I’ve long been astonished by the apathy of Virginia university alumni about the policies pursued by their alma mater’s boards of trustees. Once someone graduates, I suppose they lose interest in tuition, fees, room, and board — expenses they don’t have to pay anymore. (At least they don’t worry about them until they have to send their own kids to college.)
But judging from this petition on Change.org, it turns out that alumni do care about something — their university’s reputation. Insofar as the institution’s prestige influences their job prospects, they are enthralled when colleges climb in the U.S. News & World-Report rankings and distressed when they fall.
The petition is hardly a sign of rebellion. It’s more like a plaintive cry in the wilderness. But I have not seen the likes of it before.
An anonymous poster identifying him(her)self only as “Concerned Citizen” addressed the following complaint to the College of William & Mary Board of Visitors:
We fell another 6 points in the latest (2018-19) US News College Rankings (from #32 to #38). Provost Halleran came out and made the usual excuses (he’s conveniently leaving and so are a lot of other employees). The USN&WR rankings are the “gold standard” of college rankings. Because of your negligence and low standards, student applications will drop next year and job placement will be negatively affected (there is a proven correlation between this ranking, applications and placement).
While I lament the focus on college rankings, I am heartened to see Concerned Citizen making some substantive arguments regarding academic quality, administrative bloat, board composition, faculty productivity, and the lack of an independent alumni association. The most damning charge focuses on the new curriculum:
The new COLL curriculum is a debasement of the former GER requirements. Also, there are more than 20 “studies” programs that undermine our academic quality. We are not preparing our students for the real world like we used to. Why would we saddle our students with debt if their degrees are unmarketable?
The petitioner’s observation about the alumni association is an indictment of higher education I hadn’t heard before:
The ‘W&M Alumni Association’ is controlled by the Administration and is now a branch of the Development Office. In other words, the College wants your money but not your opinion. The College does everything possible to control the narrative and squelch criticism.
The criticism rings true. Alumni associations of the three institutions where I earned degrees function as propaganda arms of the administration rather than independent stakeholders in a system with institutional checks and balances. Alumni associations function to neuter the alumni as a constituency to be reckoned with.
One aspect of the petition bothers me. By citing William & Mary’s tumble in the U.S. News & World-Report Top Colleges ranking, the petition will only encourage university officials to redouble their fixation on rankings, skewing priorities and resource allocation in order to improve standings. As has been amply demonstrated on this blog, the ratings chase and limitless search for prestige are a big part of what ails higher education today.
Still, I applaud any critical analysis by Virginia alumni. Only nine individuals have signed the petition to date, so Concerned Citizen may be speaking mainly for himself. On the other hand, one can hope that the petition is a sign of a quiet but growing restiveness. Time will tell.There are currently no comments highlighted.