Here’s the cool thing about covering higher ed from the nation’s capital: University leaders from around the country converge here to plan strategy and talk with lawmakers and federal officials.
And often they drop by The Post.
On Tuesday, we had a delegation from the Association of American Universities, which is an invitation-only group of 61 top research institutions. They were: Gene D. Block, chancellor of UCLA; Ronald J. Daniels, president of Johns Hopkins University; Mary Sue Coleman, president of the University of Michigan; Scott S. Cowen, president of Tulane University; and Hunter R. Rawlings III, president of AAU.
Conversation bounced from the possibility of federal “sequestration” budget cuts — which has potentially “catastrophic” consequences for research funding, Daniels said — to the emergence of massive, open online courses, or MOOCs. Coleman said Michigan, a participant in the free online education platform Coursera, doesn’t intend to dilute its brand but does hope the experiment will lead to improved teaching and learning. We also talked about affirmative action, financial aid, student debt and economic development.
But most striking was discussion of the leadership crisis at the University of Virginia (a member of AAU). The crisis subsided about four months ago with the reinstatement of UVA President Teresa Sullivan but continues very much to be a matter of debate. (See this report from my colleague Jenna Johnson about how the university’s accreditation is now under review because of the episode.)
Rawlings told us that the attempt to oust Sullivan, engineered by leaders of the school’s Board of Visitors, represented “the most egregious board decision I’ve ever seen.” He said the decision to move against Sullivan was “precipitous and opaque.” And he voiced concern that what happened in Charlottesville is part of wider phenomenon — that public higher education is under fire in many states, with leadership of premier institutions in deep flux because of fiscal and political pressures.