Most small programs cost $3,000 to $5,000 per week. The most expensive trip this year is "The Mediterranean World and the Classical Tradition: Italy, Sicily, Greece and the Greek Islands," a Cavalier Travels cruise to explore classical history, culture and philosophy (Sept. 17-28; $6,995 per person). Other destinations for Cavalier Travels include Hemingway's Africa, Ireland, Peru (a trip including a volunteer service component put together by Cavaliers Care) and China. With the exception of Cavalier Travels, which commonly includes international airfare, prices for our travel programs are net of travel from home to a departure point. A consolidated Web site (www.virginia.edu/travel) lets one shop programs from all of these options.

The response to these new offerings has surprised us. After years when travel, especially travel outside the U.S., seemed to wane, demand is now at a kind of peak. The fall Virginia Voyages trip to Burgundy is now full. Travel and Learn and Cavalier Travels both have some sold-out programs and some with space available.

These programs are beginnings. We want a greatly enriched program for alumni and friends—and for current students. We are just starting this new journey. The goal is to draw on the best talent available among faculty members and alumni, and to offer programs that are distinctively U.Va., and first-rate.

My last column discussed the arrests of demonstrators who occupied part of Madison Hall for several days during the spring's living wage protests. On May 22, these persons were found not guilty owing to two technicalities, one procedural (a discrepancy of a minute or so between the announced time for arrests to begin and the first arrests), the other legal (an outdated Code citation in a magistrate's warrant). Some arrested students believe that readers of my column would have assumed that they were convicted. I am sorry to have confused anyone who may have believed that arrests and convictions are the same.

Frustrated by the lack of evidence behind "I know it when I see it" as a definition of poverty, several readers suggested that we research the nature of poverty in this region. We did that during the summer. The findings appear at www.virginia.edu/wages/povertystats.html. Poverty data come from the U.S. Census. For the purpose of the census, students living in dormitories are counted at their parents' homes elsewhere, while students living off Grounds are counted in the census numbers here. We have 6,600 beds on Grounds. Some 15,000-plus students live off Grounds, primarily along and off JPA and Rugby Road. (Charlottesville's population is 45,049, of whom a fourth or so are students.) Generally, students live on funds from home, scholarships, part-time work and loans. Other than funds from part-time work, most students show little or no income for census purposes. They seem poor whether they are or not. The census maps show severe poverty (i.e., little or no earned income) in Charlottesville in the student neighborhoods. No one doubts that other poverty exists in this area, and too much of it, but the statistics quoted last spring misrepresent reality.

John T. Casteen III, President
University of Virginia