Friday, June 15, 2012

UVa Presidency Hijacked by Business-School Types

Hi folks,

Long-time reader, occasional commenter, first-time poster here. I'm not a proffie yet, merely a lowly PhD student. But I'm hoping to grow up and be fully miserable in a few years.
So, my first post is about observing the misery of others: namely, the unfolding brouhaha at the University of Virginia. By now many of you have likely read about the forced resignation of UVa's President Teresa Sullivan (it's been covered in the Chicago Tribune, the Washington Post, etc). Basically, the scoop is that Sullivan has served two years at UVa, seemingly doing a fine job. She is, by the way, the school's first female president. On Sunday, the Rector of the university, Helen Dragas, sent out an e-mail announcing that Sullivan is resigning and that an interim president will be in place by the time students return to school in August. No substantive reason was offered, just a lot of administrative double-speak about "moving forward" and some hints that UVa needs a more effective fund-raiser/budget-maker.

Faculty, along with students and alums, were outraged; the Faculty Senate passed a resolution condemning the removal of Sullivan, and over 30 heads of departments signed a letter calling for a real explanation of what's afoot. Bits and pieces of the story began to come out; while all the facts are still unknown, the coup seems to have been engineered by Rector Dragas, who is an alum of UVa's business school and currently a real estate developer in Virginia Beach (which makes sense because, you know, selling condos and running an institution of higher learning are totally like the same thing). It is also clear that venture capitalist Peter Kiernan was deeply involved in "the project”" to oust Sullivan. Kiernan is NOT a member of the Board of Visitors, the University's (ostensible) governing body. In fact, some members of the BoV were not even informed that the plot against Sullivan was in the works until a couple of days before her resignation was announced. Kiernan has ties with Goldman Sachs, which has recently acquired ownership in EMC, a group of online universities accused of “predatory pursuit of students and revenues.”  (Kiernan  did hold a post at UVa as chair of the Darden [Business] School Foundation Board, but has resignedin the wake of this fiasco). Although the official reasoning behind President Sullivan’s removal has yet to be made public, Dragas’s e-mails have repeatedly stressed the financial pressures on the University “to prioritize and reallocate the resources we do have”, which she links to the not-so-subtle hint that “higher education is on the brink of a transformation now that online delivery has been legitimized by some of the elite institutions.”

All told, it seems like a nefarious plot to force UVa in the direction of becoming a for-profit business endeavor rather than an institution of higher learning (what an outdated concept, right?) The whole university is up in arms. I've even heard from friends there that some faculty are contemplating a teaching strike in the fall. I doubt it'll happen, but it sure would be interesting. It's about time for somebody to take a stand on the idea that universities are about something other than the bottom line, dammit. I don't envy the next president, whoever he or she may be. Who knows, though- maybe there are some people who actually would enjoy being a corporate shill for the likes of Dragas and Kiernan. Eesh.

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