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Sunday, June 24, 2012
UVA Teresa Sullivan Ouster Reveals Corporate Control Of Public Education
For more than two weeks, the University of Virginia has been in an uproar over the abrupt resignation of school President Teresa Sullivan. Sullivan stepped down after just two years in office, citing "philosophical differences" with the institution's governing Board of Visitors.
The June 10 announcement shocked students and faculty, who had just finished graduation festivities and had begun settling in for a hot, quiet summer surrounded by the Charlottesville school's neoclassical columns and red brick architecture. Sullivan is highly regarded within the academic community, and her supporters have rallied to her defense, rocking the campus with massive protests demanding her reinstatement.
Members of the board, steeped in a culture of corporate jargon and buzzy management theories, wanted the school to institute austerity measures and re-engineer its academic offerings around inexpensive, online education, the emails reveal. Led by Rector Helen Dragas, a real estate developer appointed six years ago, the board shared a guiding vision that the university could, and indeed should, be run like a Fortune 500 company.
The controversy, which threatens to seriously damage one of the country's oldest and most prestigious public universities, has implications beyond its own idyllic, academic refuge. For some, it is emblematic of how the cult of corporate expertise and private-sector savvy has corralled the upper reaches of university life, at the expense of academic freedom and "unprofitable" areas of study.
"There is this sort of shift in the zeitgeist," says Tal Brewer, chair of UVA's Philosophy Department. Brewer sees a new, heightened cultural "adoration of the business mind as capable of bringing clarity, organization and efficiency to any kind of institution...I just think that's a deep mistake."