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All hands on deck

Given the transience of students and administrators, a stable faculty is central to protecting the University's vision

Professor Larry Sabato tweeted Monday that the current Board of Visitors "has done more damage to the University I love than the 1895 Rotunda fire." Buildings can be rebuilt, traditions can be restored, funding recouped and rankings reestablished. What cannot be replaced are the people. The students, faculty and administrators who are the living embodiment of Thomas Jefferson's vision - we cannot be replaced. Without the human aspect of the Jeffersonian dream, the University is merely a collection of buildings; beautifully designed, but mere blueprints without architects.

Thus, I was dismayed by the announcement of Computer Science Prof. William Wulf's resignation Tuesday morning, submitted in a letter of explanation: "A BOV that so poorly understands UVa... is going to make a lot more dumb decisions, so the University is headed for disaster," he wrote. I do not blame him. Given the way Rector Helen Dragas has treated and ignored the University community, such a reaction is understandable. Just as any potential student or potential faculty may no longer wish to join the University, Wulf's are legitimate concerns given recent events.

That said, however, I urge Prof. Wulf to return to the University and to take back his resignation. Moreover, I urge other faculty to stay onboard. Our University may be lost in turbulent waters, but now is not the time to abandon this ship.

Despite never having taken a computer science course, I am sympathetic to the keen sense of loss no doubt felt by the computer science faculty and students. And though I am by no means a spokesperson for the student body, I suspect our wishes are here aligned - we certainly do not want to lose our beloved faculty. Whatever reasons we give for coming to the University, one should transcend them all - learning.

Ultimately, students ought to attend the University to be taught, to interact with the faculty in the lifelong conversation called education. All of our proud traditions - the student self-governance, Greek life, athletics - would be tarnished if we received an inadequate education.

Moreover, when Prof. Wulf noted the Board does not understand the University nor academic culture, clearly he had a point. Who does then? It seems to me the faculty is the lasting guardian of our University's vision. Students come and go, and as President Sullivan's dismissal has shown, so do administrators. Faculty, with the possibility of tenure, can be the sole enduring wardens of Jefferson's vision and the University's name and tradition. They, more so than anyone else, should define the lasting image of the University.

It is difficult, if not impossible to imagine the University without our favorite professors. Many seem as permanent as the fields they teach. Without the dedicated faculty who have so faithfully served the University, our cherished traditions and academic culture would be easily lost.

It may seem that I am counseling remaining calm and weathering the storm. I am not. This is a justifiable time to express anger at the undignified and unrepentant actions taken by the rector and the former vice rector. Their resignations and nothing less is the necessary first step. At the same time, we must direct our anger, and seek not to damage the University at-large, but to demand justice from those responsible. More importantly, rather than simply demanding that the rector and vice rector be held accountable, we should also seek to better the situation.

I do not pretend to have plotted a course for us to chart, but former Vice Rector Mark Kington's resignation seems to be that first glimmer of sunlight amidst the sinister cover of clouds. If anything, the rally on the Lawn Monday in support of President Sullivan confirmed the spirit of the University is alive and well and will not be cowed by the disgraceful actions of a few members of the Board. The time now has come to correct course and work to return the University to her rightful place.


Published June 19, 2012 in Opinion

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