Photos by Dan Addison
Legacy Will Include AccessUVa, Agenda for Excellence, Commitment to Diversity, and Initiatives to Position U.Va. as a Global Leader
June 12, 2009 — University of Virginia President John T. Casteen III, who became president in 1990, announced today at a meeting of the Board of Visitors that he will step down at the conclusion of his 20th year on Aug. 1, 2010. He will become President Emeritus at that time.
"These years have been all but magical for my family and me," Casteen said. "We have had the pleasure of living and working among students, staff members, faculty members, alumni, other backers of the University, and the women and men of a community that we see as America's best. These have been years of working with legislators, board members, and others who care about the roles of universities in promoting and sustaining the common good, and of imagining with them how to cultivate a University capable of making Virginia's and the Republic's future worthy of their past."
He added, "It is time now to turn to the rector and Board of Visitors and others who will be responsible for selecting the next president and making sure that she or he begins the next stage of the University's growth in an environment of no less good will and collegiality than these same trustees of our future have bestowed on my family and me.
"We are grateful for what has been during these 19 – soon 20 – years, and eager to applaud what comes next."
Casteen, 65, who is among the nation's longest-serving and most-respected presidents, arrived at the University in 1961 at the age of 17 as a first-year student and the first member of his Tidewater Virginia family to attend college. He would go on to earn three degrees in English from the University. He returned to become its dean of admission in 1975 and again as its seventh president in 1990. In the intervening years, he taught English at both U.Va. and the University of California at Berkeley, served as Virginia's secretary of education from 1982 to 1985, and was president of the University of Connecticut from 1985 to 1990.
As the president of U.Va., Casteen has been an outspoken advocate on issues that were often controversial, including increasing the number of students who are women, minorities, and of low socioeconomic backgrounds. In 2003, he directed the creation of AccessUVa, the University's groundbreaking – and extraordinarily successful – full-need financial aid program.
As the dean of admission, he was a champion of the underserved. His visits to the homes of African-American families across the state in order to assure them that their children had a place at the University of Virginia are legendary.
His legacy will, in fact, include his unwavering commitment to diversity, his aggressive agenda for achieving excellence, his fundraising acumen, and his work to position the University as a leading national and global institution of higher education.
During his tenure, Casteen has led two of the most ambitious fundraising campaigns in all of American higher education. His vision regarding the financial future of higher education in Virginia – and his aggressive steps to protect the University – helped solidify its financial future and relieve its dependence on what continues to be erratic state support. He will remain active in the University's current $3 billion campaign.
Casteen has placed great emphasis on the University's ability to compete with its higher education peers – both public and private – in many categories, including faculty salaries, the undergraduate experience and alumni support. For the past 19 years, the University and its schools have consistently earned high marks in national rankings, in educating and graduating minority students, for quality of undergraduate teaching, for great value, and for success in refinancing following historic reductions in state tax support.
"John Casteen will be remembered as the person who understood Jefferson's vision of this place and catapulted it into the 21st century. He will leave an indelible mark and will be remembered as the father of our modern University," said W. Heywood Fralin, rector of the University. "It has been my privilege to serve with John and to see firsthand how a great University is managed on a daily basis."
Fralin said that the Board of Visitors plans to launch a community-wide commemorative celebration of Casteen's tenure. "My hope is that we can capture the full impact that President Casteen has had on our University during his 20 years at the helm. The list of his accomplishments is extensive."
Fralin pointed to a number of things that stand out. Casteen, he noted, has overseen a major restructuring of the University's administrative and governance structures, significant improvements in academic programs, the creation of a new school – the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy – and major expansions of physical facilities. The University has constructed 98 buildings since Casteen became president, purchased 11, done major additions on 10, completed major renovations on six, and conducted extensive renovations in Thomas Jefferson's historic Academical Village.
Casteen said he has taken particular pleasure in following the work that members of his management team have accomplished in planning and designing new buildings with an emphasis on sustainability and functionality. "One need look no further than the John Paul Jones Arena and the newly constructed residence halls and research buildings to see the remarkable changes that have taken place," he said.
Casteen was instrumental in the expansion of the University's College at Wise in order to serve more students from Southwest Virginia. The college has been undergoing substantial transformations in its academic programming as well as in its physical plant, and its enrollment has grown dramatically, as it has attracted students from regions far from its home in Virginia's coalfields.
In addition, Casteen has led four Universitywide initiatives that have set the agenda for U.Va.'s future. The largest of these, titled Virginia2020, has been widely emulated by both university and state planners across the country.
The current initiative, launched in 2007, is the Commission on the Future of the University, which focuses on building excellence in three key areas: the undergraduate and faculty experience, international programs, and science and technology teaching and research. In addition, he proposed and worked with governors and legislative leaders from 2002 to 2006 to achieve enactment of Virginia's higher education restructuring act, which has been imitated and adapted both within the United States and abroad.
In the past few years, Casteen has had to focus much of his attention on leading the University's fundraising campaign; raising the University's international profile; and overseeing a significant transition in leadership. He presided over the opening of the Batten School, the University's 11th, and the hiring of its new dean, in addition to the hiring in the last year of seven other school deans.
Casteen said his collaborations with key leaders – including Rector Fralin and the board, executive vice president and chief operating officer Leonard W. Sandridge, and executive vice president and provost Dr. Arthur Garson Jr. – have provided the University the widest and best possible range of future options as he prepares to leave office.
"We have been fortunate in that all of us have recognized that transitions are good when they renew or revitalize the University, and that everyone gains when transition processes and the selection of leaders are transparent to all and open to every reasonable suggestion or idea," Casteen said.
Working closely with members of the board, Casteen began studying leadership development in conjunction with transition planning and formulated a list of six characteristics he believes are essential qualities for University administrators and faculty. Those characteristics – uncommon integrity, great judgment, strategic focus, aggressive execution, deep passion and leading talent – have since been woven into the University's new evaluation system for employees at all levels.
Gerald L. Baliles, director of the University's Miller Center for Public Affairs, former governor of Virginia and longtime friend of Casteen's, said that one should never underestimate the power of his quiet force.
"While many speak of the higher educational challenges in America – of diversity, access, affordability and accountability – John Casteen, an advocate for the academy, has created an environment that has led the University of Virginia to recognized heights of leadership in these areas of important educational metrics," Baliles said.
"He also grasps the paradox of a society that supports higher education, yet tolerates the diminishing share of public resources to sustain academic progress," he added. "Rather than acquiesce, he has spoken to leaders of business and government around the globe about the relationship of educational policies, institutional leadership and effective governance being central to advancing the mission of higher education in a rapidly changing world, while simultaneously leading the campaign to identify and secure private resources to support the fundamentally important roles of teaching and research."
Casteen has been an active participant in higher education nationally. In April, he was named a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a designation that honors his lifetime of contributions to the quality and accessibility of America's universities. The academy is one of the nation's most prestigious honorary societies and a center for independent policy research.
Over the years he has served on numerous councils and boards and often has been called on to oversee accreditation visits for other universities. During the past year, he has chaired visiting committees for both the University of Texas at Austin and Duke University.
He has served as a director of the American Council on Education, a director of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, trustee and chairman of the College Entrance Examination Board, commissioner of the Education Commission of the States and chairman of the Association of Governing Boards' council of presidents. He served terms as chairman and president of the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. From 2000 to 2002, he chaired the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and in 2004 completed a term as chairman of the Association of American Universities.
AAU President Robert M. Berdahl said Casteen has been a major force in higher education.
"Higher education in America is losing an important leader," he said. "I will personally miss his wise counsel and advice on all of the research and educational policy issues that AAU confronts. He brings a mark of civility to every conversation. He has brought intelligence and eloquence to discussions about the role of the humanities in our universities and in American life."
On the global front, Casteen made the University a founding member of Universitas 21, which is the leading international network of 21 research-intensive universities in 14 countries. He currently serves as chairman of the consortium.
In November, Casteen will travel to Shanghai to deliver the keynote address at the third International Conference on World-Class Universities. Sponsored this year by Shanghai Jiao Tong University, the conference brings together researchers, university leaders and policymakers from around the world for release of the updated World-Class Universities Rankings and for scholarly papers and discussion about an annual topic of global interest. This year, the subject will be how to address the challenges of managing and building world-class universities. Casteen is the first American to be invited to deliver the keynote address.
Closer to home, Casteen is committed to life in the University community. He said that he and his wife, Betsy, believe it is important to share Carr's Hill, the president's house, with as many students, staff, faculty, alumni and parents as possible. In the past year, the Casteens have hosted more than 100 events in their home. In just the past month, they held a backyard cookout for the more than 800 employees who worked on Finals Weekend, a lunchtime discussion for 40 student leaders, and a series of Reunions Weekend gatherings that included hundreds of alumni and their families.
Betsy Casteen initiated and is currently overseeing a yearlong centennial celebration of Carr's Hill, the home of all seven of the University's presidents.
Fralin said that Casteen has agreed to serve as a consultant for a year after he steps down next summer in order to help the new president settle in – "but also so that he can stay engaged in the University's campaign," he added. Casteen will be named a University Professor upon leaving the presidency and will return to the faculty following sabbatic leave.
Fralin said that he expects the board to begin a search for Casteen's successor in late July.
While the search gets under way, Casteen said, he and Betsy will be busy with the upcoming weddings of two of their daughters. The Casteens have five children and two grandchildren.