It is a campus transformed. Normally quiescent, leafy, and deadeningly hot in summer, the grounds of Jefferson?s fabled university pulse with anger, outrage, and determination in the wake of UVA President Teresa Sullivan?s forced resignation at the hands of an MBA-dominated Board of Visitors. Faculty with cellphones strapped to their belts, fuzzy gray hair, sensible shoes, and tapestry bags march alongside Occupy-inspired undergraduates with placards and frat boys leading the good old song. Deans are here too, and the former UVA president in seersucker, and a professor of drama providing plenty with her periodic bursts of emotion. But nearly everyone?s feelings are rising to the surface: fury, betrayal, disgust. Even the undergraduate honor committee, typically given to overzealous prosecution of fellow students for offenses of questionable gravity, has suggested in a widely distributed email that the Board of Visitor?s actions constitute a violation of the famed honor code. At the University of Virginia, them?s fighting words.
UVA has always talked a good game about its values, but now they are really starting to matter. Honor. Trust. Integrity. In a crisis of meaning like this, we all reflexively go back to the values the university has articulated time and again, and we find them the only guiding star by which to navigate. Beyond the morality play, it is also an issue of boundaries: how much does money buy you? Will corporate ideologies come to dominate even higher education and the nonprofit realm? Or are there other values that we are willing to fight for and defend?
At UVA right now, the answer to this last question is yes.
I hope the history students I?ve taught at UVA, most of them watching from afar, are thinking about these big questions, for they will help craft the answers we will live with. I hope they are using the skills of historical and textual analysis I?ve taught them, reading between the lines of the carefully worded non-statements sent out by the Board of Visitors, decoding the slick management buzzwords like ?strategic dynamism? and ?program prioritization? that are being used to justify such drastic action.
My feelings through all this are bittersweet. Each time someone mentions UVA losing its faculty, I wince, for they have already lost me. I resigned my position scarcely two months ago to accept an offer from Stanford. And now I?m palpably aware of how my career tracks the larger changes in academia this battle portends. I may be among the last generation of scholars who can move seamlessly from private education to public education, receiving an undergraduate degree at Harvard, a Ph.D. at UC Berkeley, and taking a first job at the University of Virginia. The reasons I decided to leave are complex, and they reflect some of the very challenges with which UVA is so publicly struggling.
But for now I?m still here in Charlottesville, watching this all unfold, and I?m still proud to say I?m a ?hoo.
Photo by jocelyndale via Flickr creative commons