Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Today, The Students Won

I was driving this evening and heard the NPR news report that the President of UVA-Charlottsville had been restored after an essential hostile ouster by the Board of Visitors, lead by a first-term visitor,Helen Dragas, who is a real estate mogul.  None of the Board of Visitors have degrees or backgrounds in higher education, they wanted to push Teresa Sullivan, the first female president, to a more corporate and "profitable" structure that favored online classes and elimination of classical liberal arts education.  I, like many who value education were outraged at her ouster and the audacity of another move by the lack-of-transparency corporate-elite to take over the nation.

The little people prevailed and of course the Board of Visitors were surrounding her as she spoke to a crowd of students, faculty, and administrators who protested against her discharge. It made me think of the power of the people who rally together to stand strong in the face of tyranny.  The move by the board was not to benefit the students and regardless of what one thinks of the tenure system, the faculty are the meat-on-the-bone of any good institution.  The faculty are also not the ones driving up education costs, that would be in other departments not directly benefiting the students.

The entire fiasco reminded me of what has gone wrong in our country over the past thirty years.  I hold my MBA from the University of Iowa so I value the place of free markets and a level playing field, the opportunity to have a dream and create a business, to make it profitable, and to enjoy the success.  What I do not like is the profit at all costs move that has taken place.  When I was in school, there was a group of us who fought for sustainable business and responsibility to our stakeholders, not just those fortunate enough to purchase stock in our company.  I took the MBA Oath to signal my ethics and my stance on a global responsibility of business leaders and business owners.  This seemed to escape the Board of Visitors who were only seeking to fill the coffers of the for-profit, less-costly online education companies that are traded on Wall Street.

There are some things that should be held in high esteem, highly valued, like a good education.

UVA is one of the nation's oldest institutions of higher learning.  I may have issues with Thomas Jefferson and his slave holding/slave manipulation of Sally Hemmings and fathering a group of mixed-race people during the founding of our nation, however, I do believe he left something tangible with UVA and the place of higher thinking.  I believe in education, it opens doors for critical thinking and discourse, something that can only come by getting up, grabbing the books or tablet and pen, and trudging across campus to sit in a lecture hall with a professor who broadens the discussion beyond the text book, where real learning happens.  That can not happen online.  The value of that is more than the profit motive.

Today is a good day for the little people, the educators, and the students of not only UVA but the nation's colleges and universities.  Yes, they are more costly than when I first set foot on a campus in the late 80s.  Yes, there are overpaid administrators, a heavy reliance on adjunct (I am one!), and marketing of the football team and basketball playoffs over the romance languages and sociology majors.  Yes, the students of today have a harder time finding employment.  All these things are true and why I advocate for a free or less costly college experience, BUT in spite of this, I believe today was a good day for the President of UVA.  It is what we want college students to do, to think, to act, and to speak up.

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