Scott Receives Thomas Jefferson Award, U.Va.'s Highest Honor

October 22, 2004
U.Va. President John Casteen with law professor Robert Scott
U.Va. President John T. Casteen with law professor Robert Scott at Friday's Fall Convocation.

The University of Virginia presented the Thomas Jefferson Award, its highest honor, to Robert E. Scott, professor and former dean of the School of Law, during Fall Convocation Oct. 22.

Scott was recognized by the University for his "integrity and honor, bold and skillful leadership, unfailing civility and uncompromising excellence qualities that have distinguished Mr. Scott's tenure as dean and his 35 years of teaching and scholarship." Scott joined the faculty in 1974 and was appointed the ninth dean of the Law School in 1991. He returned to full-time teaching and research in 2002.

The award presentation was part of ceremonies that included recognizing third-year students who earned intermediate honors, and a keynote address by David T. Gies, a former chairman of U.Va.'s Department of Spanish, Italian and Portuguese, and the 2000 recipient of the Thomas Jefferson Award.

Given annually since 1955, the award honors a member of the University community who exemplifies the ideals of the University's founder through her or his influence, character and work.

Under Scott's leadership, the School of Law completed a capital campaign in 2000, raising $203 million. Scott also spearheaded the most ambitious building project in the school's history, a $30 million renovation of the David A. Harrison III Law Grounds, completed in 1997, followed by a $7 million law student-faculty meeting and dining center named "Scott Commons."

In addition to capital projects, Scott instituted the Seminars in Ethical Values, a program that provides insights into the moral and ethical responsibilities of the lawyer as public citizen, and founded the school's Principles & Practice Program, which brings leading practitioners and judges to the Law School to teach advanced courses with full-time faculty.

Prior to becoming dean, Scott founded the Legal Studies Workshop at the school, one of the first faculty colloquia of its kind. As dean, he urged the Law School community to aspire to preeminence in teaching and in the scholarly research that advances the University's core function as an institution dedicated to the search for truth.

Scott, the David and Mary Harrison Distinguished Professor of Law, is a nationally renowned scholar in the fields of contracts, commercial law and bankruptcy. He has written four books on contracts and commercial transactions and more than three dozen scholarly articles. His works is widely recognized as setting the standard for the economic analysis of the law of contracts.

Scott has served a number of times as chair of the American Association of Law Schools' sections on Contract Law, Law and Economics, and Commercial and Consumer Law. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1999 and has been a fellow of the American Bar Foundation since 1993.

In April 2000, the Board of Visitors established the Robert E. Scott Distinguished Professorship in Law (now held by Kenneth S. Abraham), made possible by an outpouring of support from more than 250 of his colleagues on the faculty, former students, and other alumni and friends of the school. Together they committed $1.9 million for the professorship.

Scott earned his bachelor's degree cum laude from Oberlin College, and is a 1968 graduate of the William & Mary School of Law, where he was editor-in-chief of the Law Review, a member of the Order of the Coif and had the highest academic average in his class. Scott earned an S.J.D. from the University of Michigan in 1973, after which he joined the law faculty at William & Mary. In 1974 he joined the Virginia law faculty. As a visiting professor at Columbia Law School in 1987-88, the law students voted him the outstanding faculty member of the year.


Citation upon the Presentation of the Thomas Jefferson Award

October 22, 2004

Mr. Rector, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen:

In the last decade of the twentieth century, the School of Law at the University of Virginia was transformed. The most visible change was to the Law School 's buildings and grounds. At the University and around the country, observers hailed the massive overhaul of the school's library, classrooms, offices, and landscape, describing this renovation as one of the most successful ever undertaken of any school. At the same time that the outer appearance of the school was undergoing this metamorphosis, so too was its inner life. Bonds among faculty of all ranks strengthened. Intellectual community among faculty and students grew. The quality of research and teaching and the reputation of the faculty achieved new heights. And the financial foundation of the school became stronger and more secure than ever before. The dedicated and singularly effective service of one person helped propel, sustain, and enhance this renewal: Robert E. Scott, David and Mary Harrison Professor of Law since 2003, and Dean of the School the Law from 1991 to 2001.

Integrity and honor, bold and skillful leadership, unfailing civility and uncompromising excellence-these are among the qualities that have distinguished Mr. Scott's tenure as dean and his thirty-five years of teaching and scholarship. Before he took up the duties as dean, Mr. Scott had already compiled one of the strongest teaching records at the University, in the process changing the lives of hundreds of students. A legendary teacher, he has been affectionately dubbed "Boomer" for his commanding voice in the classroom. But he has not merely dispensed wisdom; students have sharpened their analytical skills through vigorous and demanding exchanges with him. Awed by his knowledge and intellectual precision as a teacher, his students have absorbed his boundless enthusiasm, his professionalism, and his high standards. Inside the classroom, in his office, in the hallways, he has instructed and excited, mentored and guided his students. Because of his skill as a teacher and his deep knowledge of the debates, principles, and nuances of Contract Law and other subjects, he has brought students to the cutting edge of his discipline.

As in teaching, Mr. Scott's contributions to scholarship have been first rate. He has been described as "the leading Contract Law scholar of his generation" and "the premier Contract Law scholar in the world." Through his many books and articles, he has helped revolutionize the field of Contract Law, effecting a profound shift in the way Contract Law is interpreted and analyzed. His path-breaking work in applying economic principles to Contract Law, his leadership among the country's bankruptcy and sales theorists, place him squarely among the most influential legal scholars of our time. He received national recognition for his eminence as a scholar when he was elected as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1999.

The tenacity and rigor, vision and sound judgment that have guided Mr. Scott's career as a teacher and scholar also helped make him one of the most successful law deans in the country. Although he entered the deanship with little administrative experience, he excelled in every task. As the academic leader of his school for ten years, Mr. Scott brought energy and a sense of purpose, enthusiasm for legal scholarship and a profound commitment to the law faculty, students, and alumni, as well as to the greater good of the University.

As intellectual mentor to his colleagues, Mr. Scott inspired faculty to achieve their best potential in scholarship and teaching. He met regularly with junior faculty, helping them to succeed and inculcating in them a thirst for academic excellence, whatever their disciplinary perspective. As fundraiser, he won the confidence of alumni and faculty, raising over $200 million during the capital campaign, more than had been raised by any other law school in the country. Due to these and other efforts, the law school became a model of financial self-sufficiency within a public university. While constructing a secure financial base for the school, Mr. Scott's work also helped free funds for other parts of the University where tuition revenues have been more restricted. He also collaborated with colleagues in History and other disciplines in Arts and Sciences to create and support new undergraduate and graduate programs, while enhancing the curriculum in his own school. In keeping with Thomas Jefferson's emphasis on the built environment of learning and scholarship, Mr. Scott carried out a $35 million renovation of the Law Grounds, scrupulously overseeing the schedule and the costs, the minute details and the overall design. Through this painstaking makeover, the law school was physically and academically reborn.

It gives me great pleasure to present the Thomas Jefferson Award to Robert E. Scott, whose robust and exacting teaching, standard-setting scholarship, and devoted service to students, colleagues, and alumni exemplify the ideals for which the University of Virginia was founded.

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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