17 Days in June

Most reading the Fall 2012 issue will heave a sigh of relief that the University has weathered a freak storm that in June nearly toppled President Sullivan. The thoughtful reader will nevertheless understand that the storm is but a harbinger of change in our national culture and in higher education that has been brewing for years.

The Board of Visitors that visited such unwarranted havoc on the University in June was unmistakably out of touch with the realities of academic life and its evolution. Moreover—an important issue—the Board still seems to misunderstand the reasonable and economical uses of technology in higher education. The Board seems neither to have understood nor to give appropriate respect to academic shared governance and with it the central and crucial role of faculty in that governance. Students and faculty are the University, all else is support, including the Board.

The Board is expected to keep a big picture of the context in which the University exists and provide timely counsel to the institution and its management, and this does include a conscientious hiring process to identify a presidential candidate—and, theoretically, in cases at the level of malfeasance, corruption or moral turpitude, the authority to dismiss a president. It includes accepting the faculty's and administration's decisions on faculty retention, tenure and promotion. As for "strategic plans," the Board would do well to understand what the faculty and administration have devised as strategic plans.

We know our University is expending public and private funds at a prodigious rate. Do not let the fact that huge sums of money are involved convince you the University is a business, however. It is not, despite the thinly camouflaged and tendentious piece by Kevin Kiley ["High Stakes in the Boardroom," Fall 2012]. Faculty and the administration determine what will be taught, not pressure groups or even revenue-encouraging boards. Were it otherwise, faculty would surely abandon the enterprise. Virginia is a university—just that and all that.

The University community deserves a complete accounting of the vision and the methodology the Board subscribed to in June as it voted to unseat President Sullivan. We must know what latent ideas along those lines remain in the minds of continuing Board members, Rector Dragas principal among them.

The Board is an anachronism, statutorily charged with impossible responsibilities and with scant professional resources to actually fulfill its legal charge. It is foolishness to believe that just a handful of well-meaning men and women could possibly understand and expect to direct the course of an enterprise built by and functioning with the intellectual and informational resources of a faculty and administration such as we now have.

I spent most of my life in higher education teaching modern Russian history and as an academic administrator in curriculum and research development for 26 years. I was deeply and continuously involved in our campus discussions about computer-assisted and web-based instruction.

There are good economic and pedagogically sound reasons to make videos of large-scale lectures for regular academic credit and to re-run those lectures locally for a faculty-defined number of years, honing them and evolving them to fit the local environment and the students. Faculty must look at the curriculum to see where these opportunities exist and resolve to find the right balance within the resources available.

Mere distribution of processed information is not higher education, however. The essence of higher education is to foster in students the ability to analyze ideas and data, to relate these to other materials, to develop arguments, to reach conclusions and to present the results of these processes with clarity and style, while encouraging a respect for data and unpleasant facts, tolerance, commitment, creativity and perpetual curiosity. The process is dynamic, cumulative and involves extensive interaction among students, part of which is conducted by people who have already had and reflected upon the experience—faculty.

James Richard Brett (Col '62)
Tucson, Ariz.

 

Provost Simon's personal perspective ["The Role of Faculty in Shared Governance," Fall 2012] should be required reading for all members of the UVA Board of Visitors, as well as for those who study higher education. The diffuse decision-making process is one characteristic that makes the institution of higher education unique, and therefore, as Simon points out, it may not entirely be recognized or understood by those who operate from a traditional business model of leadership.

What is clear during these 17 days in June—through emails between Rector Dragas and former Vice Rector Kington, as well as comments in the press—faculty were not consulted during the decision-making process. The Board ignored its own internal constituents and clearly relied on a traditional top-down model of leadership.

In fact, it became clear that President Sullivan was also blindsided by the BOV's request for her resignation. Although it is heartening that Gov. McDonnell appointed two new members to the Board who are seemingly familiar with the governance structure of the University, Rector Dragas' focus on the BOV's strategic planning agenda, without articulating how faculty will become part of the process, is troublesome. Transformation leadership rarely works in higher education.

It will only be through an attempt to understand shared governance that the BOV can move forward with the University.

Pam Douglas (Educ '72)
Gloucester, Va.

 

I am not inclined in the slightest way to criticize President Sullivan for papering over the outrageous initial action of the Board of Visitors. With dignity, she got her job back, along with unbounded support to carry on as before. But I hold those 15 persons to be as irredeemable as the commander who ordered the Charge of the Light Brigade. No way possibly might their utter irresponsibility be excused.

I also note that University funding by the state is now only 10.2 percent. Yet political appointees [constitute] the Board of Visitors. Here is an outstanding case of the tail wagging the dog. The public should demand some better way of choosing who shall [constitute] the Board.

Gilbert S. Bahn
Moorpark, Calif.

 

The strong implication in Dragas' commentary ["Q&A With the Rector," Fall 2012] is that disparaging information regarding Sullivan is in fact available, but that the Board of Visitors cannot share this information, in part because of a "nondisparagement agreement" requested by Sullivan (i.e., the lack of information provided by the Board is really Sullivan's fault). Such innuendo is divisive and unpleasant, and not at all in keeping with the traditions and dignity of the University. This is blame shifting at its most egregious, and I am quite upset that the University seems to have to countenance such behavior.

John Melaugh (Arch '74)
Dade City, Fla.

 

Reading your account of the Dragas-Sullivan opera buffa, I was reassured to learn that in the end, nothing has changed. Students will continue to be patronized, junior faculty condescended to and staff ignored while the same elite administrators rule the roost. The University remains the privileged, and hence prejudiced, place it has always been.

Page Nelson (Col '76)
Cambridge, Mass.

 

This issue of the magazine featured 11 pictures of Teresa Sullivan wearing blue and seven pictures of Helen Dragas wearing red. Is this an attempt to send some sort of subliminal message?

Catherine Fuller (Col '80)
Edina, Minn.

 

Ken Elzinga's call for atonement from the Board of Visitors ["Forgiveness and Healing," Fall 2012] as a prelude to forgiveness is on the mark. Dragas needs to heal the wounds that she has caused before expecting respect and trust from the University community.

Gregory D. Tilton (Col '74)
Metairie, La.

 

Speaking on the subject of University administration, a sage university president once remarked that as a rule, the higher its quality and more prestigious an institution, the more squirrelly will be the faculty and student body, and, thus, the more difficult and tricky the governance of the school.

I believe UVA is intrinsically good enough for this dictum to include it. Unfortunately, the UVA Board of Visitors either disagrees or, more likely, is completely oblivious, not only to this adage, but to university governance in general.

Generally boards give a newly appointed president four or five years to make her mark on an institution, and, unless she does something unbelievably ill-founded or senseless, only then, if in their view she doesn't measure up, tactfully and quietly "suggest" she move on next year. That way, she can announce her departure, allow all constituencies of the institution ample time to come to grips with the impending change in the presidential suite, and most important, provide for an orderly transition. But during her appointed term, the trustees give their president all support possible, both publicly and behind the scenes, to ensure her the best possible access to the resources she needs to carry out her job.

The UVA Board did none of these things. Support? Loyalty? Not here.

There seemed nothing in President Sullivan's UVA tenure to indicate that she deserved to be removed. On the contrary, faculty, students and alumni seem to approve of her performance and, judging from the fire and urgency of their protests, would have her remain on Carr's Hill for another year or two, at the very least. Finally, having held responsible administrative posts at other leading universities, President Sullivan possesses a set of credentials in university governance that would seem to overshadow the collective experience of the Board. She knew and was formulating plans to address UVA's weaknesses, some of which, despite the school's lofty US News rankings, are glaring and will need to be addressed.

For a gaffe of this magnitude, there should be and there needs to be accountability for those who precipitated this mess. The University—its students, faculty and alumni—deserve better Board members. Much better.

William B. Parker (Col '68)
Cape Coral, Fla.


Jefferson's Vision

Of particular interest and provocation was your publication of the minutes of the first meeting of the Board of Visitors ["Retrospect," Fall 2012], wherein Thomas Jefferson and John Cocke, as a committee of the BOV, accept the "authority to advise and sanction all plans and the application of monies for executing them," a practical assignment, requiring service without promising glory.

In Professor K. Edward Lay's course on Jefferson's architecture, I learned—and continue to marvel at—how Jefferson's design of the Academical Village defines his very specific, determined and innovative vision for the University.

Jefferson physical plan has laid out a very clear set of humanistic ideas about what the University should be and how it should operate:

  1. His composition of syncopated student and faculty housing, connected by protected open-air public walkways, unequivocally states that at this university, education is a fine-grained, everyday conversation between teachers and learners.
  2. The University should be a special community with much internal freedom and visibility encouraged by a single (albeit cascading) ground plane and human-scale colonnades.
  3. Time spent at the University should be an intense and encompassing human experience where opportunities won't be squandered, so places to learn a new language over dinner and to exercise in inclement weather were hardwired into the plan.
  4. The University is a place where gardens are important. Defined by serpentine walls, they remind us to be respectful of our place in the natural world and celebrate inventive technology.
  5. The University is a place that values the lessons of history and recycles historic architecture creatively, but nonetheless has an overarching dynamic that looks optimistically to the infinite future of its (as originally conceived) open-ended plan.
  6. The whole place is balanced and ordered, not overly symmetrical, but centered and grounded by the geometry of the Rotunda that locates the library, full of collected knowledge and maybe even some wisdom, as the philosophical, inspirational and physically iconic apex of the University.

No one person or group has the "keys to the Rotunda." I think that if the Board of Visitors had really understood the foundations of our University, as demonstrated by Jefferson's architecture, their actions would have been quite different. Instead of exercising singular power and position, they would have worked hard and constructively within the community to resolve issues and navigate a path forward.

Roxanne Sherbeck (Arch '74)
Pittsburgh, PA


Lack of Information

As someone who has tried hard to learn the details of the issues involved and the positions of both the Board and the president, I find it difficult to believe [that so many alumni] felt they had enough information to make an informed opinion on the Board's decision to replace President Sullivan. I agree that transparency from the Board could have been vastly better, but why are we so quick to applaud the many who acted on little information to pressure the Board to overturn their decision? If the movement to reinstate the president was not based on a solid understanding of the issues involved, then I view it with the same disappointment that I have for the Board's handling of their decision.

Erik Schneider (Col '93)
Chicago

 

I was most interested in the promise of the cover of the Fall 2012 issue: "How and why it happened and what it means for the University's future." I was disappointed to read every article and find nothing about how and why this happened. I understand that UVA, as most universities, is struggling with funding and quality of education. But there is no direct link provided between these problems and the resulting resignation of Teresa Sullivan; no word about the relationship of Dragas, Kington and Sullivan; [and] no background to explain who instigated this, how they derived support from the entire Board, or how Dragas survived while Kington did not.

I am left wanting and really expected more from the Virginia Magazine.

Lynn Ashby (Col '82)
Mechanicsville, Va.


Praise for the Fall 2012 Issue

While the Internet and social networks made it easy for a distant alum like me to follow the events of June on Grounds, they failed to show the moral implications of the events and their great impact on our community. However, the newest issue of the UVA Magazine filled in the gaps and helped me see the "bigger picture" of the actions taken and the response to these actions.

After a summer feeling much shame in the way the BOV acted and how it reflected nationally upon UVA, I had a revived, overwhelming sense of school spirit and pride after reading the newest issue. Through the wisdom of Thomas Jefferson's words, I was able to see the importance of forgiving the Board of Visitors. I will carry his wisdom and the example of the University into my own life.

Jessica Meehan (Col '06)
Brooklyn, N.Y.

 

Your "17 Days in June" coverage as chronicled in the Fall 2012 issue is a journalistic masterpiece. The summary of events was objective, informative and assuredly destined to become a prime reference for future researchers. I've been a reader of your publication for over six decades. This issue is a winner.

Bob Maidment (Educ '50, '53, '63)
Boca Raton, Fla.


Show Me the Money

In addressing whether the $5.347 billion endowment could help solve financial challenges [University Digest, Fall 2012], you gave short shrift to meaningful discussion. First, a 2012-13 distribution of $138.9 million is only a 2.6 percent distribution, which is far below your stated range of "between 4 percent and 6 percent of assets." If the distribution were 5 percent, it would have been $267.35 million, an increase of $128.45 million. If only 32 percent of that had been available for unrestricted uses, $41.1 million in additional resources would have been available.

If I'm not mistaken, the BOV sets the spending rate and makes policy decisions. Undoubtedly, the strategy of the University has been to set conservative spending rates, use long-term investment strategies and grow the endowment as much as possible.

But in trying to solve the current financial crisis, the administration and BOV should have all options on the table and be willing to deviate from past and proven strategies if compelling circumstances exist. Articles throughout your Fall issue emphasize the need to supplement faculty salaries and attract a large number of new, first-rate faculty to replace those retiring before 2020. Yet only $3 million was set aside as a special fund to recruit and award merit-based pay supplements in the last fiscal year. Suppose that number were $30 million, and half [were] used to award our top tier of current faculty and half to recruit new faculty? Is it possible the enhancement to our reputation, ability to attract the best students and increase in the overall quality of our educational experience might outweigh any benefit achieved from a continued miserly distribution and growth policy?

Run new projections based on taking a 5 percent "unitrust" distribution for the next eight years and see if the benefits outweigh the risks. I'm betting that alumni and other donors would respond with renewed enthusiasm to such a bold initiative, and the endowment would grow even faster.

William J. Irvin (Com '73)
Richmond, Va.

The Rector and Visitors hold $3.4 billion of the total endowment, from which $138.9 million is distributed to fund University operations. The remainder of the endowment is held by affiliated UVA foundations, which provide $97 million from their portion of the endowment to the University as expendable gifts. —Ed.


Faculty Raises?

The article "After the Storm" in the Fall 2012 issue states: "This past year, her administration found the funds to give faculty a 2 percent pay raise, the first in four years." This statement is misleading. The administration found the funds to give a small percentage of the faculty a raise. The large majority of the faculty will begin a sixth year without raises on November 24, 2012. Would you please publish a clarification?

Stephen Cushman
Robert C. Taylor Professor of English,
University of Virginia

Virginia Magazine asked the University budget office for clarification on faculty raises:

"In December 2011 President Sullivan initiated a merit-based salary adjustment—which averaged 2 percent of compensation for faculty and University staff—to address strategic faculty and University staff recruitment and retention issues. The salary adjustment was not applied across-the-board to all faculty and University staff, but was allocated to retain the highest performers." —Ed.


History of Mascots

My eye was drawn to Buterbaugh's letter ["Memories of a Mascot," Fall 2012] about the faux Beta of Sigma Nu. This Beta, of whom I have no recollection, should not be confused with the real Beta who died in 1939. He is the Beta who was venerated by generations of students and faculty, and he is the Beta who is buried—along with his successor, Seal—just outside the precincts of the University Cemetery. He was called Beta because he more or less lived at the Beta Theta Pi house. His funeral in 1939, according to all accounts, was a state occasion with a procession, a hearse, a band and eulogies. Similar honors were paid to Seal in 1953.

My father was a Beta and I was introduced to Beta, the dog, at Beta, the house, when I was 4 or 5. When I was a student, his picture hung in the Beta house at 180 Rugby Road, but that disappeared many years ago. I have a snapshot of him taken, I think, in the late 1930s.

The closest dog to a successor to Seal, at least in my time, was Nasty, who spent a lot of time at the Beta house; I don't think any of us, though, regarded him as the University mascot. Nasty was a nice dog, but "nasty" kind of described some of his personal characteristics. He was popular because of some sort of ear ailment which caused him to bay like a hound when he heard certain sounds. Dogs wandered in and out of classrooms in those days and if a lecture got particularly boring, the trick was to make Nasty bay, which of course disrupted the class. Nasty died sometime in the late 1950s from, as I recollect, injuries caused by an encounter with a beer truck.

Alexander G. Gilliam (Col '55)
University History and Protocol Officer


Sad Farewell

Among the members of the McCue Society, Dr. Frank C. McCue III was our leader, role model and dear friend. Doc made us a team and we were able to accomplish much more together with him than we would have alone. And last June 8, his team gathered in Charlottesville—many present in person and thousands in spirit.

Dr. McCue suffered a heart attack on May 13, but due to the dedication of his wife, he returned home to Old Farm Road on June 4, after a three-week hospital and rehabilitation stay. After much concern about whether he could attend the McCue Society weekend, Doc rallied. Not only did he attend, he beamed throughout and closed Thursday night's party.

It was with great sadness that the University community marked Dr. McCue's passing on July 8, 2012.

Doc will continue to motivate us and provide us with a sense of purpose. His legacy will continue to bring us together. Doc, we thank and love you.

Dr. Robert Franco (Res '87)
Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.