will support Astronomy and new Center on Religion and Democracy
Gives $20 Million To College Of Arts & Sciences
6, 2000 -- Frank and Wynnette Levinson of Palo Alto,
Calif., have committed $20 million to the University of Virginia
to be divided evenly between the department of astronomy and a new
interdisciplinary center that will study religion and democracy.
a scientist-turned-engineer and businessman who received his doctorate
in astronomy from U.Va. in 1980, believes the astronomy department
at U.Va. has the potential to become one of the outstanding research
departments in the U.S. in this field. He therefore wants to help
the University meet this opportunity and to work with the department
and administration to develop a strategic plan.
a couple, the Levinsons have long been interested in how both technology
and religion can transform societies. Their support of the Center
for Religion and Democracy will enable U.Va. to examine how religion
affects the formation of democratic ideals, institutions and practices,
and to publicize its findings beyond the University.
and Wynnettes gift will allow us to expand our existing strength
in astronomy, and will significantly enhance our ability to contribute
to the advancement of scientific knowledge in this field,"
said Melvyn P. Leffler, dean of the College and Graduate School
of Arts & Sciences. "Their gift will also enable us to
create a new academic center that will explore the relationship
between religion and democracy and help us understand the reciprocal
roles they play in civil society."
Levinsons choice to direct their philanthropy to such distinctly
different initiatives is unusual among University donors, but emblematic
of the Levinsons wide-ranging interests.
and I are deeply committed to examining issues surrounding religion,
science and technology," Wynnette Levinson said.
says the Levinsons rank among a new generation of philanthropists
who are helping to shape the strategic objectives of the programs
they support. During the months prior to the announcement, the Levinsons
worked extensively with University leaders to ensure that their
gift would help U.Va. fund academic research, acquire vital equipment,
hire professors, pay graduate student researchers, and publicize
their research findings beyond the University.
$10 million in operating funds for astronomy, for example, will
support new faculty in both research and teaching, postdoctoral
and student research positions, outreach and education programs,
and programmatic and instrumentation priorities, and will enable
the University to become involved in a major new telescope research
$10 million to launch the Center for Religion and Democracy includes
a mixture of operating and endowment funds to help start its research
and outreach programs; to endow a professorship and other positions;
and to give long-term support to its programs and public outreach
Levinsons creativity in structuring their gift sets a new
standard of commitment from those who have received their advanced
degrees from the University," said University President John
T. Casteen III. "Their thoughtful analysis of present and future
needs ties in closely with important work already begun by Virginia
2020, the Universitys long-term planning initiative. We are
grateful for this generous gift."
received his masters degree in astronomy from U.Va. in 1978
and his doctorate in 1980. An active member of the University community,
he was the first astronomy student to be elected president of the
Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. Wynnette Levinson worked
in the archives at Alderman Library during their years in Charlottesville.
Today Levinson is chairman and chief technical officer of Finisar
Corporation, a fiber optic communication systems company that he
founded in 1988.
multifaceted gift is one of the top five in University history and
the largest ever from a former graduate student.
Department of Astronomy will use its $10 million gift for two main
purposesto join a partnership in a large optical telescope
project, and to create a leading team of telescope instrumentation
designers. The department will need to raise an additional $6-8
million to meet all of its goals.
have ambitious goals for our department, and this generous gift
is the cornerstone of our future as a leading astronomy department,"
says Robert T. Rood, chair of the department, which presently is
ranked among the top 20 astronomy programs in the nation.
of our reputation is due to a very strong group of theoretical astrophysicists,"
Rood says. "However, our observers are at a disadvantage compared
to those at more highly ranked institutions where most have guaranteed
access to state-of-the-art telescopes, which increasingly are available
only to closed groups. We only have guaranteed access to our small
local telescopes, and otherwise must compete for time on national
explains that most large telescope projects cost $100 million or
more, and are therefore built and operated by large research consortiums
made up mostly of universities. Each participating institution in
a group is allocated research time on the telescope and each contributes
to the research and instrumentation development efforts.
as a research partner with other institutions on a major eight-meter
or larger optical telescope project is a paramount objective,"
Rood says. "We can no longer get by with chancy allocations
of publicly available observing time. We need to join in as a shareholder
in a major project in order to secure the guaranteed research access
needed to further improve our status as a department. This will
help us attract high quality graduate and undergraduate students
as well as additional top faculty."
department also will form an instrumentation group to develop state-of-the-art
light detectors for use on optical telescopes. The department will
hire a faculty instrumentalist, project manager and engineer, and
add positions for postdoctoral fellows. The department also plans
to improve existing programs, add laboratory facilities, create
new courses, and invite distinguished visitors. The gift also has
funded a new faculty position directed toward education and public
for Religion and Democracy
Center for Religion and Democracy will be a non-partisan research
center exploring the complex relationship between religion and democratic
society. Undergraduates, graduate students and faculty from numerous
disciplines will examine the dynamic role religion plays in the
formation of democratic ideals, institutions and practices.
Thomas Jefferson observed, democracy must be renewed in every generation
and within the circumstances in which each new generation finds
itself. It is essential for our generation to come to terms with
the changing realities that both sustain democratic life and threaten
to destabilize it," said James Davison Hunter, the William
R. Kenan Professor of Sociology and Religious Studies and chair
of the sociology department.
alone cannot provide what democratic vitality requires, Hunter said.
"Democratic vitality depends upon its ability to sustain coherent
and binding moral understandingsa common vision for a common
centers researchers will explore how such common ideals are
generated through two-year cycles of study organized in themes.
The first research cycle, spanning 2002-2004, will explore religion,
pluralism and public discourse. The second cycle will examine religion
and American public philosophy, and a third cycle will probe religion
and moral and civic education.
the start of each cycle, the center will sponsor a national public
opinion survey focused on the research theme. To facilitate the
research the center will offer four residential and non-residential
post-doctoral fellowships in a variety of disciplines including
sociology, history, political science, philosophy, religious studies
and law. The center will also award six doctoral fellowships annually.
Five U.Va. faculty will serve as fellows during each research cycle
and will teach courses that explore democratic practice and the
role of religion in civic life.
share their work and to gain feedback, the center will hold semi-annual
conferences for the fellows; sponsor an annual fall lecture that
brings a distinguished scholar to U.Va.; and, at the end of each
cycle, host an academic conference likely to attract leading scholars
as well as civic and religious leaders.
center also will disseminate its findings to the public through
journal articles and essays, newsletters, a web site and the media.
"The center has great potential for galvanizing interdisciplinary
interest across Grounds and for serving the broader public good,"
for the University of Virginia
Campaign for the University of Virginia was launched on Oct. 6,
1995, with an initial goal of $750 million. In February of 1998,
the goal was increased to $1 billion and extended to the end of
2000. Gifts and pledges now total more than $1.25 billion.
Carol Wood, (804) 924-6189 or Ken Kipps, (804) 243-8960