On Monday, October 15th, Hunter Rawlings, president of the Association of American Universities (AAU) talked about the future of higher education, especially in regard to the University’s events over the summer. Rawlings comes from a classical studies background and served as president for both the University of Iowa and Cornell University. In his current position at AAU, he sees the landscape of public universities all over the country.
Rawlings first brought up an unsettling statistic about college presidents across the nation. In an 18 month span, 13 AAU presidents either left or were forced out of their jobs. He mentioned that President Teresa Sullivan’s case “stands out as the most abrupt and opaque” out of the 13 other situations, and U.Va. is the “only one with reinstatement.” Rawlings dwelled on the University’s debacle in comparison to other leading research schools, like the University of California.
In the scope of the nation, Rawlings named five problems that plague current American universities. These issues include financial pressures, ideological pressures, corporatization, flagships and state tension, and intercollegiate athletics.
In regard to the University, Rawlings made a great connection between the corporatization thinking of the administration and the liberal arts minded faculty. The economic tensions between public schools and the state affect these different ideologies in various ways.
However, Rawlings expressed a main concern with the rise of tuition costs in the public sector. At a certain point, Rawlings suggests that “the public stops listening to the reasoning” behind increased costs, especially when the quality of education seemingly declines. For example, Rawlings touches on the problems with undergraduate programs that include poorly taught classes and incoherent structures. Fortunately, he added, U.Va. does not fall victim to these particularities in the failure of public education.
When looking at the state’s relationship with public universities, there is a widening gap in support. Reflecting on the past, Rawlings said, “The state used to pay for two-thirds of an education” while the family covered the rest. However, the ratios have changed and “even that statistic is eroding.” Colleges now turn to philanthropic support to gain more funds, just like private schools such as Cornell and Columbia—which Rawlings suggests, conveys to state legislators that the privatization of public institutions imply that these schools are fine without state support. This is far from correct.
Changing gears a bit, Rawlings zeroed in on the University and its initiatives that may run into difficulties. In comparison to the national level, U.Va.’s problems with the state of Virginia also deal with funding, and the quality of research and liberal arts programs under limited public support.
The prospect of online learning was also mentioned and Rawlings finds that Coursea’s presence will be good for on-Grounds learning, but he predicts that online classes will not transform education and that “student learning strongly runs counter to remote teaching” in physical classrooms, “the more direct and personal, the better.”
Speaking of student engagement, Rawlings touched on the role that undergraduate and graduate students must play in their educations. Many attendees at public colleges are now made to believe that post-secondary learning is practical for jobs. While students should always have their future careers in mind, for Rawlings, universities are about “more than just a job.” He emphasized the importance of liberal arts knowledge and its contribution to democratic identity, nationally and globally. In response to a graduate student’s question on this subject matter, Rawlings indicated that the communication between academia and the public will help support liberal arts education as well.
Throughout the lecture, the crowd was filled with questions about how the University can recuperate from the tension seen between the Board of Visitors and President Teresa Sullivan last summer. The first piece of advice Rawlings offered was for the faculty and administrative staff to engage in constant conversation, even suggesting day to day contact and updates. His final words struck a harmonious chord with the audience as he said not to dwell on the summer’s happenings, but rather “make a memorial” of the unfortunate situation and build on that with instrumental change.
Coincidentally, Rawlings dealt with a somewhat similar administration situation after his 8 year term as Cornell’s president. In 2005, his predecessor, Jeffrey Lehman, resigned after only two years—leaving unanswered questions and tensions that still exist today. Rawlings served as the interim president from that unsettling time up until 2006, when current Cornell president David J. Skorton assumed office.
The lecture was presented by the Institute of Humanities and Global Cultures (IHGC) in Minor Hall. Director and Professor of English Michael Levenson opened up the talk along with Professor of Classics John Miller who introduced Mr. Rawlings.
Look out for the highly anticipated Lecture on Religious Intolerance by University of Chicago professor, Martha Naussbaum. This event is also sponsored by the IHGC.
‘Like’ the IHGC on Facebook.