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Edward L. Ayers, Southern History Expert, Appointed Dean of the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences

May 24, 2001-- University of Virginia history professor Edward L. Ayers will become dean of the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences on Aug. 25, University President John T. Casteen III announced today. Ayers is a nationally acclaimed expert on the history of the South and a pioneer in the use of technology in humanities research and teaching.

"Ed's vision and creativity have revolutionized the study of the humanities," Casteen said. "I have great confidence that these traits will bring new energy and excitement to the College and will transform the way faculty and students approach teaching, learning, and research."

Ayers, the Hugh P. Kelly Professor of History, succeeds Melvyn P. Leffler as the chief administrator of the liberal arts core of the University. Leffler announced last fall that he would step down after four years as dean to accept the visiting Harmsworth Professorship in American History at Oxford University in England.

With approximately 725 faculty members in 25 academic departments, a like number of academic and research centers and interdisciplinary programs, and more than 10,600 of U.Va.'s 18,550 undergraduate and graduate students, the College and Graduate School include approximately 20 programs ranked among the nation's strongest as well as recognized leaders in every field of learning within the liberal arts. "I'm honored to be given this opportunity to work on behalf of the College and Graduate School and the University. Though I've been here for 20 years, there is still much to learn about this extraordinarily complex institution," Ayers said. "This place has shaped me and sustained me throughout my career, and I look forward to helping it move forward in whatever way I can."

The search committee, which began its work in October, interviewed a half dozen candidates in late March and narrowed the field to three for on Grounds interviews, said committee chair Gene D. Block, vice president for research and public service. Ayers stood out for his "very broad vision and passion for the academic community, undergraduate education and outstanding scholarship. He brings all of that together as well as anybody I've ever met." Ayers praised the work of Leffler, a strong advocate for Arts & Sciences. Leffler led the school's participation in the Campaign for the University of Virginia, which ended in December and took in $155.4 million in gifts and pledges for Arts & Sciences. Leffler also helped launch the new College Foundation, announced in April.

"My job has been made a lot easier by the hard work Mel Leffler has done," Ayers said.

In accepting the leadership of Arts & Sciences, Ayers - who said his "major focus" in the past few years has been in the digital humanities - plans to promote innovation in teaching and research. This includes the University's proposed Digital Academical Village, intended to integrate digital technology with the humanities and social sciences in ways that promise to redefine a liberal arts education in the Internet age.

"I want us to live up to Jefferson's original vision of the University as the most modern and forward-looking institution of higher education in the nation. I'm interested in all forms of innovation and ground-breaking work," he said.

"Even as we pursue those ends, however, we must always focus on our central missions: improving the quality of undergraduate life and education, strengthening our graduate programs, building our departments, and keeping our superb faculty and staff." Ayers, 48, who earned an undergraduate degree at the University of Tennessee and master's and doctoral degrees at Yale University, joined the U.Va. history faculty in 1980. His enthusiastic and engaging lectures quickly placed his courses among those most in demand at the University. He was promoted to associate professor in 1986 and awarded the Hugh P. Kelly chair and a full professorship in 1993. Earlier this year, he was elected a fellow of the American

Academy of Arts & Sciences, one of approximately 30 U.Va. faculty members ever to attain that distinction. Ayers also won Presidential appointment to the 26-member National Council on the Humanities in 1999.

He is a co-founder of the Virginia Center for Digital History at the University of Virginia, along with current center director William G. Thomas. Ayers' best-known work is the acclaimed project, "Valley of the Shadow: Two Communities in the American Civil War," a comprehensive examination of everyday life before and during the Civil War in two small communities on either side of the Mason-Dixon Line. Its extensive Web site ( makes primary sources of information available to scholars and the general public.

In February, the "Valley of the Shadow" project won the first E-Lincoln Prize, awarded by Gettysburg College to honor the finest scholarly works on Abraham Lincoln or the Civil War era produced in digital form, an award Ayers shared with Thomas and Anne Rubin, assistant professor of history at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County.

His 1984 book, "Vengeance and Justice: Crime and Punishment in the Nineteenth-Century American South" won the J. Willard Hurst Prize for best book in American legal history. His national reputation grew even more with publication of "The Promise of the New South: Life After Reconstruction," a finalist for both the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize in 1992. It won the 1993 Phi Beta Kappa Book Award. Ayers also was senior editor of "The Oxford Book of the American South."

Ayers chaired the U.Va. Faculty Senate from 1998 to 1999, leading a major discussion of the role and impact of technology in academic life during his term. He received the 1993 Raven Award for Distinguished Service to the University and one of the State Council of Higher Education in Virginia's 1991 Outstanding Faculty Awards. He also won a Fulbright grant to lecture for four months at the University of Gronligen in the Netherlands in 1995.

A 1997 article in the U.Va. alumni magazine named Ayers as one of 10 "professors we love," calling him "a dynamic lecturer, known for assignments that send students straight to primary sources, even in their early college years." In 1993, he was voted "Teacher of the Year" in a poll of undergraduate students.

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Ed Ayers may be reached this evening at his home number, (804) 977-7334. A black-and-white head shot of Ayers is available via electronic transmission through the University News Office. Call Carol Wood, director of News Services, at 804-924-6198, if you would like a photo.

Contact: Louise Dudley (804) 924-1400

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Contact the Office of University Relations at (804) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (804) 924-7550.
SOURCE: U.Va. News Services


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