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GWU Political Communications Professor: UVA “deserves better than this, in so many ways”


This article by David Karpf, Assistant professor of political communication, George Washington University, nails it on the UVA fiasco (should we go ahead and start calling it UVA-gate, since every scandal has had to have “gate” attached to it since Watergate?). Here’s an excerpt (bolding added by me for emphasis), but I strongly recommend that you read it all:

Revenue problems for public universities are not originating in competition from online learning programs. They’re coming through systematic defunding by state legislatures. Higher education in America faces its share of problems, to be sure. Tuition soars and students are racking up mountains of debt. But the underlying revenue model faces no direct threat. A modern-day Good Will Hunting might gain his education through MIT’s online lectures rather than a Boston public library card, but the great mass of privileged 18-year-olds will keep heading off to college. Neither the University of Phoenix nor MIT’s online courses offer a replacement for the college experience that students are currently paying for. And competition does not equal disruption.

Behind all the silly jargon about “strategic dynamism,” it appears the great tragedy of the UVA Board of Visitors is not that they’ve brought effective business sense into the Ivory Tower. It is that their business acumen proves stunningly lackluster.

This is governance through second-hand op-ed clippings. It is governance through rah-rah PowerPoint presentations. It is governance through Cliff’s Notes and Wikipedia pages. It bears no resemblance to an effectively-run company, much less an effectively-run university.

The University of Virginia deserves better than this, in so many ways.

So true. Sadly, this great university is NOT getting what it deserves here, and that’s largely thanks to the pathetic “leadership” of the UVA Board of Visitors, which appears to have the collective IQ (not to mention moral quotient) of a rotten eggplant. Then there’s Gov. T-Bob, who’s basically AWOL on all this. Great leadership there, huh? In sum, this entire situation is a disgrace and embarrassment to the Commonwealth of Virginia, as well as seriously damaging to one of the greatest public universities in the United States. Other than that, great job guys! (snark)

  • Forwarded to me from Del. Kaye Kory, who said I could republish it here. I’ve added some bolding for emphasis of key points.


    I am writing to you regarding the recent events that have transpired at the University of Virginia. Throughout the process so far, there has been a lack of information due to the lack of transparency by the Board of Visitors. As a result, it would make sense to be tentative to draw any conclusions or plan any definitive action without more information. An abundance of new information was provided yesterday, which can assist you in making your decisions on this issue.

    Yesterday, through the Freedom of Information Act, Cavalier Daily, a student run newspaper, was able to obtain an assortment of emails from the University of Virginia that pertain to the issue at hand. These e-mails confirm that this ouster of President Sullivan was in fact in the workings for an extended period of time, with multiple “plans” of going about her ouster. Unfortunately, this acts in contrast to a meeting that would be deemed “an emergency” which would provide for recent developments that require a quick and executive decision. Understandably, Cucinelli did approve their actions, but their actions do not act in accordance with the spirit of the honor code at the University of Virginia, and has thus led to the uproar and chaos at the University of Virginia.

    Furthermore, another piece of new information has been released today that 8 board members requested the reinstatement of President Sullivan during the meeting that occurred on Monday. However, you were informed during this process that they had a 15-1-0 unanimous decision, which was clearly a blatant lie. Three people did not even have knowledge of the situation at hand until it was informed to the board as a whole that President Sullivan was resigning. I may be wrong, but lying to a governmental official is certainly not going along with the spirit of the law.

    Moreover, the e-mails also demonstrated a major basis for the decision of the ouster of President Sullivan. The reason that was provided by these e-mails was that President Sullivan did not want to take an as extreme approach with regards to making the University of Virginia an online based University.

    To further clarify, President Sullivan was supportive of creating hybrid classes, defined as intro level classes that had online based lectures, and more discussion times as a result. Unfortunately, the Board used the influence of a few donors, as well as a string of 3 or 4 news articles to create their image of what they want to do with the whole online aspect of the University.

    They wanted to follow in the path of the big name universities and offer classes online to non-UVA students. Unfortunately, since they didn’t consult with any faculty nor experts, they misconstrued what the other Universities were doing. The other big name Universities, such as the University of Pennsylvania, Standford, and Princeton are all offering FREE online based classes to allow students from other schools to get the same level as education as from that school. The Board of Visitors misinterpreted this as the big name Universities selling their name to increase revenue, which can actually decrease the prestige associated with a given school.

    What I am presenting here is just a summary of the new information from just the past couple of days. In the days prior, a significant amount of information has been released, with new developments often coming in by the hour. I will leave you with one last detail, as well as a request.

    Yesterday, one of the 13 University professors who was given a prestigious honor, retired from the University of Virginia. He saw the flaws with the current system of the Board of Visitors and would rather retire then serve under them. Other teachers, as cited by Sullivan’s last address to the Board of Visitors, have also already left the University of Virginia. I am currently fearful that more teachers will decide to leave the University as well.

    What is further distressing about this is that I am currently enrolled in two commonly taken classes at UVA that do not have a teacher. How is the University planning on filling classes that currently don’t have teachers if we are currently losing more and more teachers each day? To clarify, the classes that I am referring to that do not have teachers include 2 of the 3 Organic Chemistry lecture sections, as well as 1 of the 2 intro music classes that all music majors are required to take. I am quite sure that there are several more.

    I am requesting that you do the right thing here. This process has shown an abundance of problems. One major problem is with Helen Dragas, and the way she carried out this process. As a result of her unethical procedures I am humbly requesting that should Governor McDonnell re-nominate Helen Dragas that you do not approve the nomination. In addition, I am asking that an investigation is held into the matters regarding President Sullivan’s dismissal. Following this investigation, I believe that there should be a re-evaluation of the decision made by the Board of Visitors with regards to the dismissal of President Sullivan, and see whether or not it was the correct decision. If it is deemed to be the incorrect decision, a reinstatement offer should be extended to President Sullivan.

    Further and most importantly, given the lack of coordination between the Board and the Faculty and Students, I am requesting that the methodology of Board of Visitors appointments should be reviewed. Throughout the leading Universities around the world, the diversity present within the board has been quite important, as well as faculty and sometimes student representation as well. An assortment of methods has been invoked to determine the constituency of the board including alumni nominations, governor appointees, and faculty selection. I believe that a healthy combination of these is essential for a representative constituency that will be able to best serve the needs of the University. However, the exact combination should be left up to what the General Assembly deems to be best, since they have authority over the Board of Visitors. All I am asking of you with regards to this is that you do your best to see that the General Assembly addresses this issue.

    Thank you for taking the time to read this e-mail and thank you for your service to the state of Virginia. I am confident that you shall do what is in the best interest of the state of Virginia.


    Michael Schacher

    Student of the University of Virginia, Class of 2015

  • Elaine in Roanoke

    A report has been made of a strange rumbling in the ground above the Monticello cemetery. At first, people thought it was another small earth quake caused perhaps by fracking for natural gas. However, upon close inspection it was determined that Thomas Jefferson was turning over and over in his grave.


  • Click here.

    Siva Vaidhyanathan, Professor of Media Studies at the University of Virginia, joins Coy Barefoot to discuss historic events at UVA.

  • CCK

    cri de coeur.  But my son graduated from UVA a month ago, today.  I was so proud and happy for him that day.  It was, well, just a happy, happy day for our family.  Now, with the ink barely dry on his diploma the value of that diploma has plummeted.  Why?  Because Helen Dragas and her fellow schemers saw a “shiny object” (online courses) and decided she had to have it.  Without even understanding what it meant.  Without even understanding that the whole venture into offering online classes in institutions of higher learning is in its infancy. No one knows where (or if) the revenue enhancements or cost savings will come from.  No one knows what benefit (if any) there will be to students.  The whole online thing could be a whole lot of nothing. Yet for this Helen Dragas was willing to take down a nearly 200 year old institution.  She was willing to disregard everything UVA stands for and engage in secretive, dishonorable maneuverings to get…what?  Shame, shame on her.  

  • FreeDem

    >They’re coming through systematic defunding by state legislatures. Higher education in America faces its share of problems, to be sure. Tuition soars and students are racking up mountains of debt. But the underlying revenue model faces no direct threat.<

    This “scandal” is still fresh, but I’m utterly sick of the claim that this is primarily a funding issue and there’s not a need to fundamentally address the entire model for higher education. Tuition isn’t just rising out of control, costs are rising out of control, and more money from the state legislature isn’t going to solve this long term. Much like tackling rising Medicare costs through reform of the entire health care industry in the Affordable Care Act, we need to address the entire higher education industry and its out of control costs.

    The Board was wrong in how it went about taking out Sullivan, but nothing I’ve seen from Sullivan indicates she understood this fundamental challenge facing not just UVA but all public universities.