Fund Provides a Bridge to Sustaining Faculty Excellence

August 27, 2010 — For many years, Elizabeth Varon, an expert on the history of the Civil War and the 19th-century American South, turned to the leaders in her field as models and mentors: people such as University of Virginia history professors Joseph Kett, Gary Gallagher and Michael Holt. Their thoughts and words filled the volumes that lined her bookshelves.

Now, she is joining them at the University as a professor in the Corcoran Department of History. Varon was hired with support from the Legacy of Distinction Fund, designed to accelerate replacement hiring for faculty in departments anticipating a wave of retirements, including many in key specialties and subspecialties.

As of March, the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences had 88 tenured faculty members age 65 and older, including 33 above the age of 70. This means the school faces an inevitable wave of retirements at a time when significant state funding cuts and endowment losses limit the replacement hiring the school can do.

Facing these retirements, the College created the Legacy of Distinction Fund – with a goal of receiving $5 million in private donations – to allow departments to make "bridge hires" by paying the incoming faculty members during the period in which they overlap with their retiring colleagues.

"As institutions across the country struggle with their own budgetary pictures, we saw a short-term opportunity to gain an advantageous hiring position – if we could muster the resources to make hires," said Meredith Jung-En Woo, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences. "We like to think we have a strong hiring position every year, but in these next couple of years, with these resources, that position is going to be even stronger."

This overlapping period is an advantage for the new faculty members.

"For me to have the opportunity to work with these field-shaping scholars at the absolute top of their game, it's a responsibility and a challenge," Varon said. "U.Va's been on the cutting edge for a long time in the field of 19th-century history, and the opportunity to keep it there is a wonderful one."

For information on the Legacy of Distinction Fund, visit the College website.

Legacy of Distinction faculty

Timo von Oertzen, psychology, following John Nesselroade

Von Oertzen's general field of study is quantitative psychology, which takes a formal mathematical approach to experimental design, data analysis and theory development within behavioral science. More specifically, his approach is focused on issues of how complex systems change over time; he has developed mathematical approaches appropriate for the study of human lifespan development.

Since 2006, von Oertzen has been a research scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin. From 2002 to 2006, he was an assistant professor in the Department of Mathematics at Saarland University, Germany. He is the author of 12 published articles, seven peer-reviewed conference proceedings papers and four book chapters. He is a participant in the LIFE Program, which is an international research and training program in human lifespan development that is shared by U.Va., the University of Michigan and Max Planck.

He starts at U.Va. in the spring semester.

R. Craig Group, physics, following George Hess

With ongoing experiments, scientists aim to replicate the conditions of the infant universe, the time before particles formed into atoms and molecules, and before elements coalesced to make the stars and planets. U.Va. has a track record of leadership in the so-called "precision frontier" of particle physics, a field in which Group is an emerging leader.

For a full description of the fundamental laws of the universe, scientists must study particles that cannot be studied directly at the collider labs such as the Large Hadron Collider. Such labs lack the energy required to excite and produce the new particles and fields. The precision frontier, which requires very intense beams of particles, has come to be seen as an essential direct complement of the direct searches for new physics at collider labs.

A leading project on the precision frontier is the Mu2e experiment at Fermilab near Chicago, in which Group plays an important role. A leader in the field of precision frontier physics, Group is now performing leading-edge research in the U.Va. physics department while maintaining a joint appointment with Fermilab.

• Elizabeth R. Varon, history, following Joe Kett

Varon came to U.Va. from Temple University, where she was professor of history and associate director of the Center for the Humanities.

A specialist in the Civil War era and 19th-century South, she is the author of "We Mean to be Counted: White Women and Politics in Antebellum Virginia" (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998), which won the Lerner-Scott Prize of the American Historical Association, and "Southern Lady, Yankee Spy: The True Story of Elizabeth Van Lew, A Union Agent in the Heart of the Confederacy" (Oxford University Press, 2003), which won the Lillian Smith Prize of the Southern Regional Council; the People's Choice Award of the Library of Virginia; and the Richard Slatten Biography Prize of the Virginia Historical Society.

Her newest book is "Disunion!: The Coming of the American Civil War, 1789-1859," volume I of the "Littlefield History of the Civil War Era" series (Littlefield Fund for Southern History and University of North Carolina Press, Fall 2008).

• William I. Hitchcock, history

Hitchcock came to U.Va. from Temple University, where he chaired the history department and served as director of the International History Workshop.

His research has focused on the international history of Europe since 1939. He has written on French diplomacy of the post-World War II era, and published a survey of Europe's history from the end of WWII to the present.

His most recent book is "The Bitter Road to Freedom: A New History of the Liberation of Europe," which explores the civilian experience of liberation in Europe at the close of World War II. It was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and won the 2009 George Louis Beer Prize from the American Historical Association. At the moment, he is working on a collection of essays, with his colleague Petra Goedde, on the international history of human rights.