Dean of Students Allen W. Groves left in late June 2021. Dan Addison

Dean of Students Allen W. Groves (Law ’90), who touched the lives of tens of thousands of students, left UVA in late June for what he’s calling a new adventure—to serve as senior vice president for the student experience at Syracuse University.

For more than a decade, Groves was a fixture at UVA, accepting invitations from students for everything from meetings and meals to a Guinness World Record attempt for the most high-fives in an hour, which he clinched in 2013. And he helped guide students through some of UVA’s darkest hours, including in 2017 when he worked to protect students from neo-Nazis as they circled the Thomas Jefferson statue at the Rotunda.

But beyond the headline-grabbing moments, he forged enduring relationships with students, counseling some through harrowing personal challenges. As the most senior administrator at UVA who was openly gay, he was a stalwart supporter of LGBTQ+ students on Grounds. “It’s the kind of thing that means the world to me—how you impacted somebody’s life,” says Groves, who keeps a drawer of thank-you notes from students.

Groves’ departure comes 15 years after Patricia M. Lampkin (Educ ’86)—who recently retired as vice president and chief student affairs officer—persuaded him to leave his role as a partner at an Atlanta law firm for a development officer post at UVA. During law school, Groves had worked for Lampkin as a first-year dorms area coordinator. He was promoted to dean of students in 2008.

Groves leaned on his legal expertise as he addressed First Amendment issues on Grounds. “Others outside the University often sought him out for his expertise and nuanced understanding of this democratic ideal,” Susan M. Davis, associate vice president for student affairs, wrote in an email. She described his impact on the student experience as “multidimensional.” 

For Groves, Lampkin’s retirement plans, announced in early 2020, triggered reflections on his own career. He says he didn’t apply for her job because he believed the office could use a fresh perspective. Syracuse called in November. “What I’m excited about is a truly new place … and the chance to really do something new in a different setting and with a new team of people,” Groves says.

Groves’ and Lampkin’s exits clear the way for profound change in student affairs. Vice President and Chief Student Affairs Officer Robyn Hadley, a former senior administrator at Washington University in St. Louis, succeeded Lampkin in June and will search for Groves’ successor this fall.

Groves’ impact at UVA was obvious, Hadley says. While walking with him on Grounds, “It feels like he’s the mayor.”

And as she searches for a successor, Hadley says she’ll be looking for somebody who, like Groves, leads with enthusiasm. “His presence, his energy, his excitement, his curiosity and his willingness to just be available and engaged is what you want in somebody who is your dean of students,” she says. “But, most importantly, it’s what you want in a professional colleague and teammate in this profession.”