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Academics is the best policy

We're just as loath to quote Mr. Jefferson from beyond the graveas anyone, but we can't help but think the new school of publicpolicy aligns well with his original vision. For a university built upon a legacy of public service, what better way to fulfill that legacy than to provide a place for the world's best scholars to come, debate the intricacies public policy and learn the words to the Good Ol' Song.

Upon hearing the University received $100 million -- the largest donation in its history -- to establish a school of public policy we breathed a sigh of relief and anticipation. Not that we don't enjoy the extravagant perks of University life attending A-list concerts and using pristine workout facilities after gorging ourselves in an LCD screen-covered paradise. We just value our education, too. The new school of public policy invests in the University's foundational purpose -- to educate -- so students can continue to enjoy those extravagances without worrying that our University, specifically the academic side, suffers as a result.

When the retired chief executive of Landmark Communications, Frank Batten Sr., bestowed the University with his generous gift (after having already donated $60 million to the Darden School) it was a bit like being asked to eat our vegetables. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Building and staffing a school of public policy may not be the most exciting way to spend $100 million, but it is arguably the wisest. Like vegetables do for growing children, Mr. Batten's gift will benefit the University's long term health tremendously.

One way a university improves its renown is to attract more and better faculty. Better faculty attracts better students, and better students ensure the University has a solid donor base to support hiring great faculty, funding research and increasing access to less privileged students. All this begins with the institution. The University must continue to expand and offer new places for scholars to come and share their research with students.

A school of public policy raises the University's national profile and provides new resources to students and faculty. The potential speaker series alone is worth our eager anxiety. More important, though, are the ways in which this donation exemplifies how other donors should prioritize their legacies.

Batten could have offered his $100 million to construct new dorms (with televisions tuned permanently to the Weather Channel), another new dining hall or custom-designed bowling alley, all of which would have been nice, of course. But the choice to fund a new academic department recognizes the importance of investing in the University's infrastructure.

Of course some will question whether or not a school of public policy is the dream most deserving of $100 million. But that debate, the process of refining and clarifying our goals as an institution of learning, is a good thing. Any project this large in scale should bear the weight of criticism, because in answering those concerns the University will end up with a better result -- a public policy school informed by tradition, improved by open public discussion.

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