Facing the Problems at UVa: a Wake-up Call

uvaby Gerald L. Cooper

President Terry Sullivan is the lead person in facing the problems at the University of Virginia, which include sexual misconduct and assault on innocent persons. Sadly, some of these behaviors have lurked around the Grounds of the University for 60 or more years.

President Sullivan is not, however, the only leader who must step up and see that justice is done and that new solutions and attitudes are achieved, both on the Grounds and around the university community.

Dr. Sullivan’s suspension of fraternity and sorority social events is, at this point, a step toward dealing with the problem. It is not some sort of mass punishment. Those who are experienced in college administration — and, hopefully, many level-headed students, alumni and parents as well — will recognize President Sullivan’s actions as unprecedented steps toward collecting as many facts and viewpoints as possible, and then moving toward solutions that will also be previously untried but in a new era both effective and productive for all.

We who love the University expect the Board of Visitors to demonstrate high levels of good judgment and selfless leadership in taking their part of the responsibility for student behavior and safety at UVa. That will be demonstrated if the BOV stands firmly behind the president and her administration, making the appropriate inquiries of the president in official meetings, being assured of appropriate steps as proposed by the president’s operating team, and supporting the president’s proposals to move the University of Virginia forward in the areas of student behavior and safety — especially where violations may have occurred in the past.

I for one will be grateful if all parties — board, administration, faculty, students and alumni — are able to show remarkable restraint in what they/we say in the midst of this time of crisis. Specifically, one or two members of the Board of Visitors in the past, dating back to the repugnant attempt to oust President Terry Sullivan, have shown bad judgment in assuming and promoting self-serving public positions. This activity is contrary to the best practices of university governance nationally and to successful precedents at the University of Virginia specifically.

If those individuals continue to function unilaterally and to stir up questions about the University’s president and her colleagues, then the University is diminished and subject to ridicule in the broader public view. (Note: To be avoided are organizations that are notorious for their right-wing agenda and efforts to destroy many of the traditions, practices and opportunities in America’s leading universities.)

When I was working on a book, “On Scholarship,” especially a chapter titled, “Leading to Diversity at the University of Virginia,” back in 2001-08, I was most favorably impressed by how much information was available on the Web and Internet about the University of Virginia. (And it still is.) As I see it, virtually no aspect of UVa is left out of public access, including Board of Visitors’ meetings, which are live-streamed and watchable online in real time.

At a UVa web site, one can watch President Terry Sullivan give her Address to Students, on Dec. 1, 2014, and also read her words of care and concern about students and the UVa community. This web site also provides links to other useful info, including the Rector of the Board’s statement on these troublesome revelations, and a formal board commitment not to tolerate such behavior in the future. The Board (BOV) meeting was live-streamed for Web reception, and perhaps one may retrieve it for delayed viewing.

The steps UVa’s administration is taking appear to be solid, workmanlike responses to problems that have lurked around the Grounds of the University — and clearly at other universities — for generations. Such situations demand unusual treatment; with full commitment and thorough application, let’s hope that a more productive lifestyle will soon be achieved.

Similar to mass murders on other campuses, this is a wake-up call at the University of Virginia which must be answered.

Gerald L. Cooper (BA, MEd, UVa) spent his 43-year career in education as an administrator, counselor and teacher.

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14 responses to “Facing the Problems at UVa: a Wake-up Call

  1. excellent commentary. thank you.

    I was thinking similar thoughts about the BOV.. who I would think ought to be involved in this as much as they have been in other issues, recently.

    In fact, there seems to be precious little BOV involvement across Virginia on this issue – and in mind -their influence could be substantial… and useful.

  2. The DoJ just issued a report that seems to contradict the prevailing notion of “the rape culture on campus”. The DoJ report finds it less likely for a woman to be raped as a student than as a non-student. Moreover, the incidence of rape on campus is 6.1 per 1,000, not 1 in 4 or 1 in 5. There is the very disturbing statistic that 67% of the rapes of non-students go unreported to police while 80% of the rapes of students go unreported to police. However, the 13% increased rate of non-reporting is insufficient to counter-balance the 25% higher incident in likelihood of being raped as a non-student than a student.

    Rape is a horrible crime that should be severely punished. The only acceptable incidence of rape is 0%. However, there is nothing I see in this DoJ report to support the contention that US colleges are extremely dangerous places for female students relative the United States in general.

    What are your thoughts on the DoJ study?
    Do you contend that UVA has a higher than average incidence of rape than the average of other US colleges and universities?

    As for Pres. Sullivan – I agree with you. I have heard two groups call for her resignation – those who feel she over-reacted to a magazine article and those who feel she under-reacted to a “culture of rape”.

    Regarding the over-reaction complaint: In my opinion, students at college should be seen in roughly the same light as employees in a company. Their activities while at work / school or while representing the company or university are rightly subject to management review. Fraternities and sororities represent the university while in their fraternity and sorority houses – whether those houses happen to be physically on campus or not. Sullivan took the same action that would have been taken by a competent corporate executive when the Rolling Stone article broke. As they say, when you find yourself in a hole the first thing to do is stop digging. The accusations in the article were incendiary. Measures had to be taken to ensure that the allegations in the article, if true, would not be repeated in the near term aftermath of publication. The fact that much of the narrative has been called into question was not known when Sullivan took her action.

    Regarding the under-reaction complaint: Again, the Rolling Stone article has been criticized for mis – characterizations of the actions of the university officials involved in the “Jackie” matter. The recent DoJ study draws the overall “culture of rape” on campus litany into question. What are the facts and figures at UVA? Until that is answered in a manner consistent with comparison to other colleges and universities I see little reason to assume Sullivan has been remiss.

    http://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=5176

  3. This is a good article. It means that UVA is saying that it is facing its problems that it has for far too long ignored.

    HOWEVER:

    Outside commentary, and the exposure of UVA leaders to it, has played (and will continue to play) an important roll in insuring that UVA fairly, competently, and appropriately deals with its problems, rather than demonizing a substantial portion of its students and other long term constituencies of the University.

    Those now in positions of power at UVa do not own the University. Nor do they have the right to control other peoples’s expression their own opinions. Indeed this effort to control other people with different points of view has been one of the long term problems at UVA. Hence we have seen much of the irresponsible behavior at UVA that we’ve witnessed recently. Hopefully that irresponsible behavior will change. That is far less likely to happen absent its exposure to free and open expression of opinion that varies from anyone elses ideology or Party Line.

  4. Very good and wise post

  5. So if average students are representatives of the university, does that mean the school is now going to pay their tuition? Will they get a salary for representing UVa?

    Or is the truth closer to students being customers who are overpaying for a product controlled by poor management? Kids are beginning to wise up about school and what’s really important. Colleges should be very afraid of losing their golden eggs.

    • Even if you use the customer analogy – a company can temporarily close a franchise and a store can close a department.

      If you look at what is emerging from the “Jackie” incident it is looking more and more like “Jackie” told a series of lies. The Rolling Stone reporter not only passed along the lies she also added some falsehoods of her own. For example, she claimed that “Jackie’s” friends wouldn’t talk to her. The friends say they were never contacted and are now speaking freely.

      Against this backdrop Sullivan had a management problem. There were extreme allegations from a normally reliable news source. Had she done nothing she would have been accused of indifference. By closing the Greek system she was accused of being unfair.

      Given the same situation that Sullivan faced I would have done the same thing.

      People’s anger should be focused on the Rolling Stone not Sullivan.

  6. One of the most valuable Jeffersonian concepts is this one: “For here we may tolerate any error, so long as reason is left free to correct it.” (Not verbatim.) That means to me: Here at UVa we seek to maintain an atmosphere in which members of the community may come forward in rational ways with ideas and suggested behaviors that are different from those of the past (such as what’s been accepted at fraternities and other social situations), and that these proposals will be given due consideration by both the governance and the governed — in open forums that follow “Roberts’ Rules of Order” types of guidelines. Time will be a huge factor: as Kingman Brewster said at Yale in the tempestuous 1970s, “Students have a limited amount of time to devote to governance issues; they are here to study, too.” (A free paraphrase.) Point is: let exiting and new guidelines prevail as faculty/admin and students address the most pressing issues and seek solutions for today — always within the framework of the rule of law, the purview of the Board of Visitors, and what is delegated to president, faculty and students. All will learn in the process; the greatest challenge will be to keep a proper balance and to devise a more civil, safe and responsive University in matters of human behavior.
    In 2019, its 200th year, let’s hope that the University of Virginia will emerge sustained and strengthened and ready to face the challenges of a new era — just as was the case on January 28, 1819, “when an act was passed which designated Albemarle as the site of the University of Virginia … the long battle was over … .”—C. Waller Barrett, “The Struggle to Create a University,” for The Virginia Quarterly Review, 2000.

  7. To better understand these issues read the following Book:

    1/ Hooking Up: Sex, Dating, and Relationships on Campus
    Jan 1, 2008 by Kathleen A. Bogle. Herein students teach us.

    2/ Note how the Hooking Up culture fuels binge drinking on campus, particularly among young female 1st and 2nd year students.

    3/ Note how the Hooking Up culture thwarts the natural impulses, expectations, awareness, and morals of many 1st and 2nd year female students, causing them a myriad of pathologies at college such as confusion, anxiety, shame, and hysteria, regarding themselves and their relationships at college.

    4/ Note how Hook Up scene, along with campus demographics, simultaneously empowers male students at the university, encouraging some to oafish behavior while it gives natural ground cover to the very few criminals who prey on young women.

    Read this and you will have a clearer understanding of what likely is going on at UVA and the steps that are necessary to protect these women, and reform our society and culture that harms and/or ruins far too many of our children, male and female.

  8. Thank you for this reminder of our much-changed culture and of a useful study of it, “Hooking Up … Relationships on Campus.” I worked with young people who were enrolled in college-prep schools and public high schools for 40 years, until 2001, and yet I have little knowledge of the current generation who are in, or soon to enter, college now. Our colleges and universities are surrounding these young people with academic opportunities, but they must not overlook their needs in human development as well. You are correct, we must “reform our society and culture that harms and/or ruins far too many of our children, male and female.” If the price for this is high: i.e., a delay of intellectual pursuits, then so be it: slow the academics down while developing and enhancing human skills of interaction and respect as part of what our universities teach — as part of the “living curriculum” that students experience every day in various locations on other campuses and on the UVa Grounds. Let students observe how mature, educated adults of the administration and faculty respond to complex, real-life situations. Thus the example of how President Teresa Sullivan handled the challenge of being summarily and ill advisedly removed from office becomes a living example, close at hand. Such lessons that students will never forget are hard to achieve in any classroom, by even the most astute teacher. Socrates comes to mind.

  9. Wesghent –

    If you graduated from Christchurch school, worked there and at Blue Ridge and Woodberry Forest than you have surely been around the block. But as you have agreed, our culture there and then (before 2000) is far different from what you and I see now.

    I did however witness the very beginning of the long gestation of the Hook Up culture at UVA – In my experience it began with a bang in 1968. And then it built slowly over a long period of time, picking up speed however in the late 1990s. This occurred for a whole variety of reasons, most of which were the impact on UVA from outside forces during the 1990s. I was most surprised then that UVA did not take strong steps in counter-act those forces that I considered to be the beginnings a looming cultural collapse.

    For example I was surprised that UVA did not adopt new campus drinking policies that were better tailored to the times. Such as for example the Cornell system that in my experience worked quite well while it also preserved the party culture (that’s an important part of building adult social skills) and thus essential to any well rounded college education. And so the Cornell system demands that students run that party drinking system and thus learn how to exercise of their self responsibility for it. I was told that UVA considered the program but that it was not adopted.

    In any event, the times now demand principled leadership of a very high order.

    • Note – the discussion of incorporating the Cornell System into the UVA system so as to moderate binge drinking at UVA was considered at UVA in the late 1990s, and rejected (not adopted in any event). This I was told at the time.

  10. Wesghent

    In your above post you say:

    “Our colleges and universities are surrounding these young people with academic opportunities, but they must not overlook their needs in human development as well. You are correct, we must “reform our society and culture that harms and/or ruins far too many of our children, male and female.” If the price for this is high: i.e., a delay of intellectual pursuits, then so be it: slow the academics down while developing and enhancing human skills of interaction and respect as part of what our universities teach — as part of the “living curriculum” that students experience every day in various locations on other campuses and on the UVa Grounds. Let students observe how mature, educated adults of the administration and faculty respond to complex, real-life situations.”

    This is an interesting idea. But I doubt its workable without leadership of the highest order. For it requires the renewal of an entire corporate culture. And has not the cultural collapse on the college campus occurred on the watch of the faculty now in charge? And are not these faculty the only adults on campuses who instruct college students (adolescent’s struggling to become adults)?

    The fact of this cultural collapse on the UVA grounds became vividly clear to me when listening to the WUVA interview of Ms. Eramo, the dean who handles sexual abuse complaints at UVA. I came away from that interview impressed with Dean Eramo. Then I was shocked to read the hundreds of blog comments that vilified her, most presumable from active members of the UVA community. Not only was the conduct of these UVA people atrocious, their lack of education and informed opinion was astounding.

    Listen to minute 10 through 14 of interview. It’s found at:

    review/112529177/b57f3948c3

    Here Ms. Egamo defends the right of the accused to a fair hearing.

    In response one blogger says: “Wow. Amazing “We’re trying to balance the rights of the individual accused with the rights of the complainant. That says it all. She’s got to go. She’s offensive, boorish, and clearly has little regard for discourse and genuine dialogue here.”

    That was a polite comment. Others ranged down to this: “Eramo do the world a favor and kill yourself. With folks like this who needs to worry about Jihadi John and ISIS?”

    These sorts of comments go on and on and on.

    Finally, a blogger comes to Ms. Eramo’s defense. “I’m sorry, but I think most of the commenters condemning Ms. Eramo are not giving fair consideration of her responsibility as a University official to weigh and balance the interests of both the accuser and the accused. Both are students to whom the University owes a responsibility to be fair.”

    Finally too the University organizes of group of people familiar with Ms. Emago’s fine work to speak on the Dean’s behalf. That is positive. So is UVA’s willingness to expose this to day light.

    But the entire event, including lack of understanding of the interviewer and overwhelming majority of follow on commenters demonstrate an ignorance that empowers the idea of throwing out the window principles of Jurisprudence painfully built over the last 700 to protect the individual rights of a free people. And a rule of law that is the envy of the world.

    This is a sampling of what UVA leaders are up against, assuming they have the wisdom to know what they are dealing with, much less how to fix it.

    This will require the wiles, wisdom, political savvy, and persuasive powers of Abe Lincoln. And it will also require the toughness, smarts, and single minded focus of an Admiral Earnest King to change a severely dysfunctional corporate culture. One who’s job as a college and university is to preserve, enhance and further enlighten our culture but one that over the past few decades has severely damaged and retarded that culture instead. Hence for example colleges and university are now the primary breeding ground of the Hook-culture, a culture that rises on campus and largely disapates over student graduate or otherwise leave campus. See Hooking Up: Sex, Dating, and Relationships on Campus, Jan 1, 2008 by Kathleen A. Bogle.

    Of course academia has scholars who appreciate and understand the great genius of Lincoln. Few if any have a clue about the genius of King. Indeed King’s genius likely is so alien to their cloistered world, they’ll likely scoff at such a suggestion and go into a rant.

    The serious few in academia will, however, be rewarded by studying King to learn how to reform a dysfunctional culture and achieve practical results by placing standards on performance and demanding creative solutions to real problems. And those serious few will find ways to strengthen the liberal arts college without compromising its traditions and values.

    Regarding the lessons of Earnest King go to and click on:
    http://secondarmored.squarespace.com/tinian/

    Then scroll all the way the footnotes to the Title in Red colors saying:
    Central Pacific Amphibious Drivers – Ernest King USN, Raymond Spruance USN, Holland Smith USMC, and 1941 Flex 7 Maneuvers.

    Then try with an open mind to learn something a bit different from your world and figure out how it might be useful to you. I am not holding my breath.

  11. I see that Gerald Cooper continues his campaign to support Sullivan, no matter what. I would say your call for restraint has been met to a fault. I’m stunned at the continuing silence of her administration. From the moment the RS story, she’s done nothing to defend the institution or her own staff, except for a recent nod to a few deans in a letter to parents. I’m concerned that her silence about the originating issue will come back around to cause further damage. The Daily Progress reports that she MET WITH PHI PSI. Why has she not shared this simple fact in a timeline of responses (this in no way violates any FERPA considerations) http://www.dailyprogress.com/news/local/uva/uva-officials-were-aware-of-sexual-assault-allegations-two-months/article_38273862-84c8-11e4-96d8-a32f18fad49b.html
    I’m begging her to save UVA from this blistering series of incidents, and I don’t mean by continuing a 3 YEAR STUDY of addressing sexual assault. Just start talking, get out from behind the attorneys and PR flacks. Don’t wait for SACS, OCR, WaPo or the Daily Progress to embarrass the place, further. I’m hoping that the Rector grows a spine by Friday and demands some specific accountability.

  12. Lift –

    I sympathize with your view. Unfortunately, this matter has conflated and metastasized to the point of such import and complexity, that extreme care must be taken by those directly involved. For their acting of one level can do unintended but great and unfair harm to people on other levels. All this needs to be worked through, and likely years will be required to iron matters back to normality.

    Again, as to the very big picture, I cannot recommend highly enough the book Hooking Up: Sex, Dating, and Relationships on Campus by Kathleen A. Bogle, an assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice at LaSalle University—based on 76 interviews with mostly white college students and recent graduates from 2001 to 2006—whose recorded oral testimony on their experiences in the hooking-up culture – gives a remarkable balanced and nuanced insight into what is going on college campuses. Herein students teach us. What they tell us will break your heart. This culture must stop. That includes reform of all involved in facilitating it.

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