Law in Contemporary Society
On Sunday, June 10, I, along with the thousands of other University of Virginia graduates, received a cryptic e-mail announcing the dismissal of the university president, Teresa Sullivan, just shy of her two-year anniversary. The Board of Visitors asked her to resign due to “philosophical differences,” a nebulous assertion at best.

I commend many of Sullivan’s accomplishments, such as decentralizing budget decisions and directing resources toward the growth of international programs. Others concur; during her short reign, Sullivan gained widespread popularity amongst students and alumni. As a result, there has been tremendous outrage surrounding this event. The student council wrote a letter to the Board of Visitors demanding an explanation for the ouster, and a faculty Senate letter declared outright “its lack of confidence in the Rector, the Vice Rector, and the Board of Visitors.” I agree with the student council’s demand for more transparency; the secretive, almost coup-like manner in which Sullivan was asked to resign showed disrespect toward students, alumni, donors, faculty, and, of course, Sullivan herself. All of these parties deserve an explanation.

One of my friends is a prime example of an outraged graduate. A few days ago, she sent an email reading “I don't want to be from a school where some old white MBA absentee body can unilaterally oust a beloved and effective first woman president scarcely more than a year into her administration, show contempt for the faculty and students in their perversion of the process and compromise the future of public liberal arts education with a screwy, covert agenda.” Her email claimed that the “winners” of the ouster would be the McIntire? School of Commerce, the Darden Business School, and the hospital, while the losers would be traditional liberal arts programs.

Though I disagree with the Board’s opacity, I think this outrage is misplaced. Anger should not be directed toward the Board, but instead the government.

The primary reason that Sullivan was ousted, a reason conceded by those on both sides, was her inability to cut certain programs. While the Rector and Board pushed for the elimination of departments with only a handful of majors, like German and Slavic, she strived to keep such programs in place. The Board has been harshly criticized for wanting to run the school like a business, and has been portrayed as a heartless and greedy baron.

However, in the face of budget cuts, this approach is necessary. The average tuition at public universities has risen 15% between 2008 and 2010. 41 states cut spending on higher education last year. These cuts push tuition costs up, making college less affordable, and poor, and even middle-class, kids are rapidly vanishing from college campuses.

Going to a public university gave me the benefit of meeting a wide range of students, ones from vastly different financial backgrounds. With rising tuition rates, students from these backgrounds are being forced to make one of two choices: attend a cheap community college, or take on crippling amounts of debt. This problem used to only be prevalent in private schools, but now, even state school populations are full of primarily wealthy and upper-middle-class students.

Therefore, I hardly condemn the Board’s desire to cut unpopular programs. Of course, keeping liberal arts programs is central to a university’s mission, and too many cuts will ruin a school’s educational capacity. However, this is a necessary, albeit sad, trade-off, one needed to curb skyrocketing tuition costs. Students will reap greater benefits from having a diverse student body than a tome-sized course offerings booklet.

My friend’s email specifically lamented favoritism displayed toward the McIntire? undergraduate business program. Last year, however, it imposed a $3,000 tuition differential, which was increased to $4,000 this past April. This increase will inevitably deter financially-strapped students from applying. My parents fortunately paid for my college, yet I doubt even I would have applied to the program had it cost more than an Arts and Sciences degree. Students should not be penalized for preferring derivatives to Dickens.

The Board has received further criticism for appointing Carl Zeithaml, the dean of McIntire? , as the interim president. My friend, in another angry email, mocked this decision: “I guess it shouldn’t even be a surprise, and it should actually be pretty hilarious considering that this man is the former director of--I kid you not--the Dollar Tree Corporation--but it is surprising, and it isn’t funny, because it’s just so incredibly sad.” Zeithaml, along with catapulting the program to top rankings and spending fifteen years at UVa, is deeply passionate about his students. He invited his students to dinner weekly. I’d only interacted with him a few times before, but he remembered me while at an alumni reception in New York this year. In fact, we talked about how Columbia offers students funding for unpaid internships in the public sector, and he seemed interested in launching a similar program at McIntire? , which has prided itself on placing students in investment banking analyst positions that pay $20,000 to summer interns. He’s not a greedy money-grubber, and it’s not, as my friend believes, somehow funny or ironic that he was hired. It was a sensible decision to elect someone who cares about the school, but is willing to make the cuts necessary to drive down tuition costs.

I am happy that students have shown outrage, as Charlottesville can be a backwards, conservative place, a bubble divorced from the ills of the real world. It is unfortunate that the University had to oust its first woman president. But this is not the fault of the Board. Ultimately, the government should be blamed; by cutting funding, it is stripping away the accessibility of a public education, which I believe is more important than an Urdu department.

-- AbbyCoster - 21 Jun 2012


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r3 - 22 Jan 2013 - 20:05:50 - IanSullivan
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