The Board of Visitors should include a faculty representative to ensure effective governance
Tuesday, in Old Cabell Hall, the Honor Committee hosted a roundtable: There were two students, University President Teresa Sullivan, Dean of Students Allen Groves and two members of the faculty. The faculty members – Prof. Michael Levenson, director of the Institute of the Humanities and Global Cultures, and Prof. George Cohen, chair of the Faculty Senate – have also organized a panel today at 4:30 p.m. in Nau Hall 101, co-sponsored by the organizations they head and featuring members of faculty. But there will be no faculty present when the Board of Visitors meets to discuss the University Thursday, and more than getting a chair in their respective department one faculty member deserves a seat at the Board’s so highly reserved table.
Events Tuesday revealed how valuable the faculty perspective could be, and how refreshing for students who seldom hear their professors speak after the lecture has ended. During the panel, Levenson said universities should still pursue “top-line” values such as free inquiry and the building of character; Cohen, for his part, compared single sanction to the death penalty. The two carried the most elegance — while others “raised” important questions the professors went a long way in answering them. It was not only here that the faculty appeared in good light alongside Sullivan; they also did in a comprehensive New York Times article published Tuesday about the president’s ouster.
It is easy to forget, given the conciliatory tone following Sullivan’s reinstatement, that not all faculty demands were met. Cohen joked at the panel that academics would always be willing to engage in more conversation, but at one point, the senate he led took action. The senate not only called for the reinstatement of Sullivan, but also asked that Rector Helen Dragas resign and that faculty have a seat on the Board. Both of these are still good ideas and it is to the latter that we now turn.
Tenured faculty are here longer than students, they are here longer than Board members and at the going rate here longer than University presidents. If anyone has a stake and deserves representation – it is them. Not to mention that faculty representatives exist on the boards of other Virginia colleges – including Virginia Tech, James Madison University and George Mason University – and there can be no talk of us “moving forward” when our governance structure remains so backward compared to these other colleges.
The faculty already has considerable influence in realpolitikal terms. Frozen faculty salaries were an impetus to the summer crisis, so much so that an impassioned letter from faculty members regarding their wages was interpreted by Dragas as “a cry to the board for help,” according to The New York Times. Sullivan, in her May 3 strategic memo, expressed concerns about academic turnover and said, “Virginia has achieved its rankings through strong teams of faculty.” Clearly, the well-being of faculty is central to the University’s success, and professors should be allowed to represent themselves in conversations largely about them.
The success of the Faculty Senate to organize and achieve progress during the summer is evidence that they would be equally competent to select a good representative. Faculty members represent the University when the media calls for an expert; they will represent the University to thousands of students online; they give much to us students in Charlottesville. But they are not allowed to speak on their own behalf, and until this is rectified there can be no pretensions to fairness, or honor or any of the other ideals we love to toss about.