As Jen Andrasko notes in her publisher’s letter, we’re putting this issue to bed just days after a tragic weekend in Charlottesville. We don’t pretend to have gained full perspective on the events and their ramifications. We do possess full confidence in the strength of the University, and in its rising to the occasion to show real and meaningful civic leadership, which is, after all, our founding promise. We will continue to report on those developments, in Virginia Magazine and across our digital platforms. In the meantime, some thoughts on other topics and the current edition.
One of the great perks of this job is time travel.
Different stories transport you to different times in UVA history. When they do, you often find yourself looking at events of the past with the eyes of the present.
Take the picture of the great Rotunda fire of 1895, part of a new book of UVA artifacts that our Summer 2014 cover story inspired. From the comfort of hindsight’s armchair, I like to think I would have made different choices from those made by professor William H. “Reddy” Echols, who thought dynamite could be a fire retardant.
Sometimes you reverse the experience and look at present-day events through the lens of your own time on Grounds. Here, I’m thinking of the Grillswith.
If you attended the University anytime from the late 1940s to the mid-1980s, you likely know the dish well: two glazed doughnuts, griddle fried and topped with a scoop of ice cream. It was medicinal, dispensed over the much-spilled-upon counter of the University Diner as a weekend preventative of flu-like symptoms. Doing the dispensing was the dauntless Ethel Mae Booker, a waitress who did not suffer fools, fraternity types or any false dichotomy between the two.
The Grillswith lives on, we’re happy to report, throughout Charlottesville and even down in New Orleans. On the same site as the old U.D., Fig Bistro offers a nouvelle version. Through Class of ’81 eyes, I try to picture just how fast Ethel would have ushered any of us to the curb by our earlobes had we attempted ordering a Grillswith à la Fig: simmered in a brown sugar bourbon sauce, drizzled with a quartet of melted chocolates and—Ethel, if it’s not too much trouble—topped with powdered sugar and a hint of cinnamon.
Grillswiths change. Times change—but not always. Time travel can also reveal parallels. In this issue we cover the search for both UVA’s first president, in a pair of stories (The First President and Exactly what he didn’t want. Exactly what UVA needed.), and the search for its next, in a Q&A with Frank M. “Rusty” Conner III, the new rector of the Board of Visitors. In both reports, you see UVA poised for ambitious growth. The Board currently seeks a president who can rev up research and the sciences—much of which is well underway, as you'll see in this issue's cover story. The charge to the next president is to double down on R&D without shortchanging the humanities or the undergraduate experience. Edwin Alderman, the University’s first president, faced a similar challenge in introducing the social sciences at the expense of ancient languages.
Throughout UVA history, the immutable question has been, how does the University make tangible progress while preserving the essential intangibles? We put that question to the rector. And we leave it for you to ponder.
Food for thought, with a scoop of vanilla, but eighty-six the hint of cinnamon.
S. Richard Gard Jr.