An Intellectual-Diversity Agenda for UVa

Photo credit: Washington Post

by James A. Bacon

The University of Virginia’s insurgent alumni have made it very clear what they’re against. They don’t like profane signs on the Lawn that disrespect the University. They oppose contextualizing the Thomas Jefferson statue. They’re unhappy with the endless self-flagellation for the institution’s association with slavery and segregation, as if nothing has changed in the past 55 years. I’m one of them. I share the same concerns.

But what are we for? If we can’t articulate a positive agenda for Mr. Jefferson’s University in the 21st century, people will think us like those cranky old men with pants hiked up to their chests who shake their fists and yell, “Get off my lawn!” or at worst, a bunch of old, white, Southern racists who can’t accommodate themselves to the younger generation’s thirst for social justice.

Those of us who are unhappy with UVa need to start talking about what new direction we’d like to see it take. I have some preliminary thoughts.

First, UVa should strive to be the best public university in the country, not a Southern Ivy.

Second, UVa should make itself the most affordable top-tier higher-ed institution in the country, to be accomplished by driving down costs, not by using tuition as a vehicle for the redistribution of wealth.

Third, UVa should become a beacon for intellectual diversity and the vibrant exchange of ideas.

Fourth, UVa should create an inclusive, color-blind culture that welcomes people from all walks of life but values students for their individual achievements, not for their racial/ethnic/gender/ sexual identities.

Let’s examine each of these more closely.

Best public university. As a publicly owned and funded institution, the undergraduate programs of the University of Virginia should be operated for the benefit of Virginia and its citizens. (The Law School and Darden School, which are highly autonomous and compete on a national stage for faculty and students, are exceptions.) If that means admitting a certain percentage of out-of-state students in order to create geographical, cultural and intellectual diversity, not to mention revenue from out-of-state tuition, that’s fine. But the Board of Visitors should hold the interest of Virginians first and foremost in their minds.

If that means abandoning the futile ambition of becoming a “Top Ten” university, as measured by U.S. News & World-Report, then so be it. The U.S. News methodology for ranking colleges and universities is based on the values and priorities of U.S. News editors, not the UVa Board of Visitors or the citizens of the commonwealth. The most obviously perverse metric in judging the prestige of an institution is the average SAT scores of the entering class. That’s fine for Harvard and Yale, but not for a state university drawing from a smaller pool of applicants. The Board needs to establish its own metrics of success and strive to achieve them.

Among the metrics UVa’s Board should consider is “educational value added.” Ivy League institutions have perfected the machinery of selecting the highest-IQ kids in the country. The ability to recruit high-IQ students says nothing, however, about the value of the education they receive. To measure the value of an institution, one must capture the degree to which students gain knowledge and the ability to apply it.  

Affordability. UVa is commonly said to offer excellent educational value for the money. Perhaps the reputation is deserved, but there is no denying that the University has aggressively increased tuition over the past two decades, and that only a modest fraction of that increase can be blamed on cutbacks in state support. Like every other institution, UVa suffers from mission creep, declining faculty productivity (the more esteemed the faculty member, the fewer courses he or she teaches), engorged bureaucracy, resistance to integrating digital technologies into the delivery of learning, and pedagogical and experiential investments of dubious value. UVa should set its sights on becoming a national leader in driving down the cost of undergraduate education and making the university more financially accessible to all. This focus on cost should extend from tuition to fees, room, board, textbooks and other costs. Needless to say, making UVa more affordable is integral to making it the nation’s premier public university.

Intellectual diversity. The greatest threat to higher education in the United States today is the success of the ideological Left in squelching (“canceling”) dissenting points of view in the name of social justice. Conformity stultifies inquiry, experimentation, and innovation. Even as universities embrace racial diversity, they are becoming ideologically monochromatic. Indeed, this phenomenon is so pervasive nationally that UVa now has an opportunity to create a powerful higher-ed brand as a rare institution that promotes intellectual diversity. Mr. Jefferson’s University can stand out as an institution that fosters a wide range of ideas reflecting a wide range of perspectives and spurring spirited debate. Many students and faculty members would find such an environment exhilarating — far preferable to campus cultures where left-wing pieties are never challenged and conservative views routinely stifled.

Indeed, given the malaise in higher education today, the ability to stand out as a beacon of intellectual diversity would give UVa a huge competitive advantage in recruiting the smartest young faculty and smartest, most ambitious students — including minorities.

Color-blind culture. Clearly, what UVa is doing now is not working. As vividly demonstrated by the “F— UVa” sign on the Lawn, the university’s proclivity for wallowing in past injustices, ignoring the very real progress in rectifying past sins, and engaging in constant self flagellation for white guilt has not endeared minority students to the institution. In effect, UVa has effectively, if unintentionally, re-branded itself as a racist institution — at the very least an institution that has failed to overcome its racist past. Not only does this mindset feed the sense of grievance and alienation of current minority students, one wonders why anyone would expect minority faculty members or students would want to attend such an institution. Ironically, to achieve the goal of greater ethnic diversity, UVa needs to stop apologizing for past sins and look toward the future — a future in which everyone is entitled to be treated with dignity and respect and judged on their individual accomplishments, not their racial identity.

I think these goals, or something like them, are worthy of consideration. I acknowledge that changing the university’s culture will be a long and protracted process. There will be furious pushback against these ideas, both within the university and from without. Moreover, practices such as tenure guarantee that faculty turnover will be grindingly slow. Still, the effort must be made. We are battling for the heart and soul of one of the nation’s great universities — indeed, for the heart and soul of the nation itself.

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60 responses to “An Intellectual-Diversity Agenda for UVa

  1. I’d add that the University of Virginia needs to be “part and parcel” of the economic development of the state. As you know, our state’s economic growth has been lagging other states for over a decade. This is true despite the torrent of federal funds that flow through NoVa and Tidewater. Our General Assembly and governor(s) have failed miserably in establishing an environment in Virginia where private enterprise thrives. We are wards of the federal government. This has to change.

    One way to change Virginia’s lackluster performance is to make Virginia’s premier universities more involved and accountable for economic progress in the Commonwealth. Virginia Tech’s establishment of a satellite campus in Arlington in conjunction with the Amazon deal was the first real step in the right direction I have seen.

    There are three major metros in Virginia – NoVa, Richmond and Hampton Roads. VT has already “staked out” NoVa. Fine. Good for them. UVa ought to be assigned responsibility for Richmond and W&M assigned responsibility for Hampton Roads.

    • Then pay 100% of the operating budget.

      • Ridiculous. Nobody had to pay 100% of Virginia Tech’s operating budget to get that well run institution to open a campus in Northern Virginia alongside Amazon.

    • In 2019, Virginia was named the top state for business for the fourth time in 13 years – the state has effectively been THE place where private enterprise should thrive for a quarter of the last decade and a half. Maybe what’s good for private enterprise and what’s good for economic growth aren’t always the same and the General Assembly and our governors have been focused too much on the former at the expense of other solutions for too long.

      Also, Richmond already has VCU – we don’t need a bunch of mountain dilettantes in straw hats and sundresses mucking about the place, thanks.

      • Real GDP growth in Virginia – 1st quarter 2019, #29 in the USA.

        In reality, Virginia is a chronic under performer since about 2000.

        Richmond is a failed southern city. Over the past century other southern cities like Charlotte, Atlanta, Nashville, Raleigh, Jacksonville and Tampa have thrived while Richmond has floundered. Maybe that’s the way Richmonders want it. Fine. We just need to move the state’s capital to a place where the people living there are ambitious. See also: Austin.

        Charlottesville would make a good capital for the Commonwealth of Virginia.

        • Anytime a Richmonder might have some feelings that Richmond isn’t quite up to snuff, they just pull out the old family yearbook and look at their ancestors clad in Confederate uniforms and reminisce about better times, and the possibility that one day, the “South will Rise Again” and Richmond will once again be relevant.

    • Why change? It’s clear to me that Virginia likes her status as a welfare queen.

  2. One sign on one door at one state university…wow.

    Anyway, conservatives say you want government institutions to be run like a business, well this is what you get. UVA charges what the market allows, contorts its priorities to gain status on college specific consumer reports, and hoards as much cash as possible to hedge against future market volatility given that the state has signaled it will not support post-secondary education to the level it once did. There isn’t a special exemption to the rules – oh, I want VDH and VCCS and DEQ and JMU to be run like a business but precious UVA should run itself like an entity entrusted with public improvement (you know, a government). If UVA needs adjustment to costs and how it runs it’s affairs that’s a job for SCHEV/the General Assembly because asking UVA to take on those changes and risks alone among our state schools is absurd.

    As to intellectual diversity, here again we run into conservatism’s own problems. If it’s a majority of the university that are ideologically leftist then the only correctives are some sort of institutional interventions – either proactively seeking to recruit conservative staff and students (affirmative action), carving aside times and locations for conservative ideas to get a sympathetic hearing (safe spaces), or the enforcement of rules banning certain types of speech or expression (which is the exact opposite of the free exchange of ideas desired). But conservatives claim these interventions are anathema to their way of thinking, at least when they’re employed with the aim of protecting racial, ethnic, and religious minorities. I guess protecting ideological minorities from the tyranny of the majority is different.

    The various writers on this blog are very enamored with the idea that the various levels of success and achievement and interaction with police among the racial and ethnic groups in this country is a result of cultural differences. That these groups all have fundamentally different world views, priorities, and ideologies that lead to different outcomes for Appalachian whites, Richmond Jews, Chesterfield Blacks, Henrico Cambodians, Fairfax Indians, Virginia Beach Philippinos, etc. But of course since culture and philosophy are intertwined and feed one another any institution that is dedicated to cultural diversity is guaranteed to have intellectual diversity. Unless there is some sorting mechanism UVA is using to ensure that only or mostly leftists from those groups attend, that is, but the only two selection criteria you mention – SAT scores and high IQ – have implications about conservative staff and students I don’t think you intend. An argument can be made that self-selection is occurring, that is conservatives see UVA as signaling is a leftist institution and are taking their talents elsewhere, but if that’s the case why isn’t wherever they’re going overtaking UVA as a bastion of the intellectually superior? Again, there’s that unintended implication there. It could be that conservatism is a minority ideology across cultural boundaries, which would lead to the institutional interventions discussed above, but as previously stated conservatism has historically argued against such actions.

    Or it could be that this one sign on one door and you all are wrapped around the axle over something that signifies nothing at all. Or at most signifies that the culture has passed you by and you need to regroup and figure out how to make core conservative concepts like lower taxation, fewer regulations, and a smaller government appealing and applicable in light of that fact. But you can’t argue for a less interventionist state AND measures that ensure specific types of diversity at the same time, it’s inconsistent and incoherent.

    • One of your more cogent contributions….

      I felt in the philosophical minority at W&M in the mid 1970s, so there is no reason to think the student population would be more conservative today than then. Partly it goes with the age, and experience tends to change views…. But I didn’t feel like my views were going to bring me anything but argument, which I’m fine with. We Nixon fans were a hardy band.

      The Cancel Culture does need to go away. Universities need to be hotbeds of debate. If you’ve been reading, you’ve seen my concerns that the reaction to one obnoxious sign giving the finger to “the power” was over the top. If no student answered by putting up signs with the opposite POV, that’s the school’s loss. And if that indicates that only one POV is allowed, then the school is truly lost….

      • I was also ahead of the curve on pointing out that Asian as a single racial group was absurd, but because I did so in the service of pointing out the absurdly of cultural determinism instead of why a public school was wrong for trying to increase the number of members of other racial subgroups that idea was less welcomed. Still, it was nice to see it eventually reflected on the front page and hope spring eternal this will as well.

        Something older (35 and above) folks of all stripes need to recognize that Cancel Culture is neither new nor unique, it’s just that who potentially gets the say has changed with technology and become more democratized. The Red and Lavender scares were Cancel Culture. Jim Crow was Cancel Culture. Reconstruction was Cancel Culture. The Civil Rights and Anti-War movements were Cancel Culture. The federal government ignoring AIDS was Cancel Culture. German De-Nazification was and is Cancel Culture. What happened to the Dixie Chicks was Cancel Culture. The difference is those are all Cancel Culture by state or organizational mandate so they’re often not recognized as such, but the effect for Communists, homosexuals, Freedmen, Confederates, George Wallace, the ROTC, AIDS patients, Neo-/Nazis, and three lady country singers was the same as what happened to, say, Milo Yionnopaulus or Richard Spencer or Al Franken, actually in many cases what happened in those previous Cancel regimes was worse.

        The social media masses making collective choices about who and what is or isn’t acceptable isn’t new or worse (again, if anything it is less deadly), it’s just different and who has the power looks different. But the issue of democracy and how much, if any, is good is another philosophical parting of the ways for conservatives and liberals. You’ve expressed a distrust of majority rules elsewhere in this blog, so it’s not shocking that you find the transference of Cancel Power to the masses unsettling.

        And I wasn’t at W&M in the mid-70s, or ever – save once when I got turned around on my way to Pierce’s Pitt – so maybe it was isolated from the rest of society, but it’s illustrative to remember that Nixon effectively tied the college age vote in ’72 and won the under 30 vote.

        • But in most of those cases, we would agree that Cancel Culture was a mistake, an injustice, wouldn’t we? The Tennessee evolution law and subsequent Scopes trial were examples, as well. (And don’t forget, RMN promised to end the war — all we needed to hear to get our votes….)

          • not necessarily:

          • “We”? Bring back William Jennings Bryan.

          • UpAgnstTheWall

            I would say that the injustice is that previously large state and institutional power was used to ruin people’s lives because of who they were not what they did. Dalton Trumbo didn’t get blacklisted because he was – to borrow from Larry’s example – a serial rapist, he was blacklisted solely for his political affiliation. Similarly, it is utterly possible – mundane even – to make a living as a conservative; Fox remains the most popular news channel, Republicans hold the Senate and the White House, and are well represented in all walks of business. The types of people who are disinvited from college campuses aren’t disavowed because they’re conservatives, they’re rejected because of things they’ve done like helping disinformation us into war (Condoleeza Rice) to being open white nationalists (Richard Spencer, Milo Yionnopaulus).

            And it doesn’t do conservatives or conservatism to allow their mainstream to conflate itself with these people. Rice is debatable, but I understand why no one wants to hear what she has to say, but no one should be standing up to stop Richard Spencer from being cancelled. We can have a meta discussion about the pan-anthropological origins and utilities of taboos, but all societies have them, and I’m more comfortable with the current mass, as hoc application of them than the previous state enforced versions.

          • Yep. “Cancel Culture” has been around a long time… Conservatives have just renamed it for political effect.

        • You were ahead of no curve. More like intellectual roadkill on the highway of liberalism. Are Asians “people of color”? This is an easy “yes or no” question. Are Asians white? Another easy “yes or no” question. If white privilege is what has held down people of color … how do you explain the Asian-Americans’ economic and educational success?

          • UpAgnstTheWall

            It’s sad that you think of that opener as witty.

            To answer your questions: yes, no, most of the sub-categories of Asian Americans don’t outperform white Americans in economic and educational attainment and the sub-categories that do are already from financially advantaged groups in their home countries and within those groups they are often underpaid compared to their white counterparts. Structural forces matter; I notice when these debates flare up conservatives don’t ask “Why are Nigerians the most educated group in America?” because that fact undermines their core belief – the hierarchy of which they just copy pasted from earlier genetic determinism – that all outcomes are dictated by innate cultural differences with Black people at the bottom, whites in the middle, and a small group of Asians at the top conservatives can use to prove that racism doesn’t exist.

          • UpAgnstTheWall, you suggest that conservatives believe that “all outcomes are dictated by innate cultural differences with Black people at the bottom, whites in the middle, and a small group of Asians at the top.

            First of all “culture,” by definition, is not innate. Therefore, “innate cultural differences” is an oxymoron. I’ve never heard anyone on this blog use the term.

            Second, as one who alludes frequently to cultural differences between racial/ethnic groups, I have never described cultures are at the top, bottom, or middle — at least not in a way that would imply cultural “superiority” over another. I would say, however, that different cultures (or sub-cultures) vary in the degree to which they are adapted to the challenges of the Knowledge Economy and generating wealth. Members of cultures that place greater emphasis on educational achievement, self-discipline, and a willingness to defer gratification are more likely to earn higher incomes and build entrepreneurial wealth than cultures that don’t.

            It is true, as you observe, that “Asian” immigrants tend to come from the better-educated classes of their countries of origin, which gives them an advantage in the educational sweepstakes. But an examination of Virginia SOLs reveals that Asians classified as economically disadvantaged out-perform their economically disadvantaged peers of other races/ethnicities. So, you can’t explain away the cultural difference as simply one of educated immigrants versus lesser-educated Americans.

            My only concession to you (which is not really a concession because I’ve always believed it) is that “Asians” encompass many different ethnicities with very different cultures. Not every single Asian group is successful in the U.S. I think primarily of the Hmong mountain people from Vietnam. But the East Asian cultures — China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam — share a Confucian tradition that has always placed a premium on education. East Asian immigrants bring that tradition with them. I can’t speak knowledgeably about the cultures of the Indian sub-continent, but I feel confident there are strong traditions there of learning as well.

            The progressive movement in the U.S. has become so disconnected from reality that some people are now pushing for “linguistic justice” — essentially a replay of the Ebonics debate, saying that it is unfair to compel African-American kids to learn standard English. Wow. If your goal is to confine African-Americans to a ghetto of illiteracy outside the global economic mainstream in which English is preeminent and hundreds of millions of people around the world are trying to learn it, I can think of no better way to do it.

            Progressivism is a disease. It’s the worst thing to happen to African-Americans since Jim Crow.

          • Hispanics are also multi-dimensional by the way.

            But people miss the essential difference between “people of color” and those whose ancestors were enslaved in this country and systemically discriminated against as a race, by government and institutions and other other “people of color” who were not.

      • I wrote my response before you added those last two sentences, and I wish you hadn’t because I think they detract from our discussion by being incorrect assertions based on a couple faulty premises.

        One is the false binary of the original student’s POV and a singular opposite POV – there are a range of oppositional options from “Yay UVA” to using the same “F— UVA” language but inverting the list that follows. I actually think it speaks well to the self-confidence in their beliefs that anyone who disagreed with it chose to just ignore it. The door was designed to be incendiary and to speak only to converts – frankly, the optimal response for someone who disagrees is to just roll their eyes and continue on with their day. My response to seeing those yellow Socialism is Death signs in Hanover isn’t to put up Capitalism is Death signs – or show up at someone’s front door with a razor to cut them down. It’s to continue on to the grocery store. Not every incitement deserves or is worthy of a reaction, I suspect conservative UVA students are self-possessed enough to recognize that.

        The second bit is just needless hyperbole – if the culture at UVA only allows for the expression of liberal points of view it doesn’t mean the university is lost anymore than Blacklisting meant America was lost in the ’50s. It just means things need to change.

        • yes. What UpAgnstTheWall much more congently than others have said.

          On the “color-blind” verses structural racism and white culture.

          “color-blind” will not address the complaints about structural racism /white culture, so if that is a “positive” proposal it steps around those issues which are not going to go away no matter what Alumni think, because younger generations do “get” that.

          At some point, the older white guy Conservatives need to consider where they are in the continuum because they appear to just deny the existance of structural racism and white culture and name calling does not strengthen their position at all.

      • “One of your more cogent contributions…. “. No ad hominem’s here.

        “Universities need to be hotbeds of debate.” What? You don’t think it is now?

    • Excellent conversation going on here between Haner and UpAgnstTheWall. Now we’re dealing with meat and bone. The reality is that our US Founders were highly aware of these arguments being discussed here and they went to great lengths to try their best to overcome the frailty of humans that always threaten decent government and all its citizens (us), most especially against the threats posed by those acting in groups and the highly dangerous systems they will invariably build, and/or actions they invariably take to game all systems public and private for their own private advantage.

      This our Founders understood and dealt with better than any generation in history, whether before their time, or since.

      The Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, its Bill of Rights, the Federalist papers, and subsequent US Supreme Court decisions vividly illustrate this point, showing how the Founders changed the entire world for the better, a generation of leaders beyond compare in human history, led in significant part by the Virginians Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Marshal. These four constituted a miracle of human history.

      The problem today is that many of today’s leaders are busily about the destruction of their irreplaceable legacy, dragging us back into the dark ages of Might Make Right, our common default into anarchy that most always leads to the totalitarian state. Here, the French Revolution followed by Napoleon being the prime example, given that it was concurrent with our Founders time, and of course the intellectuals of the day most always lead this charge into nihilism followed by mob rule then imposition of a police state. Our Founders thwarted their intellectuals and the mob, itself a miracle. We must do the same today, right now, before it’s too late.

    • “One sign on one door at one state university…wow.”

      The sign is emblematic of much larger issues.

      “As to intellectual diversity, here again we run into conservatism’s own problems.”

      Cultivating an environment that is intellectually rich by seeking out the best minds from multiple perspectives is consistent with conservatism, not opposed to it. Conservatives oppose racism, not true diversity.

      “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” – John Roberts

      Another meaningful measure for UVA (and other Higher Ed institutions) would be who the guest speakers are, and how they are treated. In today’s environment, violent radical leftists are openly welcomed, but former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is forced to cancel an appearance due to the prospect of violence if she appears. Something is deeply wrong.

      “Condoleezza Rice Backs Out of Rutgers Speech After Student Protests” – New York Times

      Ben Shapiro has received similar treatment.

      A Brookings Institution surveyed of 1,500 undergraduates at four-year universities across 49 states and found that 19% of students agree with the following statement:

      “A student group opposed to the speaker uses violence to prevent the speaker from speaking. Do you agree or disagree that the student group’s actions are acceptable?”

      The bottom line – The girl with the sign which both she and the University believe represents free speech, actually represents an ideology that has lost its understanding of free speech and no longer values it.

      How many students at UVA have protested or publicly voiced support Samuel Paty who was beheaded in France after he had discussed cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad with students during a civics class?

      Do students at UVA really value free speech, or even understand what it means?

      • One wonders how the aged liberals on this blog would react to a UVa student affixing a Confederate flag to his or her lawn dorm room door.

        • I think picture of the Prophet Muhammad would a more appropriate comparison as the student with no appreciation for how her own sign might be offensive would most likely be the first to object.

  3. Jim

    “people will think us like those cranky old men with pants hiked up to their chests who shake their fists and yell, “Get off my lawn!” or at worst, a bunch of old, white, Southern racists who can’t accommodate themselves to the younger generation’s thirst for social justice.”

    Stop insulting us on this blog. If you feel this way about yourself, say so. In any case, stop stereotyping others here on the blog, deprecating their efforts here over past decade to the contrary, while suggesting that you now are above your other contributors, and perhaps have been for years, despite your sudden conversion to what others here have been saying for years. For example, see:

    As regards your solutions:

    “To measure the value of an institution, one must capture the degree to which students gain knowledge and the ability to apply it.”

    What is meant by your words? A cliche?

    “UVa is commonly said to offer excellent educational value for the money. Perhaps the reputation is deserved,”

    Why do not real life events of last decade prove exactly the reverse, as so vividly illustrated by the phone call between UVA president Ryan and UVA 4th year student Hira Azher, and endless other examples, such as riots in streets of Charlottesville, the Lawn filled with profanity, and chronic trashing of Thomas Jefferson’s statue. Why not start from there, what is tethered in reality, instead of empty words?

    Your points three and four (Intellectual diversity and Color blind culture), earn their right to honest debate right now, but have been discussed at great length for years on this blog. So it’s more of your reinvention of the wheel, claiming it for yourself alone.

  4. Best public university,
    (Greatest) Affordability,
    (Most) Intellectual diversity,
    Color-blind culture.

    Congratulations. If you allow the superlatives, you just described the Service Academies. They consistently rank as the top public schools.

    How do they do that? Mission oriented 100% taxpayer funded. Zero $ tuition, books room and board. (And the students draw a salary)

    • Damn tough entrance requirements.

    • And the students commit to military service in exchange for their “100% taxpayer funded. Zero $ tuition, books room and board” education.

      I could support a similar arrangement at public universities for students who meet entrance requirement similar to those of the service academies, as long as it includes a similar requirement for public service (not necessarily military) upon graduation.

      What percentage of the current student body at UVA, or any other public university do you think would agree to such a bargain?

      • My son got a free trip to Iraq for just his ROTC scholarship….

      • I dunno. The Academies do allow a “buy out”. So, you could set up a commitment to “work in Virginia”, not necessarily “for Virginia.”

        If the student then goes elsewhere instead, there would be a contractural debt.

        Every company for which I worked had a tuition assistance plan with a 1-year commitment.

      • I think that percentage would turn out to be surprisingly high, after an initial period of outrage over the notion of government requiring public service.

  5. How ’bout this — UVa becomes The Virginia Postgraduate School. It and it alone confers PhDs, JDs, MDs and all other manner of postgraduate degrees. Close down all other postgraduate schools.

    All other State schools provide 2 years of distribution requirements, and then are magnet schools for the junior and senior requirements in a field of study. So, for example, ODU and VT get engineering, W&M gets math and physics, Longwood gets sociology and education, VCU pre-med and Pre-law, etc..

    You attend any school for your first two years, transfer to the “magnet” school for your BS/BA and the BoBs and BaBs enter PG in Charlottesville.

    Elimination of redundancy.


    • Since you are usually sarcastic I assume this is sarcasm. However, it seems like a workable plan to me. The only issue is that concentrating all the postgraduate degrees in one school would make the community containing that school a hotbed of innovation and entrepreneurial activity. Would that be wasted on a relatively low population place like Charlottesville? Why not put that focus on Richmond and see if the state can defibrillate that city into the kind of economic and population growth seen by other southern cities like Austin.

  6. Best public university

    I think you’ve got yourself tied up in knots on this one. If you want UVA to be the “best”, that implies a ranking, and the dominant ranking is USNWR where UVA is 4th among publics. The USNWR metrics have nothing to do with your ambition of UVA being 1) affordable and for Virginians 2) serving the interests of Virginians, and 3) showing value add, presumably either in terms of earnings or some measure of learning. USNWR has nothing on value add. The metrics are largely inputs (e.g. SAT scores) and resources (spending per student – a spurious metric) and they are the same for both private and public schools. If UVA stays on that USNWR hamster wheel, it will run counter to your other objectives like being affordable (lowering tuition equals lowering spending per student).

    If you get off of that hamster wheel, there is unfortunately no widely accepted way of claiming your are the “best”. W&M has tried to focus on something like your “educational value added” objective and points to things like quality of teaching rankings, where it is #4 or so in USNWR, or the undergraduate research opportunities ranking, where it also ranks high. But few care about that, and those side rankings don’t feed into the all-important USNWR national university ranking, where W&M has dropped 7 spots since 2014. (UVA has dropped 3 spots over the same time period.)

    • Rankings? How about this… here are the top 50 schools where graduates ultimately received a PhD in science or engineering:

      Cal Tech
      Harvey Mudd College
      Reed College
      Swarthmore College
      Carleton College
      University of Chicago
      Grinnell College
      Rice University
      Princeton University
      Harvard University
      Bryn Mawr College
      Haverford College
      Pomona College
      New Mexico Institute of Mining & Technology
      Williams College
      Yale Univeristy
      Oberlin College
      Stanford University
      Johns Hopkins University
      Kalamazoo College
      Cornell University
      Case Western Reserve
      Washington College
      Brown University
      Wesleyan University
      Carnegie Mellon University
      Macalester College
      Amherst College
      Duke University
      Beloit College
      Bowdoin Collge
      Wellesley College
      Ressenlaer Polytechnic Institute
      Earlham College
      Franklin and Marshall College
      Lawrence University
      University of Rochester
      University of California-Berkeley
      Dartmouth College
      Occidental College
      Hendrix College
      Vassar College
      Trinity University
      College of William and Mary. *** lookie lookie *****
      St. John College
      Bates College
      Whitman College
      Brandeis University
      Hampshire College

      • I think that list is from the 1990s.

        Here’s the last NSF research on S&E PhDs including “just the publics”

      • Yes, W&M has a higher percentage of its graduates get STEM PhDs than any national public university other than UC Berkeley and New Mexico Institute of Mines (both of which have a higher percentage of undergraduates in STEM) but my point was the ranking that always wins out is USNWR, which has little in its metrics for outcomes (other than things like graduation rates, which, as much as anything, hurt difficult schools like MIT).

        I would add that it is kind of disappointing that only 3 of the top 50 are public.

        • You forgot USNWR also includes the number of bars and restaurants within a 5-block radius. That’s important.

          • The number of bars near public universities tends to be higher, so I think they are getting ripped off in rankings.

        • The percentage of undergraduates majoring in STEM also tends to be higher at top private schools than at top public schools. The percentage of undergraduates in STEM fields is 50% at Stanford, 48% at Duke, 47% at Princeton, and 46% at Harvard. The STEM percentage is 40% at Michigan, 36% at Berkeley, and 27% at UVA.

          Top privates tend to have significant concentrations in STEM areas outside of engineering including cutting edge areas like CS, neuroscience, applied mathematics, data science, etc.. Outside of engineering, Harvard has 42% of undergraduates in STM, Duke 33%, Stanford 32%, and Princeton 30%. Compare that to Virginia colleges: W&M 21%, GMU 17%, VCU 16%, VT 16%, UVA 15%, and JMU 13%.

          • Absolutely. The “list” was initially called “The Oberlin 50” and it was any doctorates. The study was done by Oberlin. And it has its biases toward small schools built in, but the researchers were still surprised at who were the powerhouses, e.g., Harvey Mudd, and with with the private-public split. They weren’t expecting that much of a difference once you compared similar size schools.

            Who knows, maybe intellectual drive is built in the ROI. “Hell, if I’m dumping this much into a BS, might as well go all the way, eh?” In for a penny, in for a pound.

          • all these highfalutin degrees runs counter to the narrative that our k-12 schools are so awful -no? Or are all these degrees just “paper”?

      • ” … ultimately received a PhD in science or engineering …”

        Who cares?

        Should Sergey Brin go back and finish his PhD to prove he has accomplished something?

        • It’s a metric. Better than most. I suppose you could evaluate businesses on how many airplanes they produce, but then IBM would be SOL to Boeing.

          If the “business” of a college is the fostering of the desire to learn and obtain knowledge, then it’s a damned good metric, better than, oh say, graduation rate.

        • “Who cares?”

          Yes in a way, but Google has prospered by hiring the cutting edge scientists, including PhDs, and Sergey Brin’s success probably came in part to what he was exposed to at Stanford.

          Regarding Virginia (the state), I think we’re in agreement that more can be done here create the next Austin as an economic driver (and at the center of that is often a university and in the case of Austin an integrated community college system). The other thing I noted here is that Virginia public universities have a comparatively low percentage of students majoring in STEM.

          • Anyone who has lived down Va Tech way – knows the tension between the College, students, faculty, and the “town-ees” and the others who live in the counties around Blacksburg.

            Blacksburg has one of the better opportunities to become the Bend or Butte of Virginia but the counties and region have to want to do that. They have to WANT young professionals to come live and work there and for some of them – it’s just not in them to do that.

          • “Anyone who has lived down Va Tech way – knows the tension between the College, students, faculty, and the “town-ees” and the others who live in the counties around Blacksburg.”

            What I have seen recently is that Blacksburg has been concerned about Virginia Tech’s ambitious enrollment growth, so not looking good. The tech hotspots that take off never seem to be areas like Blacksburg or even Charlottesville, though. They tend to be outskirts of metropolitan areas (Silicon Valley, 128 corridor, RTP) or overgrown college cities (Austin). Here’s hoping we’ll see an Amazon boom.

      • James Wyatt Whitehead V

        Only Stanford has a decent football team.

  7. The best humor is this girl put up a sign that read “F UVa” and this entire blog is just an “F U Va” sign. She just left out a space.

  8. Super editorial, Jim. I only have one suggested modification.

    I am an out of state alumnus, and we have 2 daughters who are now out of state alumnae. When I graduated in 1974, UVA out of state tuition was about 50% of other top private colleges. Now it is about 85-90% of private universities. Total out-of-state cost of attendance was under $2,000 in the fall of 1970 when I started; it is now $69,850 with tuition comprising $48,036 of that (vs. in-state tuition of $14,188). That is FAR outside the realm of affordability of middle class families.

    What has happened is the University has increased out-of-state tuition far disproportionately to in-state. If expenses were cut, as any business would do in a financial crisis, tuition could be kept down. I attended UVA vs. Georgetown (my other top choice) because it was half the cost in 1970.

    President Sullivan bloated the administrative staff and it has continued under President Ryan. We do need a few Deans of Diversity and Sustainability, but we don’t need dozens. Look at the website and start counting them up. Professors can teach more classes than they do for sure. Their staffs don’t have to be as large as they are. The university academic model must be modified drastically.

    A truly objective, 3rd party consulting group needs to analyze staff fixed expenses. Again, just like any other larger organization would do. Universities including UVA just crank up tuition at 2-3x the CPI annual index assuming parents can suck it up and pay.

    This has to stop.

    One of the primary attributes that makes UVA’s student body unique as a top state university is its out-of-state student population. It was 50% my first year in 1970. It’s 35% now, but that 35% is much different socio economically than when I went. All I had to do was look at the cars our daughters’ sorority sisters drove to see that. Lexuses vs. the 1964 used Fords and Buicks my frat brothers had….if they could afford that (I couldn’t as a scholarship boy). If expenses were cut and maintained, and tuitions made more reasonable for in and out of state students, quality students would flock to UVA. Quality would become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    We have ethnic diversity at UVA. We no longer have socio economic diversity. That has to change.

    Thanks for covering these topics so well, Jim.

    • What you say is true. UVa — and, to be fair, all Virginia public universities — see out-of-state students as cash cows to be milked. That will continue to be true as long as parents rebel against the price of sending their kids to Virginia institutions. So far the demand, to borrow a phrase from economics, has been fairly inelastic.

      • I agree, but what they are doing 1) what other what universities do and top faculty prospects expect (i.e. spend little time teaching), and 2) it is also necessary in the USNWR chase. The rub here is I do not think UVA alumni will be happy if UVA continues its decline in USNWR rankings, and keeping it from declining likely involves maximizing resources (revenue from tuition).

        On the flip side, if you think about some of the more notable alumni at Virginia universities (Tina Fey, Alex Ohanian, Jon Stewart), they came from OOS. I wonder if they would come again given the new cost of attendance realities?

      • “Quality would become a self-fulfilling prophecy.” Interesting concept. Is UVa’s success a function of the relatively well-off in-State (Virginia) candidate pool with a few wealthy OOS students sprinkled on top, or is there something about UVa that attracts top quality students for reasons other than a bargain price? I’m sure Ole Miss has a successful financial model; maybe it works, for Mississippi; but not so many Virginians enroll as undergraduates in Oxford, MS — which begs the question, why do all those OOSers want to enroll as undergraduates in Charlottesville, VA, anyway? I think it’s because UVa has a marvelous history and academic reputation and location, three attributes that other schools cannot easily replicate; but it is at great risk of setting the price too high for those to be enjoyed by an economically diverse student body. I submit, you have a point, W74, quality has been a self-fulfilling prophecy — the future, however, is uncertain. JB, you put too much blame on milking the OOSers; it’s all the undergraduates including Virginians who are being “milked.”

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