Former Law School Dean John C. Jeffries, Jr. '73 received the University of Virginia's Thomas Jefferson Award for excellence in scholarship at Fall Convocation ceremonies Friday.

UVA President Teresa A. Sullivan presented the award to Jeffries, and also gave the Thomas Jefferson Award for service to Dr. Karen S. Rheuban, director of the UVA Center for Telehealth. The Jefferson Awards are the highest honor given to members of the University community.

Jeffries first came to UVA Law as a student in 1970. He was editor-in-chief of the Virginia Law Review, graduated first in his class and, after military service, was a clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell. He then returned to UVA as a member of the law faculty and has remained there ever since.

His scholarly contributions include showing that limiting the personal monetary liability of government officials made the courts more willing to announce new constitutional rights, fundamentally changing the thinking on how constitutional rights evolve.

Jeffries also changed thinking about the burden-of-proof issues in criminal cases and what substantive questions must be answered before criminal punishment may be constitutionally imposed.

Jeffries also wrote a biography of Powell, offering insightful accounts of the many significant events in which Powell participated, including mid-20th century politics in Richmond; the desegregation of the American South; and the Supreme Court’s struggle with social issues such as affirmative action, abortion and gay and lesbian rights.

Jeffries has been elected to the American Law Institute and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He holds a David and Mary Harrison Distinguished Professorship, the most prestigious endowed chair the Law School offers.

Jeffries is also a legendary teacher, receiving an All-University Teaching Award in 1995, as well as praise from his students. Jeffries served as dean of the Law School for seven years and currently chairs the Strategic Investment Evaluation Committee, which makes recommendations to UVA’s Board of Visitors on funding of projects that contribute to innovation and effectiveness at the University.

Rheuban, a pediatric cardiologist, professor of pediatrics and senior associate dean for continuing medical education, was awarded the Thomas Jefferson Award for excellence in service.

While traveling the back roads of Virginia, Rheuban found the farther a patient lived from a major medical center, the greater the risk to the patient’s health.

She realized that advances in telecommunications could give health care providers the power to better care for their patients. Her vision was to transport physicians electronically from the UVA Health System to remote places, to conduct virtual, real-time examinations and consultations.

Rheuban and colleague Eugene Sullivan founded the University of Virginia Center for Telehealth. The center is now a world leader in enabling the delivery of critical medical services to patients who are far from the place where the medical expertise they need is located. 

Both Jeffries and Rheuban received standing ovations.

Thomas C. Katsouleas, executive vice president and provost, recognized the winners of the 2017 All-University Teaching Awards: Timothy E. Allen, associate professor of biomedical engineering; Dorothe J. Bach, associate director of the Center for Teaching Excellence; Eileen Y. Chou, assistant professor of public policy at the Frank Batten School of Leadership & Public Policy; Robert M. Cox, associate professor in the Department of Biology; and Leslie C. Kendrick, vice dean at the School of Law.


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.