In speaking at the Miller Center, President Sullivan continues her attempts for dialogue and transparency
This summer, most University students, alumni and faculty were taken aback by the sudden resignation and subsequent reinstatement of University President Teresa Sullivan. The move by the Board of Visitors to oust Sullivan was one that nobody foresaw. As a result, there were many — and perhaps remain many — questions surrounding the proceedings. It is fortunate, then, that some issues will perhaps be cleared up soon.
Today, Sullivan is speaking at the Miller Center in an effort to elaborate further on the controversy surrounding her resignation, as well as to put the summer’s events in a broader context. The Miller Center, for those who do not know, is an institute at the University that “seeks to expand understanding of the presidency, policy, and political history, providing critical insights for the nation’s governance challenges.” The center holds a series of forums, each with a different featured speaker. Though the forums usually center around politics, Sullivan will instead be addressing the changing landscape of higher education in the United States.
Sullivan is giving a talk titled “The Way Forward,” in which she will discuss the challenges that the University faces both at an institutional level and at the level of public universities in general. This is a well-deserved opportunity for the University community to hear more about what was certainly at the heart of Board meetings during the summer. Since most of those discussions went on behind closed doors, having the president herself openly discuss some of these issues is a welcome sign of transparency. What is also convenient about the Miller Center forum is that members of the University community everywhere can listen to what Sullivan has to say. If one is unable to make it, the forum will be broadcast on PBS channels around the country and will also be streamed live at millercenter.org.
Additionally, Sullivan will be taking questions, which people are able to submit either in person or via social media. This is the second time in two days that the president has opened herself up to the University community — yesterday she participated in an roundtable discussion alongside two faculty members, the student Board member and the chair of the Honor Committee about the University’s community of trust. The roundtable was itself a positive undertaking. Over the summer, many people believed that the Board had violated the community of trust by not being forthcoming or honest about the circumstances surrounding the resignation of Sullivan.
Beyond providing insight into what transpired over the summer, Sullivan’s forum will give people an idea of the potential direction in which the University is heading. For instance, a weighty issue during the Board’s decision to force Sullivan out was the initiative of online courses. The Board felt pressure because other preeminent universities around the country had already begun providing free online courses and some Board members felt the University should follow suit. How providing the online courses will affect the reputation of the University down the road, though, is yet to be established. Hopefully, the courses will make the University’s intellectual resources more open to the public while not diminishing the value of a degree from the school. The forum should help in clearing up the reasoning behind that and similar issues.
The University’s place among other national universities is also something to be understood by the University community. It is not only informative to know what changes the University will be making in the near future, but why those changes must be implemented and whether other elite schools will be undergoing similar alterations. Will the University remain a top-ranked institution, and has President Sullivan sufficiently reconciled with the Board to ensure that the school does not fail to adapt to changes in the academic landscape? Having President Sullivan speak about the state of higher education in general could help elucidate why the Board felt it necessary to have her resign, and whether her outlook for the University has in any way changed now that she has been reinstated.
It is fortunate that University organizations are promoting and facilitating such dialogue between University officials and students, the alumni and faculty. Putting on forums and discussions in which those responsible for the future of the University are present allows the University community to remain informed and involved in their school’s operation. Members of the community need to be granted an opportunity to express their feelings about how the school is performing. They should to be allowed to question and even disagree with those in charge. The more dialogue initiated between administrators and the University community, the better.
Alex Yahanda is a senior associate editor for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at email@example.com.