Political activist Sabato returns to teach

As a part of The Cavalier Daily’s 130 year anniversary, we are republishing articles from our archive. This article originally ran in The Cavalier Daily March 20, 1978.

Larry Sabato — political activist, vegetarian and socialist — is back at the University after four years immersed in study and political activities. But this former Student Council president and University graduate returned at the tender age of 26, not as a lowly student but as an assistant professor in the department of Government and Foreign Affairs.

Sabato teaches an undergraduate class and graduate seminar in state and local government. One of his students said “he is really responsive” and “tries to develop a close relationship” with each person in his classes. 

Sabato, who taught British undergraduates for one and a half years in Oxford’s philosophy, politics and economics program, said that University students are “much more industrious, competitive and ambitious.”

But he added that the “barrier between the teacher and students” is larger here than in England because of a presupposed formal relationship and competition for grades. Oxford students are “individually and academically very creative; they challenge their professors and tend to be easygoing,” he said. 

Sabato received a BA from the University in 1974 and then entered Princeton to study public policy at the Woodrow Wilson Department of Government and Foreign Affairs. But one year later he moved on to Oxford University as a Rhodes scholar, where he received his Ph.D. in politics in 1977. 

He returned from Oxford that same year to work for Henry Howell’s third gubernatorial race as director of the Transition Project, in which he prepared a detailed schedule for what would have been a “pace-setting administration,” he said. 

Sabato took an early interest in politics and the fortunes of the Democratic party. While he was still enrolled in high school in 1969, he worked for Howell’s first gubernatorial campaign. He later moved up the political ranks to the job of state youth coordinator in 1971 and 1973. 

But politics is not Sabato’s only concern. He has been a determined vegetarian since the age of 11 when he found the “slaughter of animals to be cruel.” Later, he realized that meat was not nutritionally necessary, he said. 

Sabato is also a confirmed “democratic socialist” and says he believes that democracy and socialism are “quite compatible.” He said he saw socialism in action when he was hospitalized three times when he lived in England. 

According to Sabato he paid nothing for the services he received. “They gave willingly to me, a foreigner who has contributed nothing to the tax system,” he said. “Socialism emphasizes the sharing side of man while capitalism appeals to his avaricious side,” he said. 

Sabato believes the activism of the ‘60s has been effectively “killed.” In a speech on Wednesday night in the Chemistry Bldg., he said the ‘60s “induced a sense of social responsibility, if only out of guilt.” 

The Vietnam War, the draft, Nixon, the invasion of Cambodia and the subsequent four Kent State deaths “galvanized people” from 1968-72. 

“Events produced and encouraged the activists,” he said. Today, his students are “looking for outlets but have yet to find ones that interest them.” 

“Anti-elitism and anti-establishment were prevalent in the ‘60s,” Sabato said. “In the ‘70s, privatism and elitism flourish. Politically Virginia is out of step.”

Just five years ago, Sabato devoted himself to combatting that “elitism” while involved in college politics here. He was elected Student Council president in 1973, he said. 

That year, he said, Council actively concentrated on community relations and service activities. A campaign for the Undergraduate Reader’s Library culminated successfully in a $110,000 legislative appropriation, Sabato said. “It was the first commitment to the construction of what will be a great boon to students.”

Council formed a committee on the future of the transit system and within a year every full-time student had access to the transit system, which expanded to include University Heights, Rugby Road, Copely III, and North Grounds. 

A law that subjected out-of-state-students to automobile taxes in Charlottesville and their home states was eliminated by Council efforts, Sabato said. And after Council made a recommendation to the Virginia Housing Study Commission, a statewide landlord-tenant act was passed which provided for informal arbitration between landlords and tenants, he added. 

During his term as Council president, every student received the “Miranda card” detailing legal rights and bail bond information for the first time. Sabato also used SAF monies to bail students out of jail. 

Sabto said that from 1973-74 Council “was very public.” He added that during his stint in college politics, then President Edgar Shannon was “very reasonable, progressive and encouraged student involvement.”

In his fourth-year at the University Sabato resided at number 16 East Lawn; but he was so busy in that last year that “he never even used his rocking chair.” 

Transcribed by Jacob Asch

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