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
"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
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 (http://jefferson.village.virginia.edu/vshadow2/)
makes primary sources of information available to scholars and the
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
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.
# # #
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
Louise Dudley (804) 924-1400