Historian and University President Edward L. Ayers answers questions from alumni and
students about history, higher education, and the University.
What is one thing you recommend that all students do to be more engaged in the Richmond community? —Mel Shuaipi, '15
Love the city by enjoying it and making it even better. Go to wonderful places that also happen to be free, such as the Japanese gardens at Maymont, Pony Pasture on the James, and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Then go to the Center for Civic Engagement and find ways to make your own contribution.
What do you find the most enjoyable
and the most difficult parts of your job? —Dillon Massey, '15
The two parts are related. The most enjoyable is seeing people at every stage of their relationship with the University, from prospective students to people who are here for their 65th reunion. The most difficult involves making decisions that are best for the institution in the long run but that affect an experience that means a great deal to students and alumni today.
Please let us know why you are planning
to give up one of the core sports of a
University sports program. Wouldn't the University be better off refocusing on building an even more successful [track] program? —Michael Finn, '02
In a school of our size and selectivity, we cannot have everything we might wish in Division I athletics. Cross-country, the largest part of our running program, will keep all its resources while the roster spots from indoor and outdoor track will permit many of our other sports, men's and women's, to become stronger.
Over time, historians' research frequently appears at odds with eyewitness testimony, whether of victims or perpetrators. How ought this discrepancy be handled? —Simon Sibelman, R'70, executive
director, Virginia Holocaust Museum
The truth often lies in the space between people's memory and the written record.
We can use the discrepancy between eyewitness accounts and other documents
as a particularly revealing kind of information. No one sees the totality of a situation, even those who are within it.
As technology, shifting demographics, and rising costs affect higher education, are four-year, residential colleges sustainable? —Kathryn Masterson, '96, freelance writer covering higher education
These are indeed challenging times for some residential colleges, but the University is particularly fortunate in having far-sighted benefactors, excellent management of our resources over the years, and many students who want to attend. Our financial strategy is sustainable, though we need to continue to be vigilant about living within our means. More broadly, I believe there will be a place for excellent four-year residential colleges because education is more than information transmittal. The residential experience is transformative on multiple levels, both academic and personal.
What are the three most fundamental
characteristics that have enabled the University to grow into a nationally recognized institution? —Charles L. Geshekter, R'65
First, opportunity. That's been our hallmark from the very beginning. Second, sincere devotion to students. Across all generations, people remember how much the faculty really cared about them, whether they were here in the 1930s or 2010s. Third, inclusivity. The more inclusive we've become, the more welcoming we've become, the better we've become.
This year, we'll mark the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the Battle of Gettysburg. What lesser-known milestone is circled on your 2013 calendar?
In April 1863, as prices spiraled upward and supplies of essentials dwindled, white women led the Richmond Bread Riot, breaking into the stores and warehouses of merchants the rioters believed were exploiting them, dispersing only when militia fired on them. Important struggles of the Civil War took place far from the battlefield.
Have a question for President Ayers for the winter issue?