From the round table in the corner of his third floor Alderman office, President Emeritus John Casteen III was finishing typing an email. Bookshelves built into the wall behind him and around the room were lined with perfectly-arranged books — part of a roughly 200 year-old family collection. Their faded bindings complemented the antique furnishings of the room — a fireplace with a portrait of a woman in Victorian dress hanging above the mantel, a standing globe beside one of the paned windows, a dark, hardwood wardrobe on one wall.
“It’s close to the Lawn, the Rotunda, you can take a stroll if you want to get away,” Casteen said. “It has this spectacular view … You can’t see it, but Lewis Mountain is over there.”
A triple Wahoo — earning his B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. from the University — and a professor of English, former Dean of Admissions and former president of the University, Casteen has spent more than 40 years as a part of the University and Charlottesville community.
At some point in our conversation, Casteen paused to comment on the camera our photographer, Charlotte, was using to capture candids as we spoke. He just bought a full frame camera himself.
“What I found hard about learning to use a camera is learning to expose your light in one part of the screen and to split the images,” Casteen said. “The business of composing a photograph … and working with the off-center subject so that the audience looks over the subject’s shoulder toward something else.”
In a way, Casteen played that off-center figure in the picture of the University for 20 years while serving as the seventh president. Now, the focus has shifted, and he is looking at the legacy he left behind.
As president, Casteen championed affordability, the increased enrollment of women and minority students and the physical growth of the University. In 2003, he initiated the creation of AccessUVA, the University’s financial aid program.
Casteen retired from the presidency in 2010, but remained at the University as a professor of English. In the seven years since he was president, Casteen said he finds himself in a uniquely different position — one of continued responsibility, but with new perspectives and freedom.
“The schedule is rarely so crowded that I can’t do the things I want to do,” Casteen said. “I get to go to more … events because I don’t have conflicts.”