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University of Virginia: Only the Beginning


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university-of-virginia-only-the-beginningVia Meadia:

Walter Russell Mead

6/26/12

 

The academic world has been in a tizzy over the (possibly soon to be reversed) ouster of University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan by the Board of Visitors earlier this month. Much of the controversy has stemmed from the fact that the reasons for her ouster are less than clear; Sullivan was almost universally well-regarded by students and faculty, and there are no reports of any long-standing disagreements with the Board of Visitors prior to her departure.

 

Complicating things is the fact that the board was curiously quiet regarding the rationale behind the ouster. They gave little explanation for their decision at the time, causing many to spin wild conspiracy theories. Even the board’s after-the-fact justification for the move came across as vague and unsatisfying.

 

As more information has come out, however, it appears as though the decision was motivated by serious disagreements about the speed with which the university needed to change. The Board of Visitors favored a more rapid embrace of new educational technologies and approaches, while Sullivan preferred a slower, more incremental approach. The New York Times reports:

 

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She has been especially concerned about pushing ahead in online learning, to keep up with Stanford, M.I.T. and other universities that have, just in the last year, begun to offer “massive open online courses,” or MOOCs, free to anyone with an Internet connection, carving out new territory in an area that most universities are just beginning to explore.

 

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These problems are erupting at the University of Virginia, but they aren’t unique to it. As the NYT article points out, universities all over the country are facing a world of rapid change. This is going to be hard to face. Universities are structured to adapt slowly—if at all. Typically, university presidents have only limited controls, while faculties have a lot of power to resist. Management is usually decentralized, with different schools and departments governed under different rules and accountable to different constituencies. The fiscal arrangements of most universities are both byzantine and opaque; it can be very hard for administrators to understand or properly and fairly value the true cost and contributions of different parts of the institution.

 

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UVa. President Teresa Sullivan reinstated

Michael Winter,

6/26/12

 

The University of Virginia Board of Visitors has unanimously reinstated President Teresa Sullivan, who was removed earlier this month without a vote.

 

Update at 4:19 p.m. ET: Important to note that Gov. Bob McDonnell, who appointed half of the rectors, had vowed to replace all of them if they didn't resolve the controversy by today.

 

The governor appoints all members of the Board of Visitors to four-year terms, subject to confirmation by the state General Assembly. The board approves the university's budgets and policies, and is responsible for long-term planning.

 

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Univ of VA as a microcosm of Educational Profligacy

Roger Kimball

6/27/12

 

Watching the bumbling spectacle of bureaucratic incompetence emanating out of Charlottesville put me in mind of that amusing old country and western song “First you say you will and then you won’t,/ Then you say you do and then you don’t,/ What are you going to do?” (Dum-dum-dum, Da-dum-dum-dum.) Let’s see: it’s June 10: “University of Virginia President Teresa A. Sullivan to step down.” Thus screameth the headline, and you didn’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to conclude that by “step down” the story meant “got the boot.”

 

But wait, that was last week. This week the news, at least the headline, is University of Virginia Reinstates President. I say “headline” and not “the news” because the real news here is the impending collapse of that house of cards known as the institution of higher education in the United States. As Anne Neal, President of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni wrote in the WaPo, “higher education is on a collision course” — with fiscal reality. “Even though the United States spends more per higher-education student than any other Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development nation, we have worse results.”

 

The cost of higher education, i.e., not the real cost but your tuition bill, has been rising at something close to 7.5% per year for decades. Why? Say hello to all those shiny new administrators, Mom. Dad, let me introduce you to this lavish pension over here, and let’s not forget the university president, who is paid the way a CEO of a major, for-profit corporation would like to be paid.

 

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