On November 13, UVA’s dean of the College of Arts & Sciences announced he would be leaving to become the ninth president of the private University of Richmond. For UVA, his loss is more than just a gap in personnel.
For one thing, Ayers was the face of the South Lawn project, a $105 million endeavor that will extend UVA’s Lawn southward past Jefferson Park Avenue and add 110,000 square feet to the College of Arts & Sciences. Ayers so embodied the project that when the Board of Visitors approved the design on April 7 of last year, Rector Thomas F. Farrell II, the committee’s acting chair, said, “Dean Ayers, you have your building. Now you’ve got to get the money.”
Get the money he did: The college raised more than $110 million during Ayers’ time as dean, and Arts & Sciences has contributed $49.6 million to the South Lawn Project so far. In his criteria for a new dean, UVA President John Casteen made sure to mention “the capacity to raise a great deal of money in a relatively short time.”
In a letter to faculty, Ayers seemed to be passing the torch. “I am confident that the University of Virginia and the many friends of the College will ensure that our school sustains its position at the forefront of American higher education.”
Carol Wood, University spokesperson, says fundraising efforts won’t be hindered. “Dean Ayers has always been quick to point out that donors do not give to him or because of him. …Fundraising under his leadership has always taken a team approach.”
Before he was a dean, Ayers was a teacher, a renowned scholar of the New South and a famous face at UVA’s Corcoran Department of History.
“His loss is a serious one for the history department,” says Duane Osheim, history department chair. He says many graduate students were drawn to the history department because of Ayers, even those who ended up working with other advisers.
Ayers’ departure leaves a particular gap in the field of Southern history. “The department hopes to address that very serious need just as soon as we can,” Osheim says. “We’ve had a tradition of being strong in Southern history for as long as we’ve been a major university, so this is not a field in any respect we’d want to abandon.”
UVA is currently conducting an international search for Ayers’ replacement but has not ruled out selecting a candidate from within its ranks.