Ahead of Grand Opening, Board Renames UVA’s Main Library

March 1, 2024 By Mike Mather, mike.mather@virginia.edu Mike Mather, mike.mather@virginia.edu

The University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors voted on Friday to rename Grounds’ largest and most historic library – a building in the final stages of an extensive renovation – in honor of the University’s fourth president, Edgar F. Shannon Jr.

Board member and Building and Grounds Committee Chair John Nau brought the name-change recommendation to the full board. The building between Newcomb and McCormick roads will be known as The Edgar Shannon Library.

The vote to rename what had been known since 1938 as Alderman Library – after the University’s first president, Edwin A. Alderman – took just a few moments, but the research, planning and discussion has been two years in the making.

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“President Shannon’s accomplishments embody the values that the University aspires to in its striving to be both great and good,” said Michael Suarez, an English professor and director of Rare Book School who headed the committee that recommended the new name. The honor, Suarez continued, “appropriately recognizes a remarkable University leader who transformed UVA into a modern research university, but who has little formal recognition on Grounds.”

While the University’s policy on philanthropic namings generally requires they remain in place at least 75 years, an honorary naming such as Alderman’s is available for review after 25 years. At 85 years, the Alderman name was “way past the statute of limitations” and qualified for reconsideration, Suarez said. At the same time, the library’s four-year renovation has been so extensive, “it is practically a new entity,” Suarez continued. “This is a new beginning.”

Shannon, a Rhodes Scholar and an English professor, became UVA president in 1959, a post he held until 1974. His time as president coincided with tumult across the nation’s college campuses, and he is credited with deftly navigating the challenging times.

Edgar Shannon

Shannon, a military veteran, is known for leading UVA students through tumultuous times in the 1960s and early 1970s, including supporting student protests of the U.S. military’s invasion of Cambodia. (Photo from the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library)

For example, Shannon was a decorated World War II combat veteran and an ardent supporter of the armed forces, but he encouraged students to protest the U.S. military’s invasion of Cambodia in 1970 under the Nixon administration. A month later, Shannon urged students to sign petitions denouncing the National Guard’s shooting of students at Kent State University. His stance against the war in Vietnam prompted calls for his dismissal, but the board declined to fire him. At Final Exercises that year, students, staff and families greeted him with a prolonged standing ovation.

Shannon later served on the boards of the United States Naval and Air Force academies.

In 1967 at UVA, Shannon recommended admitting women to the College of Arts & Sciences. The board agreed and tasked Shannon with preparing the University to become co-educational. A lawsuit moved the plans forward more quickly. Two years later, Shannon pushed to increase enrollment of Black students. He oversaw the hiring of the University’s first Black admissions officer and the appointment of Black students as student recruiters. Around that same time, he resigned his membership from the Farmington Country Club over its then-refusal to accept Black members.

Shannon and family

Shannon, pictured here with his wife and daughters, was the first president to recommend UVA admit women. A lawsuit moved those plans more quickly. (Photo from the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library)

“It was President Edgar Shannon who ushered the University into the second half of that century and whose leadership largely gave our University the character, values and aspirations by which we understand the University of Virginia and its commitments to excellence today,” Suarez said.

UVA President Jim Ryan created the Naming & Memorials Committee in January 2021, to make recommendations when asked. In addition to Suarez as chair, its members include UVA alumnus Rusty Conner, a former UVA Board of Visitors rector; Kevin Gaines, the Julian Bond Professor of Civil Rights and Social Justice and a professor of African American and African studies; Claudrena Harold, a professor of African American and African studies and the chair of the Corcoran Department of History; John Jeffries, a UVA alumnus, a former dean of the School of Law and a Jefferson Medal recipient; and Meredith Jenkins, a UVA alumna and member of the UVA Investment Management Company’s board of directors.

The renovated building opened many of its study spaces in January and a grand reopening is scheduled for April 4.

Media Contact

Mike Mather

Managing Editor University Communications