Jefferson Curating Society

I was delighted to see your winter 2016 article on the Jefferson Society, and I am glad to see that Jack Chellman and others are now taking steps to preserve the Society’s archives. I was honored to belong to “the Hall” (from “Jeff Hall,” our insider name for Hotel C). I cherished its history and relished the companionship of some of the University’s brightest and kookiest students.

Stacey Evans

Today’s Hall is recognizably the same one I joined in 1971, but I observe some differences. Unlike today, back then we did not “snap” to approve speakers or “hiss” to disapprove them. (Perhaps this is an older custom that today’s members have resurrected.) We always applauded guests. Normally, though, we just heckled each other. We might show real disapproval by tossing beer cups. Yes, students legally drank beer then, and the Hall’s elected Keeper of the (beer) Keg was the most highly exalted of our officers. The Keeper was always a “he,” because as your article points out, female membership came late to the Hall. Many nonmembers criticized the Hall as merely a sexist “beer and b.s. society.” They missed the fact that, until we wore ourselves out and moved on to debating Nixon’s impeachment, our speeches addressed “Hall coeducation” cleverly, intelligently, and with respect for ourselves and for prospective female members. Our first female member shot the Hall Bra (hers) onto the Hall’s chandelier, so it could join the Hall Tie as an emergency adornment for ill-dressed speakers. We liked outrageous speeches delivered by “flamers.” We cherished wit, the more sophomoric the better. We liked the secretary to write minutes in infradig verse, we liked putdowns like “pish-tosh,” and we liked to dismiss serious objections as so much “adiaphora.” We learned to be sharp, be tolerant, take criticism, and not take ourselves too seriously.

Beer, alas, has disappeared from the Hall, and when I last visited it in 1999, I was impressed by the earnestness, intelligence, and politeness of my hosts. They offered me iced tea. It was no longer my Hall. Clearly, though, it was theirs, and they loved it as I did. The earth belongs in usufruct to the living, we were once told, and so student-run institutions like the Jefferson Society and the Honor System inevitably and rightly change over time. Mindful of this, perhaps we alumni can offer today’s students our experience, but stay out of their way. It was our time. Now it’s theirs.

Rich Walter (Col ’74, Law ’77)
Bridgeville, Pennsylvania

 

In June of 1993, a task force of students, professors, and administrators found that male members of the Jefferson Society exploited women recruits. As punishment the Jefferson Society temporarily lost their meeting space in Jefferson Hall for the only time in their history. …

I am pleased to read in Virginia Magazine that today the Society’s membership is “diverse in race and gender.” But as for the University itself, the history is not complete without telling the story of the fights for equality along the way.

David M. Diamond (Col ’95)
Bozeman, Montana

 

The Jefferson Society article was wonderfully written about its marvelous and gallant UVA history that takes place on Friday nights at Jefferson Hall. The read was a tour de force!  Being a former very proud member...that night in 1959, I gave my probationary speech and the hissing and the disdain of the members could have been heard all the way over to Newcomb Hall. (The doors were open.) My topic was “The Importance of Football Scholarships”! The members didn’t think it lived up to the standards of our beloved Society. Yep, I received their disapprovals loud and clear!  The speech certainly confirmed what Molly Minturn wrote in her excellent article... “The Jefferson Society Friday nights atmosphere is never stodgy or dull.”  What fun my fellow members and I had that night!  Ironically the speech was bestowed a respectable award of which I cannot remember!

John A. Docherty III (Educ ’61)
Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

 

Correction: The Jefferson Society’s Thomas Sully portrait of Thomas Jefferson most likely dates to 1821–22, not 1819, as we had reported in our Winter 2016 story, “The Jefferson Curating Society.” We regret the error.

 

Why UVA Is All They Ever Talk About

I thoroughly enjoyed the Winter 2016 edition of [Virginia Magazine]. I usually just skim through the magazine and check [Class Notes] or the In Memoriam in the back.

This time, I read with interest the entire article about the Jefferson Literary and Debating Society. I am always fascinated about the history of The University.

My favorite article was the commentary by Kenneth G. Elzinga. I agree wholeheartedly that when UVA graduates get together, the invariably talk about their school. This is a remarkable testament to the love and respect of their alma mater imbued in students during their time on The Grounds.

I look forward to more great issues of your magazine.

Michael D. Crowley, M.D. (Med ’75)
Easton, Maryland

 

Kenneth G. Elzinga Dan Addison

This year, eleven of us who met first year celebrated 50 years of comradeship (along with our significant others) with a long weekend in C’ville.  Most of us have met at least once a year since we graduated.  Half the conversation was about our undergrad days.  Our spouses challenged us to come up with stories they had not heard and we managed a few.   As Tamara Walsh stated in her comment, this was a defining period in all our lives.   (I was fortunate enough to take Mr. Elzinga’s intro economics course in his “first year”–one of the most useful in terms of content and easily the most entertaining.)

Branch Watkins (Com ’70)
Morristown, New Jersey

 

It’s so funny to read this from someone as distinguished as Professor Elzinga, because it confirms what my wife and I have lived for years:  we’re both ’Hoos, living in Los Angeles, and we talk incessantly about UVA to anyone who will listen!  We also often say that “’Hoos are EVERYWHERE,” as we run into fellow ’Hoos literally all over the globe when we travel.  It’s uncanny, and it does indeed set us apart from other universities.  Thanks, Prof. Elzinga, for confirming this phenomenon for us.

Rodney Hobbs (Com ’94)
Glendale, California

 

No wonder it is all they ever talk about. It is the same for me. I graduated from the College in 1987, was married and widowed, am now retired, and those years still remain the defining period of my life. UVA is special in a way nothing else can match.

Tamara Walsh (Col ’87)
Clearwater Beach, Florida

 

Professor Elzinga sparked a passion for economics that dramatically influenced my course of study from engineering and thus my career and life after UVA.  Thank you, sir.

Will Tate (Col ’05)
Nashville, Tennessee

 

I’ve pondered this for years, never daring to think that graduates of other universities aren’t as proud/fond/enamored of their schools as we are of ours. However, 30+ years after graduating I’ve come to realize that when one is especially proud of something it’s only natural to make it a focus. Just getting admitted to UVA is an outstanding accomplishment and upon graduation we joined a very long list of distinguished UVA alumni in almost any field one can name. Charlottesville is a beautiful place steeped in history. Our university was founded by the third President of the United States and the author of the Declaration of Independence.  Our school is an architectural marvel and a World Heritage site. As alumni we have so much to be proud of with regard to our university that I daresay our collective pride is very much warranted.

Seward Totty (Col ’85)
Lexington, Kentucky

 

Dr. Elzinga is the Essence of why we love UVA. He made the Dull Science interesting. He made us want to go to class. He was instrumental in my success in life, and I thank the professor.

Ted Moore (Col ’71, Darden ’74)
Lookout Mountain, Tennessee

 

Ken, UVA is a great school and I am so glad for your contributions to the lives of its students.  In addition to the thousands of alumni who deeply appreciate you, there are many others throughout the world who are influenced by your excellent work in economics and your high moral character!

Dorothy Chappell (Grad ’73)
Wheaton, Illinois

 

NASA’s Unseen Heroes

Margot Lee Shetterly Matt Eich

Thank you so much for sharing these brilliant and shining women with the world!

Elizabeth A. Trought (Grad ’93)
Dorchester, New Hampshire

 

Finally, a book about more African-American heroes! I am elated that Margot Lee Shetterly has told her own story! I am looking forward … for this book to be included in school libraries across the U.S.

Diane Brown Townes (Educ ’91)
Keswick, Virginia

 

In Memoriam: R.K. Ramazani

R.K. Ramazani

I was saddened to read Professor Ramazani’s obituary in the Winter 2016 edition.  He was one of my mentors in the foreign affairs academic program.  He was an inspirational instructor and a faculty member who would share his life with the students.  When I later served as a nuclear weapons liaison to NATO troops in Germany and as a governmental advisor to the Vietnamese federal police, I was always aided by my UVA academic training–especially of Ruhi Ramazani.  Later while serving as mayor of my home town, we had the opportunity to meet again at my class reunion–he expressed genuine interest in how his mentorship had aided in my many public service adventures both here and abroad.

Don Slesnick II (Col ’65)
Coral Gables, Florida

 

Digital Exclusive: “From Time to Time

What a wonderful comparison! I have been in Charlottesville all of my 47 years, and I can’t believe the transformation of this city! This made me proud to be a part of this fine city or town! Thank you so much!

Demetrise Luck
Charlottesville

 

I thoroughly enjoyed your “From Time to Time” article on the University changes. But one interesting point which you did not make about Lambeth Field was that it was the place where an airplane landed and took off for the first time in Charlottesville (or that is my recollection of the events surrounding the occasion). There is a Holsinger photo in the Library’s collection. I always wanted to get a print of that picture and have it framed, but it never got the top of my to-do list.

William Bigler II (Engr ’76)
Centreville, Virginia

 

Modern Honor

The letter in the Winter 2016 issue from Sam Leven (Col ’07) offers no evidence of students’ being both “wrongfully convicted and expelled” under the Honor System, and further it seems to excuse the actions leading to the expulsion of some students because they were “never effectively taught what plagiarism is.” While some first years might arrive on Grounds without much understanding of the Honor System, in fact, in the early days following their arrival, much time is spent by the Honor Committee carefully explaining how the System works and the grounds for an Honor violation and conviction.

The Honor System is not “a flawed system run by flawed human beings.” The members of the Honor Committee are leaders at the University and elected by their peers. They are certainly not “flawed” in being so elected nor with respect to the time and hard work each contributes.

As to the criticism of the single sanction, it is the essence of the Honor System, which has prevailed since the adoption of an Honor pledge in 1842, and the sanction has sustained several votes seeking its removal. Honor is Honor, whether we are dealing with events in 1842 or 175 years later. The observation of James Hay Jr., Class of 1903, that “I have worn the honors of Honor, I graduated from Virginia,” is as important and valid today as it was so many years ago.

Harry R. Marshall Jr. (Col ’61)
Chevy Chase, Maryland

 

American culture is entering into a period of moral relativism, and our government leaders are ushering in this new period with their lax moral standards.  The current generation sees moral relativism in many facets of their life, education, and culture.

We have just experienced an election where ad hominem attacks comprised the vast majority of the debate.  That continues in these pages where the first argument that one letter writer offered was to point out “just how little these alumni actually reflect on what they are saying” regarding the Honor System.  Everybody who has responded on these pages, pro and con, has carefully reflected on their opinions.  Quoting the original article, one wonders what “forgiving social contract” is at hand with this unforgiving argument.

It is simply not the case that students are being, and have been, expelled in order to prove only that other students are “honorable.”  Neither is the Honor System itself flawed by definition.  While it is true that human beings are flawed, that does not then mean that people should not improve themselves.  Honorable behavior is an improvement to the human condition.

As it stands, students are being offered a safe space to lie, cheat, or steal at least once.  Why not more than once? It would be less of a burden after all.

John Fornaro (Arch ’76, ’79)
Charlottesville, Virginia

 

I strongly believe that many alumni of the University will discontinue charitable contributions to the University of Virginia and its Alumni Association if a decision is made to change the Honors Code system from the single sanction of permanent expulsion to a multiple sanction system. Such a change would be an enormous mistake, fundamentally damage the tradition of honor at the University, adversely affect its success in instilling integrity in the character of its students, and upset many alumni who cherish the University’s tradition of honor.

Stuart D. Glasser (Col ’62)
Palm Beach Gardens, Florida

 

A Flight Forgotten

My high school French teacher, Adair McConnell, was a relative (great nephew?) of James McConnell.  He frequently talked about this unusual statue at UVA that honored a relative of his killed in WWI.  Oddly enough, he did not have a picture of it.  I sent him a picture shortly after I arrived at UVA in the fall of 1981.  I walked by the statue countless times on my way to Clemons library during my time at UVA.

Mark Britto (Engr ’86, ’95)
Fredericksburg, Virginia

 

Curriculum Changes

In his letter about curriculum changes in the Winter 2016 issue, Richard H. Gill (Law ’65) states: “It has long been a criticism of many medical doctors that they know nothing but science and chemistry. …”  I was under the impression that chemistry was just as much a part of science as Clio was one of the Muses.

…I received a master’s degree in chemistry from UVA and, after a Ph.D. and postdoctoral stints, I began teaching chemistry until my retirement in 2007. During my training at UVA, I was the teaching assistant for a chemistry laboratory, which was a mandatory course for pre-medical students and where I was exposed to the emotional stress that pervades the psyche of future practitioners of the healing arts. It became obvious then that one of the subjects pre-medical students dislike, fear and dearly wish they could skip is chemistry. I say so, not only as an inmate at a number of universities, but as a member of the pre-medical committee of some of those institutions.

…[W]hen selecting your [health providers] make sure you ask them if chemistry was their worst subject in college whereupon, should the answer be “yes,” get one who says “no.” You will never regret it.

Ivan Bernal (Grad ’56)
Houston, Texas

 

The Winter Issue

The Alumni magazine is always good, but, the latest is the best yet. A very complete update of Alumni and their achievements, as well as sports and many other news items about the University. Thanks for your excellent and hard work in this edition, as well as past and future editions.

Michael L. Hagy (Educ ’75)
Abingdon, Virginia

Rarely does an issue of the UVA magazine rouse as many memories as did your winter 2016 issue. I was pleased to see the letter concerning the Icarus statue from Guy St. Clair, who was a fellow resident of 2nd floor Kent House during my first year. The article on the Jefferson Society reminded me of the many Friday nights at 7:29 when I headed for Hotel C on the West Range to see what new absurdities would be inflicted on the membership by one or more probationary speakers. (I commend all those involved in the current effort to catalogue and preserve the documents relating to the Society in its earlier years). But the greatest jolt came from seeing the picture of John Dos Passos and William Faulkner taken on the occasion of their visit to Jefferson Hall in 1957. What most surprised and delighted me was seeing a third person in the photograph [above, far right], unnamed in the caption, who was in fact Professor Joseph Blotner of the UVA English Department—Faulkner’s biographer and one of the individuals responsible for bringing Faulkner to the University as a writer in residence. I was fortunate enough to take Blotner's two-semester course in British and American poetry. It was during the second semester that he brought Faulkner into the classroom, to read to us from his short stories and answer (often in a perfunctory manner) questions from students. I lost track of Professor Blotner until several years ago when I happened across his wonderful autobiography (An Unexpected Life), in which he recounted his experiences as a bombardier on a B-17, later a prisoner of war, and then as an academic survivor—coming to UVA after a stint as a technical writer at RCA and an overworked instructor in English composition at the University of Idaho.

So thank you for such an informative issue, and for permitting me to correct that one omission. Fabulous professors like Joseph Blotner deserve to be remembered and celebrated.

Incidentally, I also very much enjoyed Professor Kenneth Elzinga’s article, “Why UVA is all they ever talk about.” It is true that graduates of UVA tend to talk about their old school much more than do graduates of many other institutions. I should point out, however, that where I now live and teach, UNC is all UNC graduates ever talk about.

James Lesher (Col ’62)
Chapel Hill, North Carolina