“In my 30 years at the Curry School, I can’t think of anyone who had as much individual impact on the culture of school,” says Professor Emeritus Jay Chronister, a former colleague and friend of the late Jennings L. Wagoner, Jr.
Wagoner, considered by many to be one of Curry’s most beloved professors, died Jan. 27 at his home in Ivy.
“He was humble, trustworthy, a scholar, and a great mentor to students,” Chronister says. “He demanded quality but supported students when they struggled.”
Wagoner joined the Curry School faculty in 1968 as a professor in the Social Foundations Department at the start of what would be a distinguished career as scholar, teacher, mentor and colleague. When Chronister arrived a one year later to set up a doctoral program in higher education, the two men quickly connected. They worked closely on launching the new center and doctoral program from the basement of Peabody Hall. When Chronister stepped down as director of the Center for Higher Education in 1975, Wagoner took the reins and headed the center for the next decade.
“One really important contribution that Jennings made to the Curry School was in working to connect the school and its students with other academic and administrative units around Grounds,” remembers Christopher Loss (M.Ed. ’00, Ph.D. ’07), Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Higher Education at Vanderbilt University.
“Jennings established strong relationships with the history department and religious studies, among other Arts & Sciences departments, that really enriched his students' intellectual lives.”
Loss notes that Wagoner oversaw the higher education internship program for many years, helping to place higher education graduate students in different administrative offices across Grounds—from athletics and student affairs to medicine and the president's office.
“A whole generation of graduate students—many of whom still work at U.Va.—honed their skills as administrators in the Curry Higher Education internship program,” Loss says. “Jennings had a lot to do with that.”
During his 37-year tenure with the Curry School, Wagoner touched many lives as he directed more than 50 dissertations and eventually held the William C. Parrish Jr. Professorship.
"Jennings was a true mentor for many students in the higher education program.”
“Jennings was a true mentor for many students in the higher education program,” says Bill Haarlow, Director of College Admission-Relations at Northwestern University. “Students in his education courses, which were always taught in Pavilion VIII, came to understand the historical and philosophical underpinnings of their chosen field. They were also treated to dinner at his home at the conclusion of the course.”
Jennings always had his students’ best interests at heart, adds Haarlow. “He saw to it that I presented papers at national conferences and that I co-taught a history of higher education course with him at the U.Va. extension in Abingdon, Va. He also helped me to secure a book contract so that my dissertation was published after graduation. My faculty role at Northwestern would not have been possible without this broad and thorough preparation—a preparation that was both practical and intellectual.”
The history of education field also bears a lasting imprint left by Wagoner, according to Loss.
“Jennings wrote widely on different aspects of the history of higher education, but within the field he became best known for his work on the rise of education in the South and, particularly, for his work on the educational vision of Thomas Jefferson, in which the University of Virginia invariably played a central role.”
Jennings Wagoner and Jay Chronister pose with donors Clementine (Ph. D. '79) and Bill Pollok at the dedication of the Chronister-Wagoner Walkway in 2011.
In the late 60s, the overwhelming majority of the published scholarship suffered from what Loss calls “a strong Northeastern bias, one that located the main currents of the history of education in New England and that relegated the South to the intellectual backwaters.”
By writing about the South and giving voice to many of the educational leaders and movements of the region during the 19th and 20th centuries, Wagoner’s scholarship helped integrate the study of southern education into the larger history of American education, Loss explains.
Wagoner served as president of the History of Education Society, the leading association for historians of education, and as vice president of the History and Historiography Division of the American Educational Research Association. His textbook, American Education: A History, co-authored with Wayne Urban, is a standard in the field, notes Haarlow.
While serving on the faculty at the Curry School of Education, Wagoner received numerous awards and recognitions, including the Curry Outstanding Professor Award, the U.Va. Alumni Association’s Distinguished Professor Award, the Raven Society’s Faculty Award and Phi Delta Kappa’s Distinguished Service Award.
Wagoner retired from the Curry School in 2005, yet he maintained regular contact with his dear friend, Jay Chronister, and many other former students and colleagues. He remained an unflagging supporter of the Curry School, with both his financial gifts and his presence at school events.
“In many ways visible and not so visible, Jennings Wagoner was absolutely foundational to the current success of the Curry School of Education and its reputation for excellence,” Curry School Dean Robert C. Pianta said. “His presence at Curry brought to the school, the University and the Charlottesville community, generations of extraordinary students and cohorts of faculty members who enriched academic life at the University. He was truly an extraordinary educator and person.”
By Lynn Bell and UVA Today
Top Photo Caption: Dr. Wagoner, his wife Shirley, and student Ingrid Isin at the 2012 Curry Student Awards Reception. Wagoner, who died last January, rarely missed the opportunity to meet recipients of the annual scholarship named in his honor. Photo by Tom Cogill