by James A. Bacon
Del. David Ramadan, R-Loudoun, fired with both barrels at the University of Virginia in a Richmond Times-Dispatch op-ed today. He voiced the same frustration that I periodically give vent to on this blog. UVa tuition policy — take from the rich and give to the poor — is exactly what Ramadan says it is, a “outrageous” redistribution of wealth.
Under the moniker of “affordable excellence,” the UVa Board of Visitors has just approved one of the highest tuition-and-fee increases in the country. Then, writes Ramadan, “in an effort to justify the vote, board members have said “asking affluent families to shoulder more of the expense is absolutely not a tax, but a reduction in subsidy when they are already receiving a low-cost education.”
The university should be cutting costs instead, Ramadan argues, starting with the sale of the corporate jet and reducing administrative overhead. Does the UVa president really need a personal chef and more than a dozen assistants, some of who are making six-figure salaries?
As for the university’s obsession with prestige, he says, “Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia, a publicly supported school with national character and stature serving Virginians — not an aspiring ‘ivy’ for the elite and out-of-state students. … The vast majority of Virginia’s families who make more than $100,000 a year — some of whom wisely began saving for college the year the first child was born — have been boxed out.”
Does the UVa president really need a personal chef and a dozens assistants? Does senior management really need a corporate jet? Yeah, I have problems with all that. The symbolism is as bad as the money. Such perks insulate the university top brass from the travails of the us muggles. They can’t relate to our problems. Indeed, I suspect they largely regard as us parochial and mean-spirited.
But you can slash all of those expenses, saving maybe $2 million or $3 million a year, and systemic problems remain. You can’t shrink administrative staff without addressing the university’s mission creep. You can’t control faculty payroll without addressing the role of tenure and teaching workloads. You can’t trim student fees without eliminating a lot of programs serving vocal special interests.
Unfortunately, other than vent, there’s not much that legislators like Ramadan can do. Virginia’s higher education system is highly decentralized, and UVa is largely self-governing. Legislators can’t even influence the appointment of like-minded members of the Board of Visitors — that’s the governor’s perk. As for us muggles, all we can do is stop stroking checks.