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Why UVA Is All They Ever Talk About

Kenneth G. Elzinga Dan Addison

There are 100 jokes that begin with “A guy walks into a bar.” So far as I know, there are no jokes that begin with “An economist walks into a law firm.”

But on more than one occasion, I have walked into a law firm and faced, not a comical situation, but a situation that sticks in my memory. The story line is always something like this: I’ve been asked to advise some company or organization about an antitrust problem. This is not surprising because antitrust economics is one of the subjects I teach, and it is the focus of my research. Often, I’m invited to a meeting at the law firm representing the company or organization.

As the meeting begins, I’m introduced as a professor from UVA, whereupon one of the senior lawyers in the conference room responds with words to this effect: “Oh, we’ve got several partners here who are graduates of the University of Virginia. That’s all they ever talk about.

Having grown up in Michigan, I know how common it is for graduates of the University of Michigan or Michigan State University (my alma mater and UVA President Terry Sullivan’s) to talk about their schools. But the conversation is usually about who won (or lost) the last football or basketball game.

What catches the attention of these attorneys is that UVA graduates talk about their school in a multifaceted, multiplatform sense. UVA is not just about sports. It is about Honor; it is about architecture; it is about history, academics and student self-governance; it is Charlottesville; it is Mr. Jefferson; and more.

This is not to say that graduates of other schools are not (as the Beach Boys once put it) “true to their school.” But I’ve come to realize that UVA is different. The University of Virginia represents the academic manifestation of modern portfolio theory. UVA is a diversified bundle of assets and features that sends graduates out talking about their University.

I joined the UVA faculty fresh out of graduate school in the fall of 1967. I’ll let you do the math as to how long I’ve hung my hat, first in Rouss Hall and now in Monroe Hall. Over these years, this characteristic of UVA graduates—“That’s all they ever talk about”—has been a constant.

This kind of affection for their school confers positive externalities on professors like myself, who are fortunate enough to be on the faculty at Mr. Jefferson’s University. As I reflect on this, I realize how blessed I am to be at a school where it is said of the graduates, “That’s all they ever talk about.

Kenneth G. Elzinga is the Robert C. Taylor Chair in Economics at the University of Virginia.