Casteen Welcomes Class of 2013, His Last as U.Va. President

August 24, 2009 — Much of "Move-In Day" and the Opening Convocation for new University of Virginia students was the same this year as in years past.

Performances by the University Singers and Sil-Hoo-Ettes. The Jefferson nickel awaiting students on their seats at the convocation, a traditional gift of alumnus Harry Bruns. The signing of the honor pledge. The gift to the class of 2013 from the Seven Society. Encouragement by President John T. Casteen III to students to get to know their professors, study subjects they don't know, give back to the community, stay safe and treasure these next four years.

The main difference: This was the last time Casteen will welcome an incoming class. After 20 years – the second-longest tenure in the University's history – U.Va.'s seventh president will step down on Aug. 1, 2010.

That could be seen in the overflowing audience on Saturday for his welcoming remarks to students and parents, and the standing ovation they gave him at the conclusion.

Allen Groves, dean of students, introduced Casteen at Sunday evening's convocation, to students' applause. He noted that the president welcomed his first class in August 1990. "To put that in perspective, that was three months after I graduated," he said.

Casteen's most enduring legacy, Groves said, was not its physical growth, but the opening of U.Va. to students of every racial, ethnic and economic background. After reading excerpts from two editorials commending the president upon the announcement in June of his retirement, Groves added:

"As an alumnus, as I thought about introducing President Casteen for the last time, there are only two words that are a perfect introduction: Thank you."

The president welcomed the largest first-year class in the University's history, 3,260 students from 46 states, the District of Columbia and 76 countries. Sixty-eight percent are Virginians; half of those hail from Northern Virginia, and 315 transferred from Virginia's community colleges. More than a thousand, he said, are supported in some measure by AccessUVA, the University's financial aid program.

Nearly a third of the students identified themselves as coming from minority backgrounds, he said.

"There's this wonderful population of students who are here who weren't here when I came in 1961," he said, reflecting on his matriculation at U.Va. "My class had two African-American students, and one foreign student from Hong Kong." And they were all male, he noted.

The entering class has a mean SAT score of 1330 on the reading and math tests; 89 percent were in the top 10 percent of their high school classes, he said.

U.Va. students come with some remarkable life experiences, Casteen said. A Kenya-born student who returned to the country to work in an orphanage. A student from Azerbaijan who learned English at 13 and is the first member of his family to attend college. A student who volunteered with a mountain rescue unit.

On Saturday, Move-In Day, Casteen focused his welcoming remarks to parents and students on the transition from high school to college; the health and safety of students (including availability of vaccines for both seasonal and novel H1N1 flu); the honor system; and on student opportunities ranging from getting to know the professors to studying abroad.

He also updated the audience about new state budget cuts that are anticipated in the wake of Virginia's $1.5 billion revenue shortfall. A 15 percent cut in state support will result in a $19 million loss for U.Va.

"That's a lot of money in absolute terms, but it helps to understand that our budget is $2.25 billion," he said. "The state provides 6 1/2 to 6 3/4 percent of the total budget. It used to be 30 percent."

Rather than a budget crisis, Casteen said, the University is facing a managerial challenge. Leonard W. Sandridge, executive vice president and chief operating officer, he said, has been preparing for these reductions for months.

"There will be cuts in spending. We're trying to make them have minimal impact on the academic program," Casteen said. He added, however, that special attention will be given to the College of Arts & Sciences, which enrolls the most students but is the most vulnerable to cuts in state funding.

"Our primary concern is with what happens to students and faculty in the most vulnerable programs," he said.

A Somewhat Wet and Wild Move-In Day

The Move-In Day early birds at the University of Virginia stayed dry.

First-year student Kara Jones and her parents, Linda and Gerry, drove down from Bowie, Md., and were moving Kara's belongings into Fitzhugh Hall by 7 a.m. By 1, they were high and dry at Old Cabell Hall, enjoying punch and cookies as Casteen wrapped up his welcome remarks.

"We just started moving stuff up to the porch outside of the room," until they could get the keys to the suite, Kara's dad said. "And everything went well."

The same with Sara Morrow and her parents, Kathy and Dixon, of Windsor. Sara was moving into Rogers Hall at Brown Residential College.

"We made it in before the rain," said Kathy Morrow. "Almost. There's just one more box."

Saturday morning was about the only rain-free window, though. By early afternoon, rain came down gently but steadily as University Greeters helped students and parents zip plastic totes, musical instruments, electronics and clothing into first-year dorms.

By the end of the day, nearly 1 1/2 inches of rain had fallen.

Upperclass students who moved in on Friday didn't have it easy, either, as 90-degree temperatures and humidity combined for an oven-like day.

Poorna Phaltankar, an undergraduate student in the College of Arts & Sciences who helped organize this year's University Greeters, said that the greeters and resident advisers kept move-in day, well, moving – "regardless of the rain."

Engineering student Kirsten Miller-Jaster, co-chair of this year's greeters, said, "We had hundreds of student helpers, the largest group in many years, aid the new first years coming in."

– Marian Anderfuren