Charter opponents hold teach-in
University students, faculty and staff and Charlottesville community members held a teach-in last night in Clark Hall to address a charter initiative that may change the relationship between the Commonwealth of Virginia and the University.
The legislation before the House of Delegates would give the Boards of Visitors at the University, the College of William and Mary and Virginia Tech the right to set tuition, increase enrollment, issue bonds, set faculty and staff salaries and commence building projects independently in exchange for a reduction in state appropriations.
University President John T. Casteen, III will hold the last of six community briefings today at noon in the Special Collections Library auditorium. Student Council unanimously endorsed the resolution at its weekly meeting last night.
Last night's teach-in featured sharp criticism of the proposal, particularly the lack of any provisions in the current legislation that would guarantee increased financial aid to accompany tuition increases or ensure regular increases in faculty and staff compensation.
"I have arrived at the most stunning conclusion that this charter proposal is a radical departure from public education that I have seen in the Commonwealth," Religious Studies Prof. Corey Walker said. "It is the latest measure that I have seen by education leaders in the Commonwealth to formally cede the university to market forces."
Casteen wrote in the winter alumni magazine that the charter initiative is designed to address concerns about affordability and faculty compensation.
"We plan to be what we have been from the start -- public, and to continue to serve the public mandate that began here and spread across the land, but to do it by the strict letter and in the spirit of the law as Jefferson wrote it," Casteen wrote.
Most of the participants at the teach-in did not share this sentiment.
"The goal of this teach-in is to offer another, more skeptical point of view," Moderator and English Prof. Susan Fraimain said. "Insisting that this bill does not make this function like a private institution is like saying there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq."
Alex Stolar, chair of Council's Legislative Affairs committee, expressed support for the charter resolution.
"We support it fully because it will make life better for students, faculty and staff," Stolar said. "If we have more money we'll be able to pay our faculty more. We're confident that Access U.Va. will make it possible for all students to attend the University regardless of need and graduate with less debt then ever before."
Panelist William Keene, an environmental sciences professor, said the dialogue and discussion in the coming weeks will cause people to ask important questions.
"Is it really in the interest of the University to be rated the best deal in the country? Should market forces be allowed to drive tuition? Does the optimal condition reside somewhere in between?" Keene said. "It probably does."