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Best Public University


  Queen Elizabeth II Visits

The University of Virginia emerged during the 1970s with a newly won reputation—in the words of a national educational journal—as "a first-rate institution according to all the traditional barometers of academic excellence." New buildings, new programs, and new advances in the arts and sciences, technology, engineering, architecture, athletics, and the library system helped U.Va. move from being a school with regional stature to a major university gaining national and international recognition.

With the nation's 1976 bicentennial in view, many within in the University community felt that the Rotunda should be renovated to match Jefferson's original design. Students and alumni raised money for the cause. Renovated as closely as possible according to plans from the 1800s, a now three-story Rotunda opened on the founder's birthday, April 13, 1976. To commemorate the anniversary of America's independence, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II strolled the University of Virginia Lawn and lunched in the Dome Room of the Rotunda, one of five American sites she visited publicly.


Alumni efforts and athletic success contributed to the growing excellence of the University of Virginia during the last decades of the twentieth century. President Frank H. Hereford led a successful capital campaign in the 1980s, raising nearly $150 million. All eyes were on seven-foot-four Ralph Sampson as he led Virginia's basketball team to repeated successes from 1980 to 1983. Coach George Welsh turned Virginia's football team into a national power, and the Cavalier intercollegiate teams in men's soccer, women's basketball, men's baseball, and men's and women's lacrosse repeatedly attained national championship status.

Ralph Sampson  

Also during the decade, faculty achievements in academic departments and professional schools brought world recognition to the University. Faculty received recognition through awards such as Pulitzer prizes, Fulbright and Guggenheim fellowships, as well as through their elections to various national academies.

To expanding its Health Complex and address the need for more space, the University broke ground in 1984 for a new hospital. The total project, including the University Hospital, parking garage and associated facilities, is the largest capital project in the state's history at the time, aside from highway construction.

In 1987, the University gained unique recognition when UNESCO included the U.Va. Grounds on its prestigious World Heritage list, which includes the Taj Mahal, Versailles, the Great Wall of China, and Monticello.

U.Va. Classroom


Increasing diversity also played a role in the University's standing and continuing academic achievements. In 1991, for the first time in the University's history, the Student Council president and the chair of the Honor Committee were both African-American students.

In 1992, the Electronic Text Center in the University of Virginia Library was created. The Etext Center promoted innovation and set an early precedent for the creation and use of digital materials by scholars in the humanities. Other technology centers, such as the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, were also founded in the 1990s.

The University's arts collection also advanced in the 1990s with John Kluge's gift of the Kluge-Ruhe collection of Aboriginal art to U.Va. and engineering alumnus Albert Small's gifts of historical treasures, such as his Declaration of Independence Collection, to the University's special collections library.

The expansion of the University's North Grounds late in the decade enabled the strategic growth of the School of Law and the Darden School of Business, while expansion of athletics facilities, such as the Carl Smith Center, home of the David A. Harrison III Field at Scott Stadium, gave the University greater depth and success in its sports programs.

U.S. News & World Report ranked U.Va. the nation's best public university in 1993. The University also consistently ranked well in other published comparisons among America's colleges and universities, whether judged by popularity with students, retention and graduation rates, best-buy status, or overall excellence.

2000 to Present

In the August 2009 U.S. News rankings of best colleges, the University of Virginia ranked the No. 2 best public university in the nation. U.Va. continues to rank in the Top 25 among the best of all national universities, public and private. In the twenty-two years that U.Va. has been ranked by U.S. News, the University has never dropped from the Top 25 group, and in the twelve years since U.S. News began ranking public universities as a separate category, the University has ranked either No. 1 or No. 2. Read more.

The many highlights of the 2000s include the creation of numerous new research centers, institutes, buildings—such as Wilsdorf Hall; the Mary and David Harrison Institute for American History, Literature, and Culture; and the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library. In 2007 the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy was created by a gift from Frank Batten, Sr. The Batten School trains students for public service careers in domestic and international areas. Graduates assume leadership positions in government, in the non-profit sector, and in selected private sector firms.

The University's new financial aid program, AccessUVa, was created in 2004 to keep higher education affordable for U.Va. students. The program is in keeping with the University's mission—as envisioned by Thomas Jefferson—to educate the public citizenry as a basis for participating in a democratic republic.

Presidents of the University of Virginia


Teresa A. Sullivan John T. Casteen III Robert M. O'Neil Frank L. Hereford
Teresa A.
John T.
Casteen III,
Robert M.
Frank L.
Hereford, Jr.,

Edgar F. Shannon Colgate W. Darden Jr. John Lloyd Newcomb Edwin Anderson Alderman
Edgar F.
Shannon, Jr.,
Colgate W.
Darden, Jr.,
John Lloyd
Edwin Anderson

Photo Credits Alumni Association: Striking students in front of Rotunda, Shannon portrait, Hereford portrait
Jack Mellott: Darden classroom
Special Collections, Alderman Library, U.Va.: Jefferson's design for the Rotunda, Edgar Allan Poe, Thomas Jefferson portrait, Corks & Curls cover, Rotunda fire, 1897 student, Class of 1861, James Rogers McConnell, students in uniform, surgery demonstration, first coed class, Walter Ridley, Homer on strike, Queen Elizabeth II, Alderman portrait, Newcomb portrait, Darden portrait.