Whittington W. Clement recently ended a two-year term as the University of Virginia’s rector, leading the Board of Visitors. Clement was first appointed to the board by then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe in 2015.
A Double Hoo — he holds a bachelor’s degree in history and a law degree from UVA — Clement has deep ties to the University. He was an original trustee and member of the UVA College Foundation, and a former member of the UVA Alumni Association Board of Managers and of the Jefferson Scholarship National Selection Committee. Clement served seven terms in the Virginia House of Delegates, from 1988 to 2002, and he served as Virginia’s transportation secretary under then-Gov. Mark Warner. He is currently special counsel and a former partner at Hunton Andrews Kurth in Richmond. He is also a past president of the Virginia Bar Association and former chair of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. He found time to answer a few questions from UVA Lawyer after he was succeeded as rector by Robert Hardie. (Carlos Brown ’99, a 1996 College graduate, became vice rector.)
What was the biggest challenge you saw as the University transitioned through and away from the COVID-19 era?
Balancing the need to take health precautions with the reasonable expectation of a traditional residential and in-person classroom experience. Striking that balance was a massive undertaking and I believe the Board of Visitors and President [Jim] Ryan ’92 threaded that needle about as well as any large university. That work also led to new ways of working together across the institution that have continued to benefit UVA.
You’ve been involved in partisan roles and nonpartisan service, SUCH AS for the Virginia Bar Association. How do you keep politics from affecting your work relationships in and out of politics?
In the hyper-charged polarized environment we find ourselves, the best policy has often been to avoid discussions about politics unless with close friends. I fervently hope that will change, but in the meantime, I do believe that as lawyers we should strive for rational, dispassionate exchange of views and seek consensus where compromise is possible.
Why is the free exchange of ideas important at UVA?
True to the ideals of the University’s founder, the free exchange of ideas is critical for an informed citizenry and for our democratic republic. Intellectual diversity and civil discourse should be bedrock principles in all facets of University life, especially in academics, and even more so in our Law School, where so many of our students will become community and political leaders. All students at UVA should have an opportunity to hear, debate and formulate their own views on a variety of topics. Toward that end, the Board of Visitors enthusiastically adopted in 2021 a Statement of Free Expression and Inquiry.
If you could give one piece of advice to a recent UVA Law grad, what would it be?
My most fulfilling times were those when I felt I had shared knowledge that impacted the lives of others in a positive way, whether for a client in the practice of law or through community or public service. Though graduates are facing different financial pressures today, I hope they also take joy in serving others and the rich satisfaction that can come from doing so.
You’re a self-described voracious reader. What books would you recommend?
I love biographies and historical books. Based on the fact that our country is consumed with politics today, I highly recommend Robert Caro’s books on President Lyndon B. Johnson, particularly, “Master of the Senate.” I recently purchased a book on Frederick Douglass, “Prophet of Freedom.” I very much look forward to reading it.
You have the last word. What do you want to say?
First, I give credit to my professors and classmates for providing me the skill set and friendships to accomplish many of the personal goals I had set for myself. My UVA law degree has been the gateway that has opened doors for a wide assortment of opportunities. Second, I have found that a UVA law degree in many circles brings instant credibility and confers an immediate assumption [that the] person places great importance on integrity, hard work, fair play and using one’s capabilities to serve others. I’ve done my best to live up to those standards, and I hope that legacy will benefit younger generations in the same way.