Rector Clement Reflects on UVA’s Changing Nature in Presidential Podcast
Audio: Inside UVA Episode 4: Whittington W. Clement(18:04)
Speaker 1 The university, as I tell my older friends, it's not your father's university, it has and rightfully so.
Speaker 2 I'm Jim Ryan, the president of the University of Virginia. And I'd like to welcome all of you to the fourth episode of Inside UVA. This podcast is a chance for me to speak with some of the amazing people at the university and to learn more about what they do and who they are. My hope is that listeners will ultimately have a better understanding of how UVA works and a deeper appreciation of the remarkably talented and dedicated people who make UVA the institution it is. So we just concluded our September Board of Visitors meeting here on grounds. So I am incredibly excited to welcome KLEMET, rector of the University of Virginia, to this episode of Inside UVA. Great to be with you and thanks for being here.
Speaker 1 Thank you, Mr. President. It's great to see you after three days of board meetings. So thank you for inviting me.
Speaker 2 Absolutely. So this was your first official board meeting as rector. How are you feeling about the role in the university?
Speaker 1 I'm still feeling my way along as a writer, I realized that my job is to try to manage the board and not manage the university. We have a president who has his university. And, you know, as you well know, Jim, sometimes that's a gray area between where our responsibility stop and your start. But I thought the board meeting was very, very good. We covered a lot of territory and I left Charlottesville satisfied that we had a good place.
Speaker 2 Terrific. So we'll come back to the job of director in a second. But first, I wonder if you could just tell us a little bit more about yourself. You grew up in Danville.
Speaker 1 I grew up in the tobacco textile small city of Danville of one of seven children. Four of us went to UVA. We were at UVA without interruption for 14 straight years, one sibling or another. One of those 14 I was there, seven of them, a brother went to medical school, a sister went to the education school and another brother I went to the college. Then I returned to UVA. After a year working to the law school, finished law school, clerked for a federal judge and had been in the legal profession, sets aside our vocation strictly avocation was serving as a state legislator for 14 years. It was a different era, not the polarization we unfortunately see today. And I enjoyed that experience. And then I served in the Mark Warner cabinet when Mark was governor and was really delighted. It was a real highlight of my career to be named to the NBA board in 2015.
Speaker 2 So tell us a little bit about your time as a student, what did you major in and what did you do outside of your studies?
Speaker 1 Well, John Burris always reminds me that we had a fish at eight o'clock Saturday mornings. We also had a full slate of classes on Fridays. Even in those days, it was really quite different than it is today. I think when I entered, that only had already had about 6000 students. So it's quadrupled in size since then. There were no girls, which was not a good thing. Social life consisted predominantly of fraternities and road trips, but it was a calmer time up until, however, the Vietnam War. Right. That was a really very difficult time.
Speaker 2 Remind me, what year were you here as an undergraduate?
Speaker 1 I entered in the fall of 66 and finished the college in the spring of 1970.
Speaker 2 Yeah, tumultuous time in the last part of the 60s, 60s.
Speaker 1 It really was. Everybody wore coats and ties and 1966 and everybody graduated with long hair in 70 something, you know, ties their dress code and a great deal. But the last two years in college were very tumultuous times. There were a lot of protests. We had outside speakers, your predecessor, education, and performed under pressure magnificently, I thought. So we'd finished a very difficult time. But on the whole, it was it was a wonderful experience. I had the honor of living on the lawn, and that was very special.
Speaker 2 So you must have been a student leader to have lived on the lawn?
Speaker 1 I was fairly engaged in extracurricular activities. There was a we didn't have the Madison House as we have it today, but there were a number of volunteer organizations and I was involved in some. And back in those days, the presidents of each school constituted the honor committee and the president of the college being the largest school was sort of automatically the chairman. So I did serve in that capacity my last year. And that was also a tough time because more attention was being paid to protecting the rights of the accused. And we had a lot of input from the law school and, you know, tried to build in some protections that really, frankly, had not been in place prior to that time.
Speaker 2 Right. So that's a big job to be chair of the honor committee.
Speaker 1 Probably not as much as it is today, but we had a very collegial. We had a very collegial body, the system. And it's strange then. But I mean, I remember very distinctly a classmate getting accused of cheating in cards and and a card game, and he fessed up and left university. So it was probably a great appreciation and understanding of, you know, what the honor system meant to students and the faculty back then.
Speaker 2 And were you a member of a fraternity?
Speaker 1 I was. I was in a fraternity that that doesn't exist anymore. We had a lot of student leaders out of my fraternity. I think every other year for like 10 years, the president of college came from my fraternity. It really had some wonderful folks.
Speaker 2 So let's switch to the present and your role as as rector. Before we get into that, I want to give you a quick pop quiz on on UVA trivia that is related to the rector. I'll start with a softball. Can you name the very first rector of the University of Virginia?
Speaker 1 Yeah, that first rector was our founder, Thomas Jefferson, who served in that capacity up until the time of his death in 1826. He had started out in eighteen nineteen, I guess it was so he had a good, good tenure as rector and very little happened without his without his approval.
Speaker 2 Right. OK, so you're one for one. Can you name the second rector.
Speaker 1 The second rector was I think it was President Madison.
Speaker 2 That's exactly right. James Madison also served until his death, I believe. So this one gets a little bit harder. So you are if you don't know it already, the forty ninth rector of the University of Virginia. I, by contrast, am only the ninth president. You know why there have been 49 rector. Over the course of UVAs history, but only nine presidents.
Speaker 1 Well, I like to say it's because you guys just you have to outlive us survivors like the first president, Thomas Jefferson, was against having a president. And although I'll tell you, John Gyeonggi, probably you may not know this, how to turn the tables on you that they board of visitors while Thomas Jefferson was actually voted in favor of bringing on someone as president. Oh, I didn't know that. Jefferson strongly dissented and wrote a dissent in the minutes of the board of Exodus. And the job was offered to I believe the man's name was William worked. He was, I think, a former secretary of state. He declined. He declined the invitation to be president. And so that that's the case until President Automan became the first president early in the 20th century.
Speaker 2 Well, I'm fond of telling people that Yuva did just fine for nearly a century without a president. No effect on their rankings, as far as I can tell. And when I don't remind people, they remind me. OK, so let's go back to the to the role of director. You said a little bit about this before, but how would you describe the job? I bet a lot of people are wondering what exactly does director do and how does that differ from just being a member of the board or even being a vice rector, which is the role that you played just prior to assuming the position you're in now?
Speaker 1 Well, Jim, I think the role of the rector is to keep the board of visitors moving forward through the committee work and making sure we have good, robust agendas, trying to keep all of us on the same page while at the same time respecting different views. And you know this better than anyone where the rector stops and where the president starts. It's not always clearly defined. Traditionally, the board of this office has spoken with one voice through the rector. Sometimes that can be challenging. As you also know, people who are concerned about any and all aspects of university will frequently write director. Our email addresses are all public and so that falls on the rector to try to prepare thoughtful responses that are reflective of the Board of Visitors and also respectful of your job to deal with a lot of knotty issues without getting in your way. As you have learned, we are pretty free and expressing our opinions about things that take place. Śiva But you know the buck stops with you, right?
Speaker 2 You are a much more visible presence as a rector than just as a member of the board. And this is a strictly voluntary role and it's not always an easy job. So what made you interested in becoming rector?
Speaker 1 That's a tough question. The university has had more to do with whatever success I've achieved in life than any other institution or entity I've been associated with. And the benefits I received in so many ways, not just in a formal education, but through and through relationships, has always sort of compelled me to to want to give back to the university. I served on the Alumni Association Board of Managers. My wife and I were co-chairs of the Parents Committee. I've been on the ground floor and we set up the Foundation for the College of Arts and Sciences. And so I was very honored to have been selected. So it's just another progressive step. And, you know, my love and devotion to UVA.
Speaker 2 Well, UVA is fortunate to have you as rector and I'm fortunate as president to be working with you. One of the challenges, if you're leading a university, as you know well, is that you serve a number of different constituencies students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, legislators and even taxpayers of Virginia. As rector, how do you ensure that you are at least hearing all of the various views on a number of issues that are important to UVA?
Speaker 1 That's a thoughtful question. If I were living inside of academia, as you are and as your faculty, it's very easy to view things more an insular way. The Board of Visitors, consisting of folks, most of whom alums and all walks of life outside academia, I think bring an added perspective to the difficult job and the difficult decisions that you have to make. You've named all the constituents. Surely if I were president, I think I would be most concerned about the safety and health and well-being of the students that they have in an enriched learning experience, keeping the faculty on board with achieving the mission of the university. And you see that every day we on the outside, those of us on the board of visitors, we appreciate that that is central to the university. But we are more likely through our relationships over the years to hear more from outside constituents. So, as you know, you hear from us on there, from that angle, from that perspective, and I think that's healthy. You've got to then factor that in with all the constituents that you have to deal with.
Speaker 2 So two years is that is your term, which is quite short. And I'm curious, what are your goals for the time? You'll be as rector when people look back at your term in office, what do you hope they'll remember the most?
Speaker 1 Jim, in my opinion. I want whatever contributions I've been able to make, I hope will be viewed through the lens of supporting the mission of the university, supporting you as president, maintaining our reputation for excellence in academics, research and otherwise, and also providing a balance and intellectual diversity. It is disturbing to me and to others on the board to read about what's going on. A lot of college campuses today, you know, is better than the polarization in society. Politically, socially, even economically has not escaped. I read right. And we have a university that keeps its eye on the ball, encourages intellectual diversity, free speech and expression. The principles that you guided the adoption of last spring. I can't think of a greater reward accomplished than that kind of a reputation
Speaker 2 by a very good point. And it leads to I think that one of the hallmarks of UVA is that it has at its best been a place where students from different walks of life can learn from one another and talk with each other respectfully, even when they're disagreeing. And my hope is that we can be a model for higher education in our. Respect, and my sense is that you share that hope.
Speaker 1 Absolutely.
Speaker 2 Well, I really appreciate your spending some time with us. And I will say again how fortunate Eva is to have you as a director and how fortunate I am personally to be able to work with you. Thanks for being on the podcast and thanks for your time.
Speaker 1 My feeling is mutual.
Speaker 3 Inside UVA is a production of WTU ninety one point one FM and the office of the President at the University of Virginia inside UVA is produced by Mary Gardner McGee, Matt Weber and Nathan Moore. We also want to thank Mr Watt comment. Deanna Zamon, Monica Chac and McGregor McAdoo's Our music is turning to you from Blue Dot Sessions. Listen and subscribe to Inside UVA, an Apple podcast, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. We'll be back soon with another conversation about the life of the university.
When the University of Virginia’s new rector, Whittington W. Clement, first arrived at UVA as an undergraduate student in 1966, everyone wore a coat and tie.
When his class graduated four years later, everyone had long hair, he remembered.
“We had phys ed at 8 o’clock on Saturday mornings,” he told UVA President Jim Ryan in the fourth episode of Ryan’s podcast, “Inside UVA,” which is available on most podcast apps, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Google Podcasts.
“We also had a full slate of classes on Fridays. UVA, in those days, it was really quite different than it is today,” Clement said. “I think when I entered, they only had, altogether, about 6,000 students. So, it’s quadrupled in size since then.
“There were no girls, which was not a good thing. Social life consisted predominantly of fraternities and road trips,” he said. “But it was a calmer time up until, however, the Vietnam War. That was a really, very difficult time.”
Clement, who on July 1 became rector of UVA’s Board of Visitors, also reflected on his new, voluntary role. A longtime supporter who has held several leadership positions at UVA over the years, Clement said, “I was very honored to have been selected” as the 49th rector of the University.
Listen to the latest episode of “Inside UVA” to learn more about Clement’s role and tune in to previous episodes to hear from UVA’s first female provost, Liz Magill and the University’s new chief student affairs officer, Robyn Hadley.