Reader perspectives on Sullivan's resignation (updated)
A Confused Hoo
For the past two weeks, the development on presidency of the University of Virginia has surprised many of us. Immediately following the surprise is a mix of confusion amongst students, faculty and alumni who love the University dearly and are concerned about the decision made by the Board of Visitors.
Many of us are confused, not only due to the lack of communication, but also as a result of apparent conflicting statements made by the Board. This is an article overdue, for the geographical distance from the University and the constraint of summer time. So why was I confused by the Board's decision?
So far there are 3 emails in my inbox from Ms. Helen Dragas, the University Rector, titled "Teresa Sullivan to Step Down Aug. 15 as U.Va. President," "Followup to yesterday's message about change in University leadership," "Message from University Rector." Each email is longer than the prior one, with which my confusion grows even further.
In the first email, three points stand out to me. "For the past year, the Board has had ongoing discussions about the importance of developing, articulating and acting on a clear and concrete strategic vision" leaves me wondering whether the ouster of President Sullivan is because of her lack of such a vision or her short-lived presidency is actually part of this vision. The average tenure for a University president is about 15 years. To judge President Sullivan's performance in merely 14 months from her installation ceremony on April 15, 2011 seems like to tell a first-year student who just finishes 1st semester at UVa that he/she will not leave behind an outstanding record at the University. I am not convinced by the decision if not enough evidence is presented. The email then goes on explaining that "the University needs to remain at the forefront of change". In service to Jefferson's vision, "the Board is committed to preserving the legacy with which we have been entrusted". So the best way to preserve legacy includes radical change as such to oust a relatively new President at everybody's surprise during summer time? Even though the Board is entrusted with the authority to do so, making an important decision without consulting faculty and students in this manner at least disrespects the tradition of honor and trust on which we pride ourselves, not to mention so many of us didn't even get a chance to digest the shock before interim President was named days after. If this is the forefront of change we desire, I am confused about legacy preservation, because clearly in the process, the tradition of honor, trust and respect is lost. Even so, the Board thinks faculty and students are all "represented", as the email continues to state that "we have made a clear choice to act in the best interest of all concerned". The turmoil during past two weeks seems to disagree with such representation.
Well-intended to defuse the confusion, the Board sends out a second email a day after, in which the Rector is "to share my remarks from the meeting with the deans and vice presidents Sunday morning". I bet deans and vice presidents, as "leaders of the University", must be equally surprised and confused on Sunday morning. A slightly clearer reason is given in this email that "the board feels strongly and overwhelmingly that we need bold and proactive leadership". Like many, I am in confusion of what "bold and proactive leadership" means in the context. If any clue, I would say the radical move by the Board indeed reflects such a style of leadership. But the result, as we have heard or witnessed during the past two weeks, is not desirable. I am left with no clear answer whether "the world is simply moving too fast" or the Board is changing its mind too quickly. After all, I still remember walking down the Lawn to welcome President Sullivan at Installation Ceremony. And that was only last year, on April 15th.
The third email from the Board went out last Thursday, with a "partial list" of 10 challenges faced by the University. Indeed these are problems pointing to the right direction. However, I can't really call them insightful because every one of the problems has been tackled in President Sullivan's Academic Strategy Memo, which was issued early last month. It seems to me that these are merely reiteration of challenges already recognized by President Sullivan, who is committing herself to meeting the challenges and leading the University forward. I highly suggest any of us who is not yet familiar with President's strategic planning to take a look at the memo.
1. "Since 2000, state funding per student has declined from $15,300 to $8,300 per student in constant dollars." This is a hard fact over which the President has no control. Plus, President Sullivan has barely 2 years to deal with the challenge. To be fair, maybe the Board should have taken a "bold and proactive" approach earlier in the first decade of the 2000s?
2. Online learning has been brought into the mainstream. As much as I am supportive of the idea of spreading knowledge through the Internet, I would still think classroom interaction with professors is of essence in higher education. With declining funding and constrained time, I think it is justified to give priority to classroom experience. After all, I don't believe any university can excel at online teaching without providing an engaged and interactive classroom experience to current students. Plus, we already have one TED Talks which professes spreading ideas online. For the time being and other challenging constraints, an "incrementalist" approach might actually lead to a more effective and stable change.
3. Regarding "a dynamic and rapidly changing health care environment", President Sullivan has stated clearly in the Memo that she has "worked with the Rector and Visitors on planning for two [other] important functions of the University", one of which is exactly the strategic plan for the Health Center.
4. "A wave of faculty retirements is coming over the next years, and faculty retention is increasingly difficult due to stagnation in faculty salaries" has also been recognized rightly in President's Memo that "faculty hiring must be a critical area of emphasis… We project significant retirements over the next 5-10 years, with the possibility that half of the faculty who will be at the University of Virginia in 2020 are not on Grounds today." Not only does she recognize the challenge, she also offers her understanding that "[but] at the end of the day, money alone is not enough. The faculty must also believe that they can do their best work here. They must believe in the future here. At any great university, the equilibrium – the pull between the desire to stay and the inducements to leave – is delicate. Rapid change rapidly upsets this delicate equilibrium" and she has a plan to address it that "keeping UVa intellectually challenging for these faculty may be the key to retaining them".
5. "The ratio of students to faculty is deteriorating" is accounted in the Memo by efforts to "reallocate scare faculty resources toward the third and fourth year courses where there are no substitutes for their expertise" and to direct "careful attention to the entry courses in the sciences and engineering might well yield higher retention in those courses and greater numbers of graduates in those fields, without further enlarging the size of the student body". Given the pressure from the state to consistently expand enrollment, I think President Sullivan has been doing the best she could to preserve "our commitment to prioritize quality".
6. "Issues of declining relative faculty compensation" seem to be a deadlock at this point. I don't think any other president, past or future, would be able to completely solve the problem while having limited resources in hand. One thing is sure – firing President Sullivan only makes it worse – as top donors like the Smiths plan to withhold future contribution due to the "disgraceful" ouster. For anybody who is curious, Scott Stadium is named the Carl Smith Center in Smith's honor.
7. It targets at "capital campaign", which I think President Sullivan has been doing a satisfactory job. At least, professors who went on fund-raising trips to the West Coast with the newly sworn in President praised her for her talk as well as her knowledge of the traditions of the University. During her limited time here at UVa, she also expanded her efforts overseas. The recent trip to Asia, including China, has won her applaud for that the students from mainland China has already been the No.1 pool of international students. This is a challenging course. For those of us are unaware, schools are mostly state funded in China and alumni giving is relatively a new concept. Yet the President devotes herself to meeting this challenge.
8. "Research funding has been in decline" is a fact given. Yet President Sullivan already responded through the Memo in which she offers to promulgate vertical research teams (faculty-postdoctoral fellows-graduate students-undergraduate students) and to untangle bureaucracy that frustrates entrepreneurial research faculty. As a student, I indeed feel the need for such research team and hope for less bureaucracy in such a large institution.
9. "There is no long-term program in place for assessment, reporting, and improvement in many disciplines." Again, this is a question answered in the Memo where President Sullivan suggests "student achievement will be carefully documented, and most students will have pursued both a traditional major and a second specialization in an interdisciplinary area… Transcripts will record not only the courses and grades taken, but also badges to indicate whether a student has had an international experience, has participated in community service, has held a leadership position, or has produced creative work…" The Memo is addressed directly to Helen Dragas, Rector and Mark Kington, Vice Rector. I am very confused why the Rector repeats the same question twice. Wouldn't it be more productive to work with the President to tackle the well-recognized problems?
10. "We need faster, multi-platform communications including cutting-edge use of mobile, digital and social media to complement a more traditional media-relations function and press outreach to tell the UVa story." As much as I am a technology guru, many disagree – "Most Darden students prefer not to use the electronic reading devices in the B-school classroom." Standing out to me are words like "academically woeful, personally enjoyable" and "University Of Virginia Business Students Say No Thanks To Kindle Textbooks." I am not entirely sure what affirms the Board's belief, if not students' classroom experience.
Towards the end of the last email, the Board offered a heartfelt fact that "believe it or not, the last time the University developed a concrete, strategic plan was a decade ago – in 2002". But maybe President Sullivan was the only one being informed differently? -- "At the time of my appointment, I was explicitly instructed not to do a strategic plan for the academic program". This is at the very beginning of the Memo, addressed to Rector and Vice Rector on May 3rd. Indeed, I am left puzzling even more after the long explanation from the Board.
Over the past two weeks, students and faculty together have made our voice heard. At the University I have deep affection for, I have been taught that opinion of the majority isn't always correct and could lead to tyranny. Whereas faculty and students are not well represented on the Board, in this sense, we are also in the minority. Regardless, Thomas Jefferson has offered his own understanding at the First Inaugural Address,
"All too will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will, to be rightful, must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal laws must protect, and to violate would be oppression. Let us then, fellow citizens, unite with one heart and one mind, let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty, and even life itself, are but dreary things."
For this reason, I hope this is not a faculty/students-versus-the-Board situation. In the next few hours when the Board of Visitor is again to meet in Jefferson's symbolic Rotunda, I hope we – students, faculty, the Board and administrators -- will "unite with one heart and one mind" to truly preserve the legacy of our dear old UVa. \n\nHaiyang Zhang\nFourth-Year Student
An offer you couldn't refuse
Dear Rector Dragas,
As a faculty member in the German Department, I'm writing in response to the turmoil you have suffered in these weeks following President Sullivan's firing – I mean resignation. I'm not only pleased to accept the olive branch you offer our community in your email of June 21; I am prepared to offer a solution to the current problem.
It has come to my attention that the German Department is one of those low money-makers the Board of Visitors might like to see terminated. This move is understandable – onward and upward, I say! But should the German Department cease to be, I, like Prof. Sullivan, will require a new job. So here's my proposal. While Prof. Sullivan persists in her desire to remain president of this university and therefore to reject the severance package the Board of Visitors have offered, I would like to step up to accept this generous offer.
I assure you that only complete selflessness on my part would persuade me to accept Ms. Sullivan's current base salary of $485,000, plus a year's sabbatical with a total of $50,000 in office support, and the option of remaining at U.Va. as a tenured professor in the sociology department at an annual salary of $363,750.\nSince you could not have anticipated my proposal, permit me to answer the questions I know you must be yearning to ask. First, how could an instructor in German be prepared to take on a professorship in sociology? This question is easily answered. I have purchased, from Barnes and Noble, a copy of "Sociology for Dummies," and in anticipation of my new position, am already a quarter of the way through this book. With my new salary, I plan to purchase several more books of this caliber, and therefore to be fully prepared to take on my role of sociology professor by the start of the fall semester. And should you be willing to offer me the year's sabbatical you extended to Prof. Sullivan, I'd have the chance to read even more books, all about sociology!
Second, you are probably asking yourself how I would deal with the discrepancy between my salary as a lecturer in German and the six-figure salary offered to Prof. Sullivan. I assure you that not only am I willing to accept this new salary, I am even pleased to offer you a deal. Rather than costing the University 363,750 per annum, I am willing to come on board for a salary of merely $350.750. This would enable you to tack the $15,000 surplus onto the salary offered to Prof. Sullivan's successor, thereby making the offer that much more attractive. Now if this isn't strategic dynamism, I don't know what is.
Last but not least, should you award me this severance package, be assured that I'm content to remain in my Woolen Mills home, enabling you to install whomever you please in Carr's Hill.
I hope you will consider my offer, which I'm sure you'll agree is to the good of the entire University, as well as myself and my family.
Cora Schenberg\nLecturer, Germanic Languages and Literatures\n(Aspiring Sociologist and Acceptor of Severance Packages)
The dishonor of honors
To the Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia,
In the last two weeks you have disgraced our University beyond all reason and acted in complete opposition to the principles which have guided us from our founding. I beg you to rectify this situation at your meeting on Tuesday, for I can no longer claim to have "worn the honor of honors."
While I believe you think you are doing what is right, your actions to oust President Sullivan are just simply wrong. You have acted in an appallingly dishonorable manner when you secretively orchestrated her forced resignation, and have since treated our community of trust with arrogance by dismissively refusing to explain, engage, and listen to the academic community you serve. Rector Dragas, it is time for you to do what is honorable and resign. Whether or not you are in the right, you can no longer effectively lead the Board of Visitors or work with the University community. You have irrevocably broken our trust. Next, reinstate President Sullivan and moving ahead, let UVa lead the way in higher education as we always have before now. If you act swiftly you can right this wrong.
Repairing UVa's reputation for academic excellence and honor, staving off faculty resignations, preserving the good will of donors and parents, and returning us to the ranks of premiere institutions can only be begun with the immediate resignation of Rector Dragas and reinstatement of President Sullivan. Act now. Please. I am embarrassed and ashamed, disappointed and broken-hearted.
With respect for the difficulty of your job and disgust that you have sullied the good name of Virginia,\n\nChristine G. H. Franck\nSARC 1990\nPresident, Christine G. H. Franck, Inc.\nTrustee, Institute of Classical Architecture & Art\nAdjunct Associate Professor of Architecture, University of Notre Dame
President Sullivan, for all her demonstrated class, may not have been the best person to lead the University of Virginia. The Board may have had good reason to want a new direction. If they felt she was not the best person for the job, they had a right, indeed, a responsibility, to remove her quickly and find a suitable replacement. Many at UVA like and respect Teresa Sullivan, and are sad to see her go. But the fact of her removal is not why students are still angry.
Prolific donor and 'Important Alum' John Tudor Jones began a recent editorial supporting Sullivan's ouster with, predictably, a quote from Thomas Jefferson. The passage was lifted from a 1787 letter to William S. Smith, written as Jefferson reviewed the new Constitution from his diplomatic post in France. It reads: "God forbid should we ever be 20 years without such a rebellion … It is lethargy that is the forerunner of death to the public liberty." Apparently, Jones considers Jefferson's sentiment applicable to the backhanded process which led to the resignation of President Sullivan. In actuality, Jefferson was referencing his desire that the perpetrators of Shay's Rebellion, recently quelled, be pardoned. Rebels, he reasoned, "will be discontented in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive." In other words, misconceptions breed malcontent, and rebellion is sometimes the most organic democratic reaction. Mr. Jones' selection was, perhaps, more fitting than he intended.\n \nUVA students are forbidden to lie, cheat or steal. They do not refer to their Ph.D. professors as 'Doctor.' It does not matter whether one is addressing an 80 year-old professor or an 18 year-old first year - honest discourse is supposed to be conducted on a mutual basis of trust and respect. Designing his school in the Enlightenment tradition, Jefferson was careful to eschew what he considered the old-world hierarchy of northern, religiously-affiliated private institutions, the students of which he once derided as "pious young monks." There would be no chapel at the heart of Grounds, no suppression of thought, and no passive acquiescence to the vague dictates of some higher authority. "Here we are not afraid to tolerate any error," he wrote, "so long as reason is left free to combat it." Although the University has changed much over nearly two centuries, is remains undergirded by an assumption of mutual trust and respect, and by the freedom of open discourse. These principles are more important than any one student, professor, alum, Board member or University president.
UVA students do not like to protest, and generally speaking, a culture of transparency and accountability means they have little to protest about. They are protest-averse even when they agree with the cause, as evidenced by the muted reaction among the majority of students to the hunger strike tactics of the Living Wage Campaign earlier this year. As for alumni, the University reaps the benefits, financial and otherwise, of a prominent base which is loyal almost to a fault. The simple dismissal of a popular President would not have created this sustained level of turmoil and agitation.
I am confident that Helen Dragas and her cast of supporters did not have malicious intentions. However, whether they have completely forgotten the spirit of UVA or their perceptions have been dulled by time and circumstance, their conduct has struck at the very foundation of the University - the very soul of what endows its students and alumni with such loyalty and respect. Closed, opaque and unsubstantiated decision-making is a personal insult to every member of the UVA community and a profound threat to the spirit of public education.
These select Board members seem to have forgotten that the people whom they address are graduates, students and faculty of the same institution from which most of them hold a degree. They cannot pull the wool over our eyes, and everything will not simply calm down. Sullivan's predecessor, the widely-respected John T. Casteen III, expressed this sentiment when he appeared at Monday evening's Lawn protest and declared this was simply "not how Virginia works." The contrived, condescending tone of Dragas' statements and the hiring of a PR firm are also not helping, to say the least.
Despite a comfortable endowment, nationally acclaimed undergraduate programs, top-ranked professional schools, unprecedented quality of incoming students, and stellar graduation rates, UVA, along with other universities across the country, faces enormous challenges. However, an outright betrayal of our bedrock principles, no matter the situation, can never aid us in our mission. Helen Dragas sat inside the Rotunda, and through her conduct profaned the belief in the ability of enlightened men to govern themselves, and through the mutual exercise of their rights, to create with each successive generation a more perfect Union. She has to go.
Fortunately, that belief is greater than any one person. It is embedded in the students, faculty and alumni who make up UVA and take seriously its ideals, and it cannot be extinguished by the misguided actions of a few. Mr. Jones' editorial was correct, however, on one major point - we can do better, and we must progress. This applies not only to UVA, but to public and private universities across the nation. As noted historian Gordon S. Wood surmised, near the end of his life "Jefferson had nothing but the people to fall back on; they were really all he ever believed in." For all of our sakes, let's not disappoint him.
Kyle Schnoebelen\nCLAS 2013\nBATTEN 2014
Picking ourselves up
What could be more quintessentially "UVa" than the Jeffersonian Revolution of 2012? Our reputation will emerge intact and enhanced and the totalitarian minority on the Board will be the only ones with a lasting back eye. Power to the people! BOV, do the right thing on Tuesday and then let's address the serious issues as an open community!
Bill Irvin\nCommerce '73
Hide and speak
When we were invited to write letters to the Board of Visitors, I took a few moments to do so. In my letter, I said that there are only two courses of action that could possibly restore our trust; either a satisfactory explanation of the Board's behavior over the past two weeks must be given, or else President Sullivan must be reinstated and the Rector and the entire Board must resign and be replaced. It seems that I was not the only person to express such a sentiment, as I doubt that one grad student's email could have prompted Rector Dragas to direct her PR firm to send us a message.
The message contains a statement of the Board's concerns about the future of UVA, which is appreciated. What the message lacks is an explanation of how President Sullivan's approach to those concerns warranted her termination. There are vague statements about the lack of a "strategic plan," but little more. President Sullivan's approach was not based on diving straight into the deep end with sweeping changes; are we expected to believe that being cautious about such changes is so seriously misguided that it warranted a dismissal?
Even if we could agree on that -- and we have hardly been given enough information to come to such a conclusion -- there is no excusing the behavior we have seen from the Rector and Board of Visitors. Decisions\nwere made in secret, announcements were made without warning, the faculty -- whose interests are cited in the Rector's statement -- were not consulted. Our trust in the decision making process at this university has been undermined; it will be a long time before that trust is restored.
Having a PR firm issue carefully drafted statements does nothing to restore our trust.
Benjamin Kreuter\nGraduate Student, Computer Science (SEAS)
Stay in position
Dear UVa Faculty:
This is a momentous time for the University of Virginia. The current scandal surrounding UVa is no doubt harming the University in enormous ways. Regardless of all the wrongdoings that have happened during these weeks, I am nevertheless confident that the University will move past this and become a better institution.\n \nHowever, the one outcome that is most worrisome is the possibility that our most valuable resource, the faculty, will abandon this institution. In President Sullivan's statement to the Board of Visitors she said, "deans and provosts at every peer institution are setting aside funds now to raid the University of Virginia next year given the current turmoil on campus".\n \nI speak for many of my classmates when I say that we depend on you. Leaving the University will only serve to harm the students who rely on faculty to make this a great institution. Therefore, this is my formal appeal for you to remain at this great university as we move past this drama together. Do not let the Board's mistakes change your view about the University and lead you to give up on it. University culture is still alive and thriving with the students.
"I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past."
Nicolai Gamrasni\nFourth-year student\n \nThe fall of the house of Sullivan
For those seeking insight into the crisis under way at the University of Virginia, I offer the following summary and interpretation of emails that were released Wednesday as a result of a Freedom of Information Act request made by our student newspaper, The Cavalier Daily, to the University. This summary and interpretation is mine alone, and I wrote this analysis on my own initiative and without the advance knowledge or participation of anyone connected to my employer, the University of Virginia.
(1) In recent months, the University Rector, Helen Dragas, and ex-Vice Rector, Mark Kington, seem to have persuaded themselves that online technology was about to cause a profound disruption/revolution in higher education. They came to this conclusion -- or the conclusion was affirmed in their minds -- after they read:\n \n(a) a 4/8/12 Chronicle of Higher Education article by CUNY dean Ann Kirschner entitled, "Innovations in Higher Education? Hah! College leaders need to stop talking about transformation before it's too late," which speculated that "[t]he ultimate threat to universities could come from the disaggregation of the degree, as students take advantage of the growing availability of open-source learning networks to present evidence of competency to prospective employers";\n \n(b) a 5/3/12 op-ed by New York Times columnist David Brooks on "The Campus Tsunami" in higher education, which praised the for-profit University of Phoenix, the for-profit online-education company Coursera, and the nonprofit Harvard/MIT online education partnership edX, and speculated that "what happened to the newspaper and magazine business is about to happen to higher education";\n \n(c) a 5/30/12 Wall Street Journal article on "Higher Education's Online Revolution," written by two Hoover Institution-affilliated academics who cited the for-profit University of Phoenix as well as the edX partnership to advance a bold, if speculative, claim:\n \n"Over the long term, online technology promises historic improvements in the quality of and access to higher education. The fact is, students do not need to be on campus at Harvard or MIT to experience some of the key benefits of an elite education. Moreover, colleges and universities, whatever their status, do not need to put a professor in every classroom. One Nobel laureate can literally teach a million students, and for a very reasonable tuition price. Online education will lead to the substitution of technology (which is cheap) for labor (which is expensive)-as has happened in every other industry-making schools much more productive." The Rector told the ex-Vice Rector in an email that this article demonstrated "why we can't afford to wait" -- presumably, to force President Teresa A. Sullivan's resignation.\n \n2. Harvard MBA and UVa Bachelor of Science alumnus Jeff Walker, a major University donor, told the Rector that the "on-line learning world has now reached the top of the line [sic] universities and they need to have strategies or will be left behind" and sent the Rector a video about a "hugely successful on-line course at Stanford" that promised, according to The Cavalier Daily reporter's summary, to "lower costs" and "improve productivity." The Rector responded: "BOV is squarely focused on UVa's developing such a strategy and keenly aware of the rapidly accelerating pace of change."
The Rector appears not to have (a) questioned Walker's assumption that the higher education industry is about to enter an era of survival-of-the-fittest competition; (b) asked if the future envisioned by Walker might not allow, as it does today, for a diversity of approaches to higher education; (c) researched the claim that online delivery of higher education lowers costs and improves productivity; (d) asked if online education results in better or worse educational outcomes; or (e) raised any questions about possible differences in mission between for-profit and nonprofit private institutions of higher education, on the one hand, and public institutions of higher education, on the other.\n \n3. The Rector sent the ex-Vice Rector a 6/3/12 Williams College commencement address by Dr. Atul Gawande that argued that calamitous failure can sometimes only be avoided by assuming a high degree of risk. According to Gawande: "All policies court failure-our war in Iraq, for instance, or the effort to stimulate our struggling economy. But when you refuse to even acknowledge that things aren't going as expected, failure can become a humanitarian disaster. The sooner you're able to see clearly that your best hopes and intentions have gone awry, the better. You have more room to pivot and adjust. You have more of a chance to rescue." Presumably, the Rector interpreted this article as justification for carrying out a bold, if risk-laden, "rescue" operation at the University, whose goal apparently was to avoid an unspecified "humanitarian," or other, "disaster" down the road.\n \n4. The ex-Vice Rector emailed the Rector on 6/10/12: "[UVa's] Darden [Business School] is a near and visible template for much of what we seek." What this statement means is unclear, but it is worth noting that Darden receives no funds from the State, is a professional school, and charges what industry insiders consider to be "market-rate" tuition. Perhaps not coincidentally, it is also the school from which the Rector and the ex-Vice Rector received their two-year postgraduate degrees.\n \n5. At the Sulgrave Club in Washington, D.C., venture capitalist Jeff Nuechterlein (a University College and Law School alumnus) appears to have questioned President Sullivan about what the University was planing as far as online education was concerned. Nuechterlein later told the ex-Vice Rector, in a private email, that he found the President's response -- which is not summarized in the FOIA'd emails -- to be "rather pedestrian." In her final statement to the Board of Visitors two days ago, President Sullivan had this to say about the online delivery of postsecondary education: "There is room for carefully implemented online learning in selected fields, but online instruction is no panacea. It is surprisingly expensive, has limited revenue potential, and unless carefully managed, can undermine the quality of instruction."\n \n6. The Rector and ex-Vice Rector seem to have conspired to remove the President, exchanging between themselves, on 6/2/12, drafts of a public statement announcing the President's dismissal and meeting -- privately, it seems -- to handle loose ends before any "group" meeting took place (meaning, presumably, a meeting of the Board).\n \n7. The ex-Vice Rector inadvertently acknowledged the lack of transparency surrounding the forced resignation of President Sullivan when he emailed the Rector and University Chief Operating Officer Michael Strine on 6/11/12: "[M]aybe a modicum of candor is called for."\n \n8. In a 6/12/12 email to the Rector, ex-Vice Rector, and Provost John Simon, Strine seems to have consented to publicly making the argument that there was a need for "urgency and action" given the financial/academic environment. Presumably, such an argument would have helped legitimize what the Rector and Vice Rector had just done -- namely, force the abrupt resignation of President Sullivan.\n \n9. The same day, the ex-Vice Rector emailed the Rector, the Simon, and Strine, urging them to publicly make "the case for unavoidable change" -- presumably, the "unavoidable change" of a forthcoming disruptive/revolutionary transformation of the higher education industry. This is a speculative argument, but one that the ex-Vice Rector appears to have believed would justify radical change imposed from above, including the forced resignation of President Sullivan.
Thus did a handful of wealthy and well-connected individuals who have no recognized credentials or expertise in the field of higher education, including two members of the Board of Visitors (namely, the Rector, a real-estate developer appointed by Governor Tim Kaine, and the ex-Vice Rector, a venture capitalist appointed by Governor Robert McDonnell), privately persuade themselves that a revolution was on the horizon and that this revolution -- the arrival, trajectory, and outcome of which are, to say the least, uncertain -- necessitated destabilization of one the world's great public research universities and the public and private humiliation of the University's first woman president, the internationally esteemed scholar and public higher education leader, Dr. Teresa A. Sullivan.
Jeffrey J. Rossman\nAssociate Professor of History\nDirector, Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies\nUniversity of Virginia
Why the Scandal?\n \nHow did Sullivan's ousting become such a big news story? Yes, I understand that the University community wants a clear explanation as to why Sullivan was ousted. But in my mind that is the only issue. I've seen plenty of other arguments (below) that I cannot begin to understand.
1. "Sic Semper Dragas." Do you honestly believe Dragas' actions were in any way tyrannical? The Board of Visitors has every right to oust a president if they have different goals and priorities for the school. That's part of their job, as a committee, to develop long-term goals for the university and work as best they can to make sure those goals are achieved. The Board offers checks and balances to the University's system and I doubt very highly that the Board took such a bold step without trying to find some middle ground with Sullivan beforehand.
2. "You can't run a university like a business." Of course you can - and should! In this economic crisis funds are drying up in all directions - from federal sources, state sources and grass root (alumni) sources. Maybe the University's students will rack up debt like they've just gotten their first credit card (because that may, in fact, be the case for many) but in the long term debt is never a good solution. The school itself should have a budget and stick to it. If you can't afford all of your programs even after rigorous fundraising, you will simply have to cut your spending. Racking up debt is not the answer. Look at Greece. Or, if you prefer, just look across the Potomac for an example a little closer to home.
3. Similar to #2 above but more specific: "Corrupt business principles should not govern the University's budget. For example, it is corrupt to pay more to some professors simply because their graduates will go on to higher-paying fields and therefore be able to make bigger donations in the future." This is a lovely conspiracy theory, but I can tell you with 100% certainty that the possibility of future donations is not a factor in professors' salaries. A professor's salary is based on two main factors: First, how much would the professor be paid at another university? Second, how much would the professor be paid working at a job in their field? There are a myriad of other lesser factors, but these are the governing principles. If professors are not reasonably paid according to these two factors, we will lose them either to other universities or other jobs. Yes, in the end a chemical engineering professor will probably be paid more than a liberal arts professor. But it has nothing to do with the potential for future donations - or any other philosophy for that matter! This is not a conspiracy people! It's simply economics.
4. "Two years wasn't a long enough time to know if Sullivan would do a good job. She was just getting her feet wet." First, I would like to say I don't think the issue is whether or not Sullivan was doing a good job. I believe the real issue here was whether or not the Board and Sullivan had insurmountable philisophical differences that neither party would compromise on. If that was the case, two years was plenty of time to know the Board-President relationship would not work.
So, why the scandal, Board of Visitors? If you were in the right why, now, do you appear so in the wrong? I'll tell you why. Because the community asked for a reason and you did not offer one. You were too concerned about the principle of the matter. "This is well within our right as Board of Visitors and this is supposed to be a private affair, so 'no!' community, you may not have your answers!" You were too busy thinking about principle to think about perception. And the perception was, if you're not telling us your reasons then whatever you're hiding must stink.
Well, here's a reality check for you, things are out of control - donors are pulling money and faculty are resigning! Your community feels wronged and more importantly your community wants answers! Now that everyone's watching, vague answers will not do.
Claudia Guy\nAlumna '08
Two Worlds Collide
The issues facing the University of Virginia extend far beyond mismanagement by the Board of Visitors. What is at stake now is the identity of the University itself. The Board has a transformational vision for the University's future-but it is not a vision that Mr. Jefferson would approve.
The conflict is not merely between the Board and President Sullivan and her supporters. The conflict is between two different visions of what the University should be. The tension is between economism, propounded by the Board, and humanism, propounded by President Sullivan and her supporters.
Economism is different from economics. Economics is a social science that studies the production, distribution and consumption of goods. Economism is a comprehensive worldview that reduces all things to their dollar value-including people.
The Board, probably without realizing it, has embraced economism. That is, their demand for deep cuts to traditional programs at the University was solely a product of those programs' expense. German and Classics (the study of ancient Greek and Roman literature), for example, are small programs that do not bring in research funding. On a business ledger, they come out in the red.
So, from a bottom-line, cost-cutting, budget-balancing perspective-from the perspective of economism, which reduces all things to their dollar value-these small, traditional programs should be gotten rid of.
Sadly, most of the Board seems to subscribe to this worldview. This situation is not surprising. To get on the Board you have to give a lot of money to a politician. To give a lot of money to a politician you have to be rich. And to get rich, it is best to pursue business, which has a bottom-line, cost-cutting, budget-balancing perspective. That mentality seems to work well in the business world-contemporary capitalism has produced remarkable prosperity. However, its success in business does not transfer to universities, because universities exist for a different reason than businesses.
The western concept of the university, as well as Mr. Jefferson's concept of the University-always rejected economism and embraced humanism. Mr. Jefferson advocated the free, rational exploration of all realms of human knowledge. If a subject was relevant to human existence, then it should be studied by humans. Today, that vision includes fields such as Greek tragedy, biochemistry, German philosophy, systems engineering, religion and medicine. Just as importantly, these fields of knowledge were to be studied in a community and placed in a relationship to one another. Specializations were considered to be borderless and complementary, engaged in one ongoing conversation. Reasoned dialogue and debate produced advances in knowledge.
The Board, apparently, has a very different understanding of higher education. Their understanding seems to be informed by corporate America, not the western tradition of the university. Concerned about the bottom-line, they want to enlarge programs that bring in research dollars and large donors-engineering, medicine, the hard sciences, law and business. And they want to cut those programs that cost more than they bring in, mainly the humanities.
We should all beware-this vision risks turning Mr. Jefferson's University into an extremely sophisticated and wealthy technical institute.
The Board's "transformation" would actually be a degradation. Mr. Jefferson's decision to unite multiple fields of knowledge in one institution was a wise one. Doctors who lose patients may find solace in the Greek tragedies. Physicists who want to consider the relationship between their data and physical reality may want to read the philosopher Immanuel Kant-maybe even in German. A marketing professor trying to determine why religious people have less brand loyalty than nonreligious people may want to consult a theologian.
The Board does not seem to have thought deeply about what a university is or should be. Instead, they seem determined to absorb the University into corporate America. Had their decision to fire President Sullivan engaged the entire community, had it been deliberative rather than unilateral, then perhaps they might have changed their mind. Perhaps they might have learned.
But that's the problem. CEOs who want to make deep cuts act unilaterally and suddenly, overcoming all resistance. Western education, on the other hand, has always valued dialogue and debate as the key to sound knowledge and good decisions. The Board's rejection of transparency and dialogue suggests a rejection of the Western educational tradition. More importantly, it represents a real threat to Mr. Jefferson's University.
Rev. Jon Paul Sydnor, Ph.D. (CLAS 91)\nVice-President of the College of Arts and Sciences, 90-91\nVice-Chair for Trials of the Honor Committee, 90-91
In money they trust
Two weeks ago, the University of Virginia was the most honorable university in the world.
Today, the University's strongest asset is mocked across the nation. "Trust" is not a monetary asset and does not solve fiscal problems. You are each familiar with the value of non-monetary "goodwill" assets, and it is by this metric that you have forever harmed the University. A trust gap between the Board of Visitors, the university, and all stakeholders has erupted. As a result of your recent actions, tens of thousands of degrees were devalued. For no one is this more apparent than the "Triple Hoos." We have no other loyalty, a privilege that also affords us the most to lose by your actions. If you believe your actions will add value to my degrees, presumably you have studied your options and can show the community some data to support your theory.
We are all aware of your individual business successes, and when one runs a business independent of non-monetary assets, one may have success - Mr. Scrooge can attest to that. You have discounted the value of "goodwill" in our university and society. Your actions have devalued the moral compass that retains our faculty. Virginia's legislature - the the oldest in the new world - has made clear in §23-63: there's more to a university than the bottom line. You are not above this truth.
Your actions make clear that you presume to know better than the legislatures, state and university leaders of the past, the students, faculty, alumni, and staff who devote their lives to this university. In this way, you have lost your way from the values instilled upon every graduate. I insist you explain the basis for this presumption of superiority. Your actions have unwound a nearly 200 year tradition of trust which comprises the only university I have ever known.
I ask that you each pledge to contribute 1/16th the drop in philanthropic contributions for the coming year.
Please, take ownership of your decisions.
Dylan P. Kennedy \nPh.D. Candidate, Department of Pharmacology
\nMasters of the University?
In the 1987 best selling novel, Bonfire of the Vanities, Wall Street bond salesman Sherman McCoy privately dubs himself a "master of the universe". Masters of the Universe (for those neither playing with them or raising children at the time) were super hero action figures, "unusually vulgar" (as author Tom Wolfe describes them), and a metaphor for McCoy's belief that he was subject to "no limit whatsoever." It appears the same mindset informs the recent actions of University Board of Visitors.
The University where I was educated took pains to keep alive the vision and values of its founder. Thomas Jefferson said "information is the currency of democracy." Apparently the Board doesn't share his belief in transparency. Deal breaking concerns about a respected and liked president of the University should not be kept under the radar and then blindside the University community when the Board forces Ms. Sullivan's resignation. Such a power play has no place in any ethical institution, least of all the University founded by Thomas Jefferson. Paramount issues belong out on the table. The actions of the Board's leadership betrayed the University community and our values.
The business-speak rhetoric accompanying Ms. Sullivan's ouster spotlights central questions about the future of our beloved school. Does the University have a reputation for excellence to be stewarded by a collaboration between faculty, administrators, alumni and students? Or is UVA a brand to be leveraged through "strategic dynamism"? Is the future of UVA to focus on cultivating excellence across all academic disciplines, or will insulated political appointees determine how best to maximize second semester earnings?
Financial prosperity and deliberate stewardship are not mutually exclusive. Given our country's current economic morass, leaders seeking to impose Wall Street values on our university should give everyone pause. The Board of Visitors' impatience and "masters of the universe" mentality is inconsistent with the philosophical foundation of Mr. Jefferson's University. Ms. Sullivan and all who love and contribute to this University - students, faculty, alumni and administration - deserve much better.
Cathy Cannon Antunes \nCLAS 1985
Keeping it clean
As I sat at my desk in McKim Hall on the Medical Center Grounds Monday morning, I received a message from a friend informing me someone defaced the Rotunda in the night, writing "greed" across its face. I imagined blood red paint and dripping letters slapped across one of the University's, the Commonwealth's, and in my opinion the world's proudest buildings and was deeply alarmed. While I only found partially scrubbed out scrawls of what appeared to be a very large red marker on the North Portico, my sense of apprehension heightened as I contemplated the work of these vandals. This act was deliberately destructive and targeted the building that embodies the very heart of the University. The distrust and anger of this past week seem to have bred mania and I fear what further damage (tangible or otherwise) might lie in store. As tensions continue to rise across Grounds, I hope we as a community of students, faculty, alumni, staff, administrators, legislators, friends of the University, and members of the Board work very hard to make sure we do not further tear apart the fabric of the University in the difficult days and weeks ahead.
I am wholly confident that the University of Virginia will survive this current crisis, but I believe the duration and intensity of this storm of controversy lies in our collective hands. I do not write here to advocate for any particular outcome. I had the opportunity as a student to work with President Sullivan as well as some members of the Board of Visitors. I held all in incredibly high esteem. The passionate positions taken by those members of the community shocked and angered by Ms. Sullivan's ouster are widely held and largely admirable. I ventured to the Lawn Monday afternoon for a short while around three, and on the South side of the Rotunda I saw faculty members from what seemed like every department of every school, students, staff, and Charlottesville residents united in concern. I was inspired to see the strength of shared identity and care for the University.
Some articles, blog posts, comment boards, and twitter feeds however continue to perpetuate a far uglier side to this debate. Conspiracy theories, allegations of nefarious cabals, attempts to pit school against school, and blistering personal attacks aimed at those public servants governing the University and the Commonwealth abound. This is perhaps the nature of the internet age, but it seems that this vitriol is spreading beyond just a small slice of the University community. As evidenced this morning in bright red ink, vitriolic sentiments can lead to real damage.
I am not an advocate for self-censorship, nor do I mean to diminish our acute concerns regarding the abrupt, involuntary conclusion of the President's tenure. I believe it is wise to look to the words of our founder when contemplating this place and he wrote "For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it." Reason not anger, contempt, or acrimony is the weapon Jefferson advocates. I hope all sides in this dispute will follow the model of President Sullivan. Her remarks were exceptionally well reasoned in defense of her philosophy as leader in higher education; they were clear and open with regard to her thoughts on the matter at hand; and above all they evidenced a deep respect and admiration for the University of Virginia as an institution.
Some have questioned who would ever want to govern the University of Virginia after this episode. We as a community will decide that question for ourselves as we go forward. Are we the community that gathered to support a popular leader in an incredibly difficult time or are we the community that vengefully vilifies those with whom it disagrees and defaces its own heritage? Will we simply "retweet" flippant remarks about Star Wars villains and the "one percent" or will we proceed with reasoned arguments - such as those advanced by University technologist Rafael Alvarado - about the future of higher education at the University of Virginia?
President Sullivan today also said "The Community of Trust is not merely a term to describe a Code that applies to our students. We equally need a Community of Trust between faculty and administration and among our leadership teams. Trust does not mean an absence of disagreement. But it requires that disagreements be frankly discussed." Well said. As we go forward with Mr. Zeithaml at the helm, this trust must be rebuilt. It will be laborious, take some faith, and require a very open discussion on the part of University leadership about the direction it hopes to guide this institution as well as concrete action on their part.
As we navigate the coming days and weeks, however, we cannot - we must not - tear the University down around us. The misguided animosity that sparked this morning's act of vandalism seems to me to be the same animosity coursing through the ultimatums, vengeful screeds, and calls for heads to roll that have filled the media. It is my hope that we can take a deep breath and look to reason, not rage going forward.
Charles C. Harris\nCollege '08, Law '11
Candidate at the gates\n
The following letter was addressed to Michael Strine, University Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer\n \nI don't profess to know why President Sullivan was forced out. However, given that it was unanimous, I can only presume it was justified, however painful.
Universities must change their modus operandi to survive. Many Neales have attended the University over the past four decades. My daughter, Carroll, continues the tradition as a member of the Class of 2014. However, my third daughter will not apply. The cost has simply become prohibitive for the middle class. The cold, hard truth is that those of us making between $125,000 and $250,000, the new middle class in urban areas like Baltimore, can simply not pay the tuition now being charged by our elite colleges with no hope of financial or merit aid.
The Ivies, near Ivies, and UVA/Michigan elite state universities (for we out of state alumni/applicants) are now havens for those on pure financial aid or the true 1% uber-wealthy. We middle class bear the brunt, most particularly in urban areas like Baltimore with abysmal public school education alternatives. We will have 39 years of private school tuition payments next year when she graduates, due to the horrific public school choices we would have otherwise faced.
When my third daughter graduates from high school next year (Roland Park Country School, where she is an A student, Cum Laude as a junior, top 10%, athlete, etc.) we will be applying to solid private colleges that still offer merit: Hobart, Dickinson, Randolph Macon, Elon, Wofford, W&L. She will get anywhere from $20-40,000/yr. from these colleges. The University will continue to lose legacy kids from middle class alumni. The University will still have ethnic and international diversity - from poor U.S. ethnic minorities and wealthy International Asians and Hispanics - but it will lack economic diversity. Is this ever voiced as a concern by faculty and the Board? Who is speaking for middle class Americans who don't fit the targeted 40% ethnic or International student subsets that the University touts every year?
Sorry for the long preamble, but here is my punchline. For our next President, go after Robert Gates. Former President of Texas A&M, bipartisan Secretary of Defense hailed by all as one of the best in U.S. history, current Chancellor of William and Mary, and also a W&M alumnus. No more career academics. They are stuck in the stifling academic paradigms that have priced the University and other colleges out of the range of affordability. A man of Gates' unquestioned intellect and stature would be a game changer. He has the resume and gravitas to forcefully implement true change and confront the disparate constituencies - academic, State, Board, and alumni.
The academic business model is hopelessly broken. Incremental change won't cut it. Get a Gates-like successor, optimally the former Secretary himself.
Good luck, and know that loyal and concerned alumnus like me think this is our last chance if we are to remain loyal to Jefferson's vision and ideals.
Tom Neale\nCollege '74
Dollars over sense
The following is in response to Rector Helen Dragas' statement explaining the resignation of President Teresa A. Sullivan.
Please don't use Mr. Jefferson in your public statements. I find it insulting. The Board of Visitors has long since departed from Mr. Jefferson's ideas for the University, and his ideals. You have sold the soul of the University to the almighty dollar, and to curry the favor of provincial politicians. I am ashamed for my University, which I do love dearly, and for which I give thanks daily.
Charles A. Riffee, II\nCLAS '72
The indecorous and rushed dismissal of President Sullivan is deeply concerning to many of us alumni, especially those whose support (including contributions) have sought to sustain and enhance the University's prestige in the years ahead. We're assured that "all will become clear" and that there was a fundamental philosophical difference between Sullivan and the Board of Visitors. This presents two possibilities: Either the Board failed to clearly articulate its vision and priorities during Sullivan's recruiting, or the Board has had an extraordinary change of heart in the last 22 months. Either way, this indicates a serious lack of leadership and poor judgment by the Board of Visitors. By contrast, President Sullivan has a long track record of unimpeachable performance.
I can safely speak for many alumni when I say that I will need a thorough accounting for this boondoggle of the Board's before I will be enthusiastically writing more checks.
Blair Reeves\nCLAS '04
Very poor showing
The following letter was addressed to a Board member.
I am quite upset about the performance of the Board of Visitors in the way it treated Teresa Sullivan. It is frankly an embarrassment to the University and a blow to the reputation and morale of the institution and community. The scathing reviews of the BOV in the press are well deserved and I believe you and your board mates need to transparently address them quickly to have any hope of salvaging support of the University community in Charlottesville and the larger UVA diaspora.
I think my feelings are reflective of the mood of most people who bleed orange and blue. The University deserves competent, honest and honorable leadership. The board's behavior suggests we are sorely lacking it.
Michael Farrell\nCLAS '81\nMedicine '85