On Wednesday, September 12th a discussion about the lessons learned from President Teresa Sullivan’s ouster and reinstatement this summer brought great wisdom on the University’s move forward. Outraged and confused by the Board of Visitor’s hasty and infamous decision, Amy Curtis, a 4th year undergraduate student, demanded answers.
Many felt helpless since class was out and members of the University sifted through vague emails—but that did not stop Amy from speaking with professors, namely Michael Levenson, the Director of the Institute of the Humanities & Global Cultures and English professor. From these discussions, she came up with the idea to host a panel conversation with faculty, students, and professors of the University to discuss the future of U.Va.
The panelists included George Cohen, law professor and Chair of the Faculty Senate, David Breneman, former dean of the Curry School of Education, Siva Vaidhyanathan, chair of the Media Studies Department, Rebecca Dillingham assistant professor in Global Health, Richard Handler, chair of the Global Development Studies Department, Hillary Hurd, student member of the Board of Visitors, and Suzie McCarthy, a Ph.D. student who organized the Facebook page “Students, Family, & Friends United to Reinstate President Sullivan”, which brought together the Rally for Honor and others this summer.
Each panelist provided their personal opinions on the University’s recovery—Hurd emphasized increased engagement from the student body, Dillingham encouraged interdisciplinary research, and Cohen expressed that the University embrace apparent differences to constitute a true, liberal education.
Although the panelists articulated how U.Va. can continue as an institution, it was suggested that the University is endangered and under the power of money and politics. Levenson opened the discussion by saying, “We didn’t choose our emergency, but we [now] have choices to make.” But who makes the University’s decisions as a whole?
“[U.Va.] is stuck in a philanthropy trap,” exclaimed Professor Vaidhyanathan in response to the question: “Why shouldn’t the governing board look like the public,” considering the University’s public status. Vaidhyanathan referred to the increased financial dependence on donors as a result of nearly 20 years of resolutions made by Virginia’s politicians to cut back spending on public education. This overwhelming reliance on outside donors inevitably influences the agenda of the University’s governing body.
The debate comes back to the age-old phrase: money talks. The panelists expressed concern as money now speaks louder than interests of the faculty, students, and alumni. Breneman, an author and expert on higher education, called for the reevaluation on decision making at the University. He suggests that institutions should rid Governor appointed members and transfer power to the Provost, Dean, and supporting Faculty for major assessments. Monumental changes to the basic bureaucracy of the school will take time and political pressure.
“Political action counts,” were the three words Handler ended the discussion with when asked how the student body could facilitate transformation. Action and engagement depend on knowledge, but also involve the awareness of Virginia’s legislative practices.
The Humanities program invites the U.Va. and Charlottesville community to participate in the ongoing conversation online. Send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and submitters will get a spot on the Humanities blog, where you can learn what other students and faculty are saying about the future of the University of Virginia.
Watch full forum here: