Tag Archives: goozeviews

Caution, You Are Entering a No Free-Speech Zone

Bruce Kothman engaged in prohibited activity — reading out loud from the Bible.

When University of Virginia alumnus Bruce Kothman planted himself on the steps of the Rotunda last week and began reading from Isaiah 40, a university police officer ordered him to stop. He was violating rules promulgated by the university in the aftermath of the Nazi/Klan rally last year restricting the right of people “unaffiliated” with the university, which includes alumni, to speak on the grounds without properly obtaining permission from the administration.

Kothman, who is Jewish, was appalled by the United the Right rally last year, which included a torch-lit parade across the Lawn accompanied by chants of “Jews will not replace us.”

But he also worried about the freedom-of-speech implications of the new university rules. He decided to test them last week — and he lost, reports the Washington Post.

To the broader public, Kothman is a much more sympathetic character than Jason Kessler, an Alt-Right provocateur who organized the United the Right rally and has made it his business to get in the face of progressives, lefties, and Charlottesville city officials. While 99% of the population may find his behavior hateful and obnoxious, he hasn’t been convicted of breaking any laws. But when he began visiting the law school library to read up on his law — apparently, he’s the subject of civil litigation — a library employee tipped off local activists who then began harassing him. Kessler engaged in argumentation with them and posted on social media referring to the protesters as “stalkers” and “Alt-Left scumbags.”

The university then banned Kessler from the grounds, issuing the following statement by way of explanation:

The warning was issued due to multiple reports from students that Mr. Kessler threatened them, targeted them through cyber-bullying and cyber-harassment, and targeted them based on protected characteristics. Kessler also intentionally and purposefully misled officers of the University Police Department regarding the torchlight rally that he helped organize on Aug. 11. His conduct on Aug. 11 threatened the health and safety of members of the University community.

Given his role in the United the Right rally, it is totally understandable that the university would regard Kessler as a malign presence. But he was not looking for trouble when he visited the library. To the contrary, the protesters were the ones who precipitated the confrontation.

There seems to be a new logic taking hold in Virginia universities. When the presence of a non-leftist person or group causes campus leftists to get agitated and disruptive, the non-leftists are held responsible — and their activities are curtailed. (I have been informed that Virginia Tech is charging the Young Americans for Freedom and Turning Point, two conservative organizations, for the security costs of their speakers rather than disciplining the students who threaten to shut them down. But I have not confirmed the accuracy of this information.)

It’s not controversial to ban a reviled character like Kessler. But it’s a slippery slope when people like Bruce Kothman are prohibited from reading from the Old Testament out loud on the Rotunda steps. And the trend is all the most troubling when the restrictions are applied in such a way that members of protected groups can engage in harassing and disruptive behavior without suffering any consequences at all. I had hoped that Virginia institutions of higher education would prove resistant to the creeping totalitarianism on college campuses, but I’m not encouraged by what I see.

Mighty Morphing Power Turbines

If Virginia ever develops a large fleet of offshore wind turbines, we may have a team of researchers led by the University of Virginia to thank.

Funded by the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, the research team expects to build prototypes this summer for a 50-megawatt offshore wind turbine that is nearly six times more powerful than the record-setting turbine deployed off the coast of Scotland in April, reports Greentech Media.

The massive turbine takes a radically different approach to wind turbine design. Conventional turbine blades face the incoming wind. By contrast, blades for the Segmented Ultralight Morphing Rotor (SUMR) would face downwind and fold together as the wind force increases. The design was inspired by palm trees, which have evolved to survive hurricane-force winds. And surviving hurricane-force winds is exactly what the SUMR is supposed to do.

One of the major barriers to developing a wind farm off the south Atlantic coast is the uncertainty of whether conventional turbines, which can withstand North Sea gales, would hold up to extreme hurricane winds. Before Dominion Energy Virginia is willing to build scores of turbines off the coast of Virginia Beach, it wants to erect two turbines in the so-called Virginia Offshore Wind Technology Advancement Project (VOWTAP) to test a hurricane-resistant design. But the utility was unable to get the project cost, last estimated at $300 million, low enough to win approval by the State Corporation Commission. The project has been effectively shelved.

The ultralight SUMR blades will be 200 meters long, almost twice as long as conventional blades, but will be possible to assemble in pieces, thus avoiding problems shipping them from the factory site to the project site. Because the blades would be constructed of more malleable materials, they also would be capable of morphing downwind.

“We’re trying to have the turbine blades be more aligned along the load path, so we can get away with lower structural mass and have less fatigue and less damage,” said Eric Loth, chair of the department of mechanical and aerospace engineering at UVa and project leader.

The UVa-led consortium plans to test its turbine this summer at the National Wind Technology Center in Colorado and complete the design within a year.

Loth, the design leader, hopes that the new turbine will be transformative. The innovative design could reduce the levelized cost of offshore wind energy by as much as 50% by 2025, he says. “We need to come up with turbines that are not necessarily more efficient but will cost less to build and maintain.”

Bacon’s bottom line: If this research pans out, Virginians should thank their lucky stars that Dominion didn’t commit to spending billions of dollars on what in retrospect can be viewed as risky and outmoded wind technologies. Hopefully, this project will spark renewed interest in offshore wind. It would be doubly cool if Virginia could not only participate in the creation of the SUMR blades but be the first to deploy it on a commercial scale and the first to reap its benefits.

As we think about Virginia’s long-term energy mix (see previous post), we should factor the potential of this new wind technology into the equation.

Correction: Al Christopher, director of the state Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, informs me that the VOWTAP project has not been shelved. Rather it morphed last July into Virginia Coastal Offshore Wind. “Dominion has said publicly several times recently that it plans to file for cost recovery with the SCC very soon.”

How UVa Compares to Other Flagship Universities in Out-of-State Enrollment


There’s a special burden upon state flagship universities to acquit themselves well in the national rankings — the university reflects upon the state as a whole. Thus, the high esteem in which Berkeley, the University of Michigan, and the University of Virginia, among others, are held casts a warm glow upon California, Virginia, and Michigan.

The ranking methodology for the U.S. News & World-Report “Best Colleges in America” puts a premium on average SAT scores. Enlarging the pool of out-of-state students enables an institution to recruit more high-SAT students. As a bonus, out-of-state students pay higher tuition than in-state students. But filling up the student body with out-of-staters conflicts with the mission of public institutions to serve the population of the state supporting them with taxpayer dollars. What’s a university president to do?

The Washington Post took at look at the flagship institutions of the 50 states to see what percentage of out-of-state students they admitted. At the bottom, the University of Vermont admitted only 21% of its students from within the state in the fall of 2016. At the opposite extreme, the University of Alaska at Fairbanks admitted 89% in-staters.

Of course, here at Bacon’s Rebellion, we’re most interested in the University of Virginia. UVa admitted 66% in-state students, an increase of 3 percentage points from the previous year. That was a middle-of-the-pack performance compared to other flagships.

For purposes of comparison, only 51% of University of Michigan students were native Michiganders. On the other hand, Berkeley managed to maintain its high ranking with 76% in-staters, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with 83%.

Conversely, one can look at a flagship’s ability to recruit out-of-state students as a positive. Talent comes from all around the country, all around the globe, and many of the 34% of out-of-staters recruited by UVa end up staying here in Virginia. Looking at the percentage from an economic development perspective, this might be the number we’d like to see grow.

(Hat tip: Peter Blake)

The Battleground of Race and Public Memory

The University of Virginia and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello have just wrapped up an international symposium, “Universities, Slavery, Public Memory & the Built Landscape.” The conference, a great success according to the symposium website, provided a forum for “a free-ranging conversation about researching the enslaved past, disseminating findings to a broader public, and breaking down disciplinary boundaries as we collectively work to tell a fuller story about our own pasts.”

According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the subject of reparations came up more than once.

Said Ana Lucia Araujo, a Howard University professor of history:

This very city and campus are living examples of how such public battles over public memory can unfold. But where reparations for slavery are increasingly accepted and embraced by governments and other institutions, there is usually a great silence surrounding the idea of financial reparations for slavery.

Symbolic reparations touted by government and universities — renaming buildings, adding memorials and plaques, creating commissions, may not be enough.

Then there was this from Craig Wilder, author of “Ebony and Ivory”:

A lot of the universities have launched reports, but they have launched reports and studies somewhat reluctantly. The question of reparations was, in part, a reflection of how a lot of colleges and universities got to the point of studying their histories … which was often driven by students.

It’s impossible for us to know whether comments about reparations were typical of the sentiments expressed during the conference or cherry-picked by the Times-Dispatch reporter because they were controversial. And one can only conjecture whether the dialogue at the international symposium will reflect the tenor of the upcoming “Teaching Race at UVa” seminar, the purpose of which is to inspire UVa faculty to revise their course syllabi to “present reality of race and racism both locally and nationally.”

My fear, however, is that the sentiments expressed are widely shared by the “subject matter experts” who will be teaching the “Teaching Race at UVa” sessions. If I am correct, the Leftist views espoused at the “Universities, Slavery, Public Memory & the Built Landscape” conference will inform the perspectives propagated by the “Teaching Race at UVa” seminar, which will alter the syllabi of a wide range of courses taught at UVa, which in turn will shape the worldviews of a new generation of students. Leftist thought might be diluted in the process, but the flow of influence will be entirely one way.

The study of slavery, reconstruction, Jim Crow, racial prejudice and desegregation are entirely appropriate subjects for a university to undertake. Indeed, as a former student at UVa and the Johns Hopkins University of slavery, the Atlantic slave trade, and African history, I find myself intrigued by much of the symposium’s subject matter. Furthermore, I agree that it is appropriate to use history as a tool to illuminate contemporary society. We are, after all, products of the past.

What worries me is the narrow range of intellectual perspectives that are considered. The historic focus on past racial injustices is part and parcel of the larger obsession with racial and ethnic disparities today. The underlying assumption is that disparities in income, education and other outcomes are the result of America’s grievously flawed institutions and continued white privilege. The modern academy gives very little attention to the possibility that over the past 50 or so years the modern welfare state, social engineering projects and social justice initiatives have backfired badly, harming those whom the Left purports to help.

The obsessive focus on race represents a form of intellectual doubling down on the bad bet that once Civil Rights were affirmed for all, government then needed to intervene proactively to address equality. African-Americans especially have been the subjects of one botched policy experiment after another. Thus we have witnessed the devastation of intact neighborhoods by urban renewal, the concentration of the poor into housing projects, the undermining of the family structure by the welfare state, the denigration of “bourgeois virtues” that facilitate upward mobility, the assault on disciplined behavior in public schools, the push for lower-income households into home ownership and the subsequent obliteration of wealth after the housing crash, and most recently the credo that everyone is entitled to a college education despite overwhelming evidence that low-income Americans are disproportionately likely to drop out before earning a degree and accumulate debt they can never discharge.

While these policy disasters have afflicted low-income Americans of all races and ethnicities, they have devastated African-Americans most of all. The Left, fixated on race, identity politics, and the sinfulness of America, is unwilling to acknowledge its grotesque failures. Instead, it has adapted to the persistence of poverty and social breakdown among African-Americans (replicated to various degrees among Indians, Hispanics and whites) by finding racism in micro-aggressions and blaming poverty on ever-more-subtle forces of institutional racism.

That’s the problem I have with these academic seminars and symposia. Far from fostering “free-ranging conversations,” they tolerate only a limited spectrum of views. They ignore strains of thought that would threaten their sinful-America paradigm. Instead of embracing a positive approach — how can individuals and communities lift themselves up from poverty — they pursue a divisive, zero-sum game. Reparations in the United States is a non-starter. The idea of collectively punishing one race for the sins of committed by members of that race more than 100 years ago in order to repay the descendants of the victims is intellectually incoherent. Not only does the idea stir great resentment, it distracts us from the proper task at hand — identifying policies that actually work.

What’s Wrong with UVa, and What’s Not

Photo credit: Washington Post

There is something wrong with a university that sits on an endowment of $8.6 billion while raising the cost of an undergraduate tuition to $63,000 a year for out-of-state students and $32,000 a year for in-state students, writes Brendan Novak, opinion editor for the Cavalier Daily, the University of Virginia student newspaper.

Novak goes on to make some very good points and some very misguided ones. Both are worthy of discussion.

First, Novak decries the idea of UVa as a “Public Ivy.”

The label “Public Ivy” reeks of a desperation for prestige that is increasingly characteristic of schools like the University. Traditional Ivy League schools have known for centuries that wealth confers status and status confers wealth, and now that public schools like the University have caught on, they seem committed to emulating this model. From a self-serving perspective, this might appear to be a positive development — one could reasonably expect students to celebrate the University’s pursuit of prestige. It’s true, the University’s growing prominence only serves to better the opportunities available to students — and yet it’s hard to not find this obsession with cultural eminence fundamentally troubling. The University is first and foremost a public institution, and its pursuit of elite status detracts from its primary responsibility — to serve the Commonwealth.

Outside of the career schools, higher education in the United States is a non-profit endeavor. Colleges and universities are not profit-maximizing institutions. Rather, they are prestige-maximizing institutions. Elite institutions such as UVa are engaged in a never-ending prestige “arms race” to increase prestige — measured by student SAT scores, the volume of research, faculty distinction, and the like — even while the Harvards, Yales, MITs, and Stanfords seek to preserve or improve their own rankings. There is no limit to institutions’ creativity in devising costly new ways to recruit star students and star faculty; hence there is no upward limit on how much they crave in tuition revenue and endowment size.

So, Novak is quite correct: Insofar as UVa is obsessed with achieving parity with the most prestigious nationally ranked universities in the country, it is detracting from its primary responsibility to serve the Commonwealth.

But then he goes astray. He faults UVa for its under-representation of underprivileged Virginians.

In the Commonwealth of Virginia, 1-in-10 residents live below the federal poverty line. … At the University on the other hand, almost the same proportion of undergraduate students come from the top 1 percent of wealth. Further, two-thirds of students come from the top 20 percent, while less than 3 percent come from the bottom 20. In an ideal world, public schools like the University would be powerhouses of economic mobility, granting underprivileged students a state-subsidized ticket to the middle class. …

Whether it’s a problem of outreach, financials or community development, it is clear that the University could be doing much more to make meaningful inroads into low-income communities.

If the University of Virginia were the only public university in Virginia, Novak might have a point. But UVa is only one of fifteen public four-year institutions in the Virginia higher education system. The system, not UVa, has an obligation to provide “under-privileged students a state-subsidized ticket to the middle class.”

There is nothing wrong with having institutions that are elite by Virginia standards. As Virginia’s flagship university, UVa sets the highest merit-based admission standards and provides the most rigorous academic education (with the possible exception of the College of William & Mary). Given the powerful correlation between socio-economic status and academic achievement in high school, it is inevitable that the UVa student body will be compromised disproportionately of students from higher-income households. The university provides generous financial assistance to the small number of students from lower-income households who defy the odds and become high academic achievers. No one is turned away for an inability to pay the tuition. The barrier to having more lower-income students at UVa isn’t insufficient financial aid, it’s the lack of lower-income students who meet the admissions qualifications. That is the fault of failing K-12 institutions, or perhaps society at large, not UVa.

Practically speaking, the only way to achieve Novak’s goal of greater socioeconomic diversity is to lower admissions qualifications. Does anyone want UVa to relax standards — especially when considering that there are numerous other institutions in Virginia that are well equipped to educate students with less-rarefied credentials?

Speaking as a Virginia citizen and a UVa alumnus, I want to see UVa continue to strive for excellence, but not at the expense of displacing more Virginia students or making the cost of attendance more financially burdensome for qualifying middle-class students. There is a proper balance, and UVa hasn’t achieved it. But adopting Novak’s critique would push university priorities even further off kilter. The solution would be worse than the cure.

Is the “Bias” at UVa Worth All the Attention It Gets?


The University of Virginia promotes an “inclusive and welcoming environment for all.” It encourages students to promptly report bias-related incidents so the administration can evaluate them to determine if university policies have been violated. The university also collects data on “bias” incidents reported by students.

The incidents include verbal, written or physical threats, harassment or intimidation, and it covers a wide range of protected groups based on age, color, disability, race, ethnicity, religion, sex, sexual orientation, veteran status, marital status or — get this — family medical or genetic information. You can find the report for the 2016-17 academic year here.

The UVa administration divides bias reports into four categories. Category 1 consists of actual threats or harassment. Category 2 describes conduct directed not at individuals but protected groups generally. Category 3 includes incidents that do not appear to involve any bias-motivated conduct, and Category 4 covers allegations lacking sufficient detail to evaluate. Categories 1 and 2 are the only ones worth worrying about, so I will exclude the other two from this discussion.

Now, in a 24,000-student university ruled by identity politics, how many Category 1 and Category 2 bias incidents would you expect to be reported over the course of the year? 100? 500? 1,000?

None of the above. Depending on exactly what you’re counting, the number is more like 40 to 45.

Most of the allegations involved verbal or online harassment. Only one incident rose to the level of someone making a threat. One entailed vandalism, and one involved property damage. Not one physical altercation was reported.

And remember, these are allegations — before UVa has investigated the truth behind the charges. UVa does not reveal the results of its investigations, but it would be interesting to know how many cases were verified as real, and how many had mitigating circumstances. For example, how many incidents arose during an argument of escalating rhetoric and insults? How many consisted of “micro-aggressions” made unwittingly?

Conversely, it is likely that some bias incidents were never reported. Still, the numbers — roughly one report filed for every 530 students — strikes me as astonishingly low given the hyper-sensitivity on college campuses these days.

The hopeful message from this data is that the vast majority of UVa students of all races, ethnicities, and religions mix easily with one another. There may be the occasional incident like that one I noted yesterday about pro-Palestinian protesters busting up an event sponsored by Jewish groups, but that is a rarity.

The low number of incidents also tells me that the campus obsession with identity politics is misplaced. The overwhelming majority of Americans want to get along, and in fact they do. The right-wing and left-wing political extremists who stoke racial and gender grievances represent the biggest problem. If UVa categorized the students who filed complaints by their level of political consciousness, who knows what else we might find?

More Data to Inform the UVa Seminar on Race

Earlier this week I asked, “Will UVa Provide the Data Needed for an Open Discussion about Race?” The University of Virginia is organizing a seminar to instruct faculty members about the history of race locally and nationally and current issues relating to health, educational and economic disparities. On the assumption that seminar participants will examine UVa’s role in race relations, I humbly suggested a few data points that should be considered.

I lacked hard data on several topics that I thought worth examining. But I have since been directed by a friendly source to two data sets. The first tells us the net price paid to attend the University of Virginia, broken down by income range. Net price takes the list price and deducts all sources of federal aid (Pell grants primarily), state assistance, and institutional assistance. The table above, taken from the College Navigator database maintained by the National Center for Educational Statistics, provides that information for UVa.

Entering full-time students from poor families (making less than $30,000 per year) paid an average net price of $9,463 in the 2015-16 school year to attend UVa. Students from affluent families (making more than $110,101) paid almost three times as much — $27,814. UVa kids from poor families pay considerably less than poor kids at, say, Norfolk State University, where the net tuition works out to $13,952.

How is that relevant to a discussion of race? Insofar as black students are statistically more likely than whites and Asians to come from poor families, they benefit disproportionately from UVa’s financial aid system. If we’re talking about the persistence of institutional racism at UVa, then a highly relevant data point is how much members of different racial/ethnic groups actually pay to attend. (College Navigator does not break down financial aid by race, but UVa undoubtedly has that information.)

A second data set tells us how likely African-Americans are to graduate from UVa within six years. I had speculated on the basis of incomplete information that the differential was about 6 or 7 percentage points. In fact, the disparity is only 4 percentage points.

Percentage of Full-time, First-time Students Who Began Their Studies in Fall 2010 and Received a Degree or Award Within 150% of “Normal Time” to Completion for Their Program

We can look at this data in two ways. If we adopted the approach of the Center for Investigative Reporting’s research on mortgage loan discrimination (See “Racism, Racism, Everywhere You Look“), we would emphasize that African-Americans are almost twice as likely as whites (9% compared to 5%) to drop out. Sounds like institutional racism to me! On the other hand, we could emphasize that African-Americans are only 4.4% less likely to graduate than whites. Sounds like African-Americans thrive at UVa!

One could dig even deeper, comparing the graduation rates of whites, Asians, Hispanics, and African-Americans within the same income ranges. That would filter out the effects of socio-economic advantage and disadvantage.

To my mind, these data help provide a starting point for an honest, open discussion about race at UVa. We could broaden the conversation by developing comparable data for all public institutions of higher education in Virginia and by comparing UVa’s performance to that of other colleges and universities.

Will these data become part of the dialogue, or do the organizers of the seminar have some other approach in mind? I have no idea. But I would love to be a fly on the wall to find out.

When Virginia Universities Fund their Own Research, Where Does the Money Come From?

In the previous blog post, Reed Fawell makes the argument that America’s research universities are subsidizing their R&D programs to the tune of some $18 billion a year. The subsidies, which are especially high among public universities, contribute significantly to cost pressures that drive up undergraduate tuition. There is significant variability among universities and higher-ed systems in the fifty states, however. Does the national trend that Reed describes apply to Virginia?

Examine the table below. It breaks down sources of 2016 R&D spending for Virginia’s six leading research universities as well as the total for all U.S. universities. The column headed “institution” covers funding from university sources — tuition, state support, endowments, and the like. All told, Virginia’s six research universities contributed $478 million toward $1.39 billion in R&D. 

How does that contribution compare to the national average for all universities? The following table tells the tale.

The average “institution” contribution for all U.S. universities is 25% of the total raised for research. Virginia Tech, George Mason University, the College of William & Mary (primarily the Virginia Institute of Marine Science), and Old Dominion University all exceeded the national average by wide margins. The University of Virginia and Virginia Commonwealth University fell short of the national average by small margins. In other words, Reed’s critique does apply to Virginia higher-ed institutions.

Furthermore, his argument that research funded by the universities themselves has increased in recent years applies to Virginia institutions as well. This table compares research funding from all sources (“total”) to funding paid with university resources in 2010 and 2016, a period which saw a surge in institutional funding nationally.

The raw numbers aren’t as meaningful as the change in the numbers. In the following table we see the increases in total funding and institutional funding, both in absolute dollars and expressed as a percentage.

Here the variability between individual institutions is evident. Between 2010 and 2016, ODU slashed its institutional support for R&D by $33 million, or 53%. Not surprisingly, total R&D funding declined by a similar amount, $27 million. William & Mary increased its institutional support modestly, by $1.2 million, or $6.3%, and its total R&D funding increase was likewise modest.

By contrast, Virginia Tech pumped $123 million additional institutional dollars into its research program in just four years, while UVa upped its ante by $69 million, VCU by $27 million, and GMU by $24 million.

Unfortunately, the National Science Foundation doesn’t tell us where these so-called “institution” dollars come from. Tuition increases? State aid? Gifts and endowment? Some other source entirely? We don’t know. If the institutional dollars came from gifts and endowments, students and taxpayers have little cause to complain. If the dollars came from state support or undergraduate tuition, it’s a very different story. But the NSF data is not granular enough to allow us to confirm Reed’s hypothesis — that undergraduate tuition is subsidizing research — for specific universities.

To do that, we need to dig deeper. While the universities do publish a lot more data than the NSF does, the data does not necessarily answer the questions we are asking. I’ll poke around and see what I can come up with.

Quashing Offensive Memes at UVa


On Jan. 19, Patrick Hogan, the chief operating officer of the University of Virginia, sent out an email community advisory to students, faculty, and staff asking people witnessing “suspicious activity” such as posting “offensive flyers and memes” to please call 911.

“The safety and wellbeing of every member of the University community remains our top priority, and we ask for your assistance in remaining vigilant of your surroundings,” said Hogan.

That communiqué struck Hans von Spasovsky, a scholar with the Heritage Foundation, as an egregious affront to free speech. Here’s how he responded in an article published by the Foundation’s Daily Signal:

Apparently, in Hogan’s mind, saying something “offensive” is the same as committing a heinous criminal act. How do we know that? Because his email tells students to call 911 if they see someone “posting offensive flyers or other material.”

No, really. Posting such material violates the university’s “posting and chalking” policy and is included in Hogan’s definition of “suspicious activity.”

Hogan was particularly concerned over any “offensive” material that might be distributed at “buildings and centers for under-represented groups, particularly Women’s Studies.”

In other words, if you decide to exercise your First Amendment right to speak at UVA by, perhaps, calling the “Women’s Study” program a faux social science curriculum, or by pointing out that its graduates may have a very tough time finding a job in which they can actually support themselves, then law enforcement officers will be called to come after you—a total abuse of the 911 emergency response system.

This is apparently UVA’s version of the “Thought Police” from George Orwell’s “1984.”

Spasovsky makes a searing indictment. Is it fair? Here is the full text of what Hogan wrote:

The University of Virginia is aware of reports of solicitations by national organizations to encourage distribution of offensive flyers and memes at colleges and universities across the country during the upcoming weekend. The reports indicate that the organizations are specifically interested in buildings and centers for under-represented groups, particularly Women’s Studies. We are not aware of any specific threats to the University of Virginia and its facilities. We still believe it is prudent to make members of the University community aware of this possible activity.

If you witness individuals engaged in suspicious activity, including posting offensive flyers or other material in violation of the University’s Policy on Exterior Posting and Chalking, please call 911. The University Police Department and the Ambassadors are aware of this information and will be closely monitoring activities on and near Grounds. We will be maintaining an enhanced security environment across Grounds this weekend.

The safety and wellbeing of every member of the University community remains our top priority, and we ask for your assistance in remaining vigilant of your surroundings.

Oddly, it’s not clear from Hogan’s advisory who these outside groups are or how their flyers might prove offensive — although his epistle implies that “women’s studies” might be targeted. He’s not aware of any specific “threats” to the university, but the rumored activities are alarming enough that university police have been notified and the administration will maintain an “enhanced security environment.”

The advisory is so vague that it’s hard to make heads or tails of it. While Spasovsky might be jumping to conclusions, it is easy to see how he made the inferences that he did. Reading between the lines of Hogan’s email, it sounds like feminist groups on campus were having fainting spells at the prospect of someone posting material — offensive “memes” — that assaulted their snowflake sensitivities. We do not know that for a fact. However, given the tenor of campus politics these days, it is a not unreasonable supposition.

Adding plausibility to Spasovsky’s spin on the memo, Hogan’s words must be interpreted through a filter of modern-day academia-speak. The document referred to women’s studies as an “under-represented group.” Only in an academic culture steeped in the culture of victimization could an institution where women comprise 55% of the student body possibly refer to them as an “under-represented” group.

When asking for UVa spokesman Anthony de Bruyn for a copy of Hogan’s advisory, I asked if the university had a response to Spasovsky’s column. De Bruyn did not respond. It’s all very mysterious.

For the record, conservatives on campus can play the victimization game, too. In December I wrote how the UVa Student Council had denied the Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), a conservative student group, recognition as an official student organization. YAF called foul. UVa responded that the non-discrimination policy had been applied in error and that the student council would reconsider. De Bruyn informed me today that the YAF had been approved as a CIO (contracted independent organization) last week.

A College Ranking to Virginia’s Liking

There are plenty of people in the college rating game these games, from the venerable US News & World-Report to Forbes magazine to the Wall Street Journal. Results vary depending on the criteria selected and the weight assigned to those criteria, both of which entail decisions and value judgments subject to human bias. But what if Artificial Intelligence was used to compile the rankings?

That’s what MetaMetrics, a Durham, N.C.-based company specializing in educational metrics, has tried to do. MetaMetrics research engineer Steve Lattanzio explains:

Was it possible to have a computer algorithm take in a bunch of raw data and, through a sufficiently black-box approach, remove decision points that allow ratings to become subjective? … Could an artificial intelligence discover a latent dimension hidden behind all the noise that was driving data points such as SAT scores, admission rates, earnings, loan repayment rates, and a thousand other things, instead of combining just a few of them in a subjective fashion?

The company drew upon the College Scoreboard, an exhaustive U.S. Department of Education database on colleges, students, and student loans. Lattanzio continues:

We use neural networks to perform “representational learning” through the use of what is called a stacked autoencoder. I’ll skip over the technical details, but the concept behind representational learning is to take a bunch of information that is represented in a lot of variables, or dimensions, and represent as much of the original information as possible with a lot fewer dimensions. In a stacked neural network autoencoder, data entering into the network is squashed down into fewer and fewer dimensions on one side and squeezed through a bottleneck. On the other side of the network, that squashed information is unpacked in an attempt to reconstruct the original data. …  the AI isn’t figuring out which subset of variables it wants to keep and which it wants to discard; it is figuring out how to express as much of the original data as possible in brand new meta-variables that it is concocting by combining the original data in creative ways. …

It turns out that we were able to compress all of the information down to just two dimensions, and the significance of those two dimensions was immediately clear.

One dimension has encoded a latent dimension that is related to things such as the size of the school and whether it is public or private (in fact, the algorithm decided there should be a rift mostly separating larger public institutions from smaller schools). The other dimension is a strong candidate for overall quality of a school and is correlated with all of the standard indicators of quality. It seems as if the algorithm learned that for higher education, if you must break it down into two things, [the data] is best broken down into two dimensions that can loosely be described as quantity and quality.

Got that? Good. So, here are the results for the top 20 colleges:

  1. Duke University
  2. Stanford University
  3. Vanderbilt University
  4. Cornell University
  5. Brown University
  6. Emory University
  7. University of Virginia
  8. University of Chicago
  9. Boston College
  10. University of Notre Dame
  11. College of William & Mary
  12. University of Southern California
  13. Wesleyan University
  14. Yale University
  15. Massachusetts of Technology
  16. Northwestern University
  17. Bucknell University
  18. University of Pennsylvania
  19. Santa Clara University
  20. Carnegie Mellon University

What? No Harvard or Princeton? Correct. The AI does not take into account intangible factors such as prestige. By the AI’s reckoning, it appears, those institutions are over-rated.

Virginia higher-ed officials looking for bragging rights can surely find them with this methodology — at least if they don’t dig too deep. UVa ranks 7th in the country and W&M ranks 11th. They are two of only three public universities on the list. The University of Richmond, described as a “hidden ivy,” logged in at 32nd, while Washington & Lee University scored 63. As comedian Larry David might say, that’s pretty, pretty impressive.

Virginia’s non-elite public universities scored fair to middling, according to the AI’s way of thinking. Out of 1,313 institutions nationally:

James Madison University — 146
Virginia Tech — 157
Virginia Military Institute — 199
George Mason University — 316
Radford University — 482
Longwood University — 495
Virginia Commonwealth University — 504
Old Dominion University — 951
Norfolk State University — 1,164
Virginia State University — 1,213

I could find no mention of Mary Washington University or the University of Virginia-Wise.

MetaMetrics provides plenty of caveats, which you can read here. The ranking “is not perfect and the rankings should not be viewed as infallible,” writes Lattanzio. “But when viewed among other college rankings, its validity is undeniable. It’s not merely a measure of prestige, and it addresses most of the concerns of critics of college rankings, while undoubtedly raising some new ones.”

I do fine one thing very curious. The company is located in Durham, N.C., home of Duke University. Four of the company’s top 11 senior executives have Duke affiliations — as does Lattanzio himself. Who ranks as the No. 1 university in the country? Duke, of course. Pure coincidence? Let’s just say, when Duke plays the University of North Carolina in basketball, you can probably find the AI in the stands rooting for the Blue Devils.

(Hat tip: Mary Helen Willett)

Virginia Falling Behind in R&D

Declining research funding in Virginia, 2010 to 2015. Blue bars=Virginia, gray=national. Source: TECconomy Partners LLC

Virginia universities are slowly gaining ground compared to their peers in R&D, but Virginia businesses are falling behind. Academia and industry need to cultivate closer ties, says strategic consultant Mitch Horowitz.

As a principal of TEConomy Partners LLC, a Bethesda, Md.-based research firm specializing in technology-driven economy development, Mitch Horowitz has had the opportunity to view a lot of technology-leading metropolitan regions close up. And Northern Virginia stands out… but not in a good way.

“I cannot recall a state that has a great technology hub like Northern Virginia that doesn’t have many great research institutes growing up around them,” said Horowitz while briefing the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia yesterday on the challenges in Virginia of linking university and industry R&D to stimulate new business formation and create jobs.

Despite strengths such as a highly educated workforce and access to venture capital, Virginia universities and companies have done a poor job of translating R&D into new business and jobs, said Horowitz.

All told universities, corporations and federal labs in Virginia conducted $10.5 billion in research funding in 2015, ranking it 13th highest in the country. But Virginia’s economy is larger than that of most states, so research as a percentage of GDP ranks the state only 21st nationally in R&D intensity. Even more worrisome, Virginia is losing ground. While research funding grew nationally between 2010 and 2015, it shrank in Virginia. Worst hit was “federal intramural” funding (federal labs). University R&D actually grew faster than the national average, but industry R&D declined 3.6% in Virginia while it surged 21% nationally.

“Decline in industry research and development in Virginia [is] not simply a reflection of strong dependency on federal R&D contracts, but weakness in company funding of R&D leading to the commercialization of new products and process,” stated Horowitz’s PowerPoint presentation.

A root problem is the lack of alignment between university strengths and industry strengths, which reflects the comparatively weak ties between Virginia universities and corporations, Horowitz explained. When Virginia universities do invent something that can be commercialized, Virginia companies typically are not the ones to benefit. Of 137 technology licenses issued by Virginia universities in Fiscal 2017, said Horowitz, 108 went to out-of-state companies.

While Horowitz did not specifically address the geographic imbalance between the location of Virginia’s leading research universities and its technology companies, his observations were entirely consistent with the observation on this blog that Virginia’s leading tech clusters are located in Northern Virginia while its leading research universities are located downstate. George Mason University, the sole public research university based in Northern Virginia, only recently passed the $100 million mark in R&D. The state’s R&D powerhouses, Virginia Tech ($504 million in 2015), the University of Virginia ($373 million), and Virginia Commonwealth University ($219 million) are located in Blacksburg/Roanoke, Charlottesville and Richmond respectively. However, it is worth noting that the rise of the promising Center for Personalized Medicine in Fairfax County under the aegis of the Inova health care system is developing institutional ties with the University of Virginia as well as with GMU and other institutions.

The good news from an economic development perspective, said Horowitz is that Virginia’s research universities have narrowed the gap with their national peers in recent years. The bad news is that all that effort is not translating into much economic activity beyond the research itself.

To stimulate local economic growth, says Horowitz, there needs to be a “line of sight,” or alignment between university research strengths and industry expertise. His analysis shows four broad areas where this alignment exists: life sciences; networking, communications, and data analysis; cyber and cyber-physical security; and system of systems engineering solutions.

“You can’t be a winner in every technology area,” says Horowitz. Virginia needs to build on fields in which it enjoys a competitive advantage.

To exploit these advantages, universities and corporations need to bridge the disconnect. Faculty researchers are scientists. While they are expert in the science, they cannot be expected to be experts in potential commercial applications. They need to partner with business. “We need our universities to build relationships with industry,” Horowitz says.

One small step lawmakers have made to bridge the gap is to create the Virginia Research Investment Fund, which dispenses $8 million a year to leverage other research dollars for projects showing a strong potential to create new enterprises and jobs. But the funding is small potatoes compared to the R&D commitment made by leading technology states. Massachusetts is investing $1 billion of public dollars to build its life-sciences sector. Texas has invested multimillions in its innovation ecosystems.

SCHEV board member Tom Slater called Horowitz’s report a “wake up call that’s desperately needed.”

“It’s a call to action,” said Gene Lockhart, another SCHEV board member. “I think there’s a lot of kidding ourselves, a lot of complacency.”

“This kind of effort lifts all boats,” said SCHEV Chair Heywood Fralin. But, he opined, “none of this is free.”

UVa Invests $75 Million in Fund to Recruit Profs


The University of Virginia is tapping its Strategic Investment Fund to create the Bicentennial Professors Fund, a $75 million plan to support about 70 endowed professorships, reports the Daily Progress.

The College of Arts & Sciences at UVa currently has 52 endowed professorships. Endowed chairs are used primarily to supplement professors’ salaries, recruit graduate students, and underwrite laboratory space. Such dedicated funding is a critical tool for recruiting star faculty and building institutional prestige at a time when UVa is competing for academic talent and elevate its standing as one of the top universities in the country.

“Endowed professorships have been a challenge to secure in numbers sufficient to reward our existing faculty and to help recruit the best new faculty,” Ian Baucom, dean of the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, told the Daily Progress in an email.

“In my own career and in my role as dean, I’ve experienced first-hand how endowed professorships were the difference in our ability to retain or attract talented faculty members,” Baucom said. “The Bicentennial Professors Fund will help us build on our historic strengths and fuel our emerging, field-transforming research by ensuring we are highly competitive in the marketplace.”

Under the plan, the university will match half of every dollar in gifts of $1 million or more. For gifts of $3 million or more, the newspaper says, the Bicentennial Professors Fund will provide a “super match” of $2 for every $3 pledged. Thus, a $3 million gift would be matched with $2 million.

The Strategic Investment Fund was cobbled together from various reserves and special funds and handed over to the University of Virginia Investment Management Company (UVIMCO), where it can generate a higher investment return. Since February 2016, the fund has invested more than $307 million in strategic priorities such as $20 million for autism research, a research seed fund, addiction aid, infrastructure for behavioral research efforts, and an interdisciplinary research center to study cosmic origins.

Bacon’s bottom line: If the goal of the UVa administration and Board of Visitors is to attract star faculty and elevate the prestige of the university — and it is — then this is a necessary investment. The recruitment and retention of big-name faculty members is only getting more intense as other institutions throw more and more money into the academic arms race.

Let’s assume the university generates 6% to 7% annually on the $75 million in the Bicentennial Professors Fund and retains, say 3% to allow the fund to continue to grow and keep pace with inflation while withdrawing 3% to 4% to spend. That would create resources of $2 million to $3 million a year, or about $30,000 to $40,000 per endowed professorship. That should be a big help in recruiting and retaining the big names.

However, if UVa’s goal is to make the institution more affordable and accessible — a goal that is given lip service — then this is an opportunity lost. The money could have been used to build an endowment for financial aid. Or it could have been invested in re-engineering business processes to lower the university’s cost structure. For purposes of illustration, one could envision investing $75 million in HVAC systems, lighting systems, and rooftop solar and saving, to pick a reasonable number, $7.5 million a year in annual operating costs, which in turn could be used to moderate tuition increases.

Ironically, it is possible that recruiting more star faculty will have the effect of driving up costs. While UVa’s academic titans are funded in part by general tuition, they tend to teach few courses than the typical instructor and contribute little to the educational experience of the undergraduates paying the tuition.

Instead of competing with Ivy League institutions, why can’t UVa settle for becoming the best public university and providing the best undergraduate experience in the country? Those seem worthy goals, and reaching them would be an impressive achievement.

UVa responds: UVa spokesman Anthony de Bruyn responded to this post as follows:

In December of last year, the Board of Visitors established a permanent endowment of up to $300 million to support student scholarships through a combination of philanthropic support and the Strategic Investment Fund. Earnings from the Bicentennial Scholars Fund provide need- and merit-based scholarships for University undergraduate students, and also will relieve pressure on long-term tuition increases by funding need-based aid from this fund rather that from tuition revenue.

The University is also doing its part to identify cost savings across Grounds.  The University’s Organizational Excellence program has identified $60.2 million in savings since the launch of the program in 2014.  You can learn more about the program and associated initiatives here.

Bacon’s response to UVa’s response: Yes, UVa has upped its commitment to financial aid, which does make the cost of attendance more affordable than it would be otherwise for the recipients. But that doesn’t do much for the middle-class and affluent families who still pay the full freight. De Bruyn said that funding from the Strategic Investment Fund helps alleviate the pressure to raise tuition in future years. Well, we’ll see about that. I’ll believe it when I see the Board of Visitors enact a tuition increase that’s less than the inflation rate.

As for the Organizational Excellence program, it is much to be commended. Kudos on the $60 million in savings. However, I would like to see an analysis of those programs. I would ask if any of them required substantial up-front capital investments. Could the university save even more by making large capital investments in efficiency? I don’t know the answer. But those are the kinds of questions we need to be asking.

Innovation in the Business of Higher Education

Virginia universities shared business best practices today at Virginia Commonwealth University with the hope of finding ways to shave costs and improve the student experience. 

George Mason University expects to save $3 million over the life of a five-year contract by outsourcing its printing operations to an outside vendor, defaulting to black-and-white print over color, and printing on both sides of the paper.

Universities make huge investments in parking lots and parking decks like this one at the University of Virginia. Today’s students are less car-centric than previous generations, and parking permit revenue has been falling. UVa has turned to metered parking to provide more convenience and recoup revenue.

The University of Virginia expects to generate $300,000 extra in parking revenue this year by shifting from the traditional arrangement, in which students purchase year-long parking passes for a space in a particular lot, to a system of metered parking that provides more flexibility as to where and when students park.

Virginia Commonwealth University doesn’t expect to save money from its Beyond Orientation program, an online orientation program for student’s parents and family members, but the university does hope to increase parental engagement in a low-cost way. When parents feel more comfortable navigating the university bureaucracy, they can provide more support for their kids, which bolsters the goal of graduating more students on time.

These were just three among the dozens of stories about higher-ed innovation highlighted at the “Partnering for Progress” event held today at VCU’s Siegel Center. Some stories reflect nothing more glamorous than the adoption of best practices that are common elsewhere. But some innovations are truly ground-breaking and have the potential to transform how higher-ed institutions function.

The event, itself a first-of-a-kind, featured an hour’s worth of speechifying and exhortations, plus two hours for schmoozing, visiting booths, listening to presentations, and swapping business cards. “Partnering for Progress” was backed by the Virginia Business Higher Education Council’s Growth4VA initiative, a public relations campaign driving home the message that Virginia’s colleges and universities make critical contributions to economic growth and prosperity. A recurring Growth4VA theme is that while state government needs to do more to support its public system of education, Virginia’s colleges and universities need to be more creative about controlling costs, reining in tuition increases, and helping students graduate with less debt.

There wasn’t time to visit every booth, but I had conversations with enough presenters to be persuaded that some very imaginative thinking is taking place in Virginia’s colleges and universities. It’s an open question whether these bright ideas get the funding and administrative support needed to transform the cost-encrusted higher-ed system. While some of the initiatives seem impressive, the thought occurred to me, why isn’t every institution adopting these changes? And what’s taking them so long?

Still, I came away convinced that there may be hope for Virginia’s higher education system. While higher-ed’s lobbyists and advocates may, for purposes of public consumption, be putting blaming runaway tuition on cutbacks in state support, administrators acknowledge the institutions themselves also bear some responsibility for holding down costs. Here follow some of the more promising programs I encountered in my perambulations through the Siegel Center.

Energy efficiency. Gains in energy efficiency had leveled off for several years at the College of William & Mary when Farley Hunter came on board to focus on utility management. Having worked in private-sector property management, he quickly spotted numerous opportunities to cut the university’s $7 million to $8 million in energy bills. W&M cobbled together a $140,000 revolving fund to invest in projects with at least a three-year payback, mostly in areas such as HVAC, ventilation and lighting. That’s a modest sum for a 200-building campus, concedes Hunter, but if he can demonstrate success, he expects the university to invest more.

Faculty productivity. University professors persevere through years-long Ph.D. programs to gain mastery of their subject matter. But unlike school teachers, they receive little instruction on how to teach. The University of Virginia Center for Teaching Excellence created the Course Design Institute to help professors organize and design better courses. Participants engage in a short but intensive exercise that begins with the question, “What do I want my students to know 3-5 years after the course is over?” The program uses proprietary software to build a syllabus and create “knowledge checks” that align teaching objectives with tests and assessments. About 500 UVa faculty members have gone through the program. Said program director Michael Palmer: “We created a revolution.”

Research productivity. University of Virginia researchers apply for roughly $1 billion in research grants in every year, and succeed in nailing down about $300 million worth. Only two years ago, however, the paper-based system for administering the research applications was extravagantly inefficient. It wasted space on literally hundreds of filing cabinets. Files were frequently misplaced (at an average estimated cost of $125 per file). The university even maintained a dedicated car and driver to carry papers from office to office around the grounds for needed signatures.

Ironically, UVa’s inefficiency turned out to be a blessing, said Vonda Durr, senior director of electronic research administration. Other institutions purchased multi-million-dollar software solutions to deal with the same paperwork issues, but many have them are dissatisfied and ready to scrap them. UVa learned from their mistakes and drew upon the university’s in-house IT staff to design a custom solution, starting with a portal for principal investigators, which makes contracts, account balances and other critical information accessible through one online location. The experience was so positive that the Office of Sponsored Programs added new capabilities such as electronic signatures, workflow tracking systems, and data visualization tools. Among other tangible benefits, the university has freed up space by getting rid of the filing cabinets, driven down printing costs, and saved an estimated $5 million in faculty and staff time.

Student retention. One third of the students entering Virginia Commonwealth University are considered “first generation” students — that is, they are the first members of the family to attend college. They are disproportionately poor and minority, and they have a harder time graduating from college. The graduation rate for first-time students is 78%, considerably lower than the 85% rate for all students, and GPAs tend to be lower. A high priority for VCU is improving the graduate rate for first-timers. The university’s You First program assembles a variety of orientation programs, faculty-led sessions, networking events, and support resources to ease the transition of first-timers into college life.

Virginia State University has a program with a similar purpose — helping students complete their college degree — that concentrates support services in a single location where students can access a wide variety of services. Students learn study skills and time management, get tutoring, receive counseling on which courses to take, and gain access to other support services. Every student is provided a mentor.

Radford University is adopting first-year living-learning communities organized around common interests such as the environment, the maker movement, biology, research, and the arts. Students living in the same residence halls take shared classes and engage in other activities together, building a sense of community and belonging. Participants have measurably higher retention rates and higher GPAs. Radford also uses data analytics to predict and improve student attrition. Remarkably, university ID swipes in dormitories and the fitness center is one of three factors with greatest predictive value. The data allows staff to reach out to students identified as being at risk of not returning to the university.

Virginia’s system of higher-education has the second highest six-year graduation rate in the country, second only to Utah. The payoff for students is huge — fewer drop out with big student debts they can’t repay. And the payoff is big for Virginia as well. When more students graduate, Virginia inches closer to its 20-year goal of becoming the best educated state in the country.

UVa Board of Visitors Discusses Online Learning

Five years after the future of online learning played an important role in the drama over University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan resignation and reinstatement, the UVa Board of Trustees is making cautious moves to increase the university’s commitment to e-learning.

During a two-day board retreat, Kristen Palmer, director of online learning programs, provided an overview of how other colleges and universities are utilizing online learning — from enhancing the education of residential students to delivering education to off-campus students, reports The Daily Progress.

Still in the brainstorming phase, UVa President Teresa A. Sullivan said at Saturday’s meeting that the first step would be to research the market and determine what would and would not work for UVa. She said online curriculum support for students will be very important, as will options for nontraditional students.

“We’re willing to think outside the box,” Sullivan said. “The sweet spot is that there is so much new knowledge and people beyond college age want it.”

UVa offers more than 50 online courses, 20 certificates and five degrees, and it supports Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) — giving the university a significantly larger online presence than it had in 2012 when the Board of Visitors demanded Sullivan’s resignation. Although then-Rector Helen Dragas cited several reasons for seeking Sullivan’s departure, the issue that resonated most with the public was the absence at UVa of a coherent strategy for adapting to the online revolution. MOOCs were generating considerable publicity at the time, and the higher-ed community was divided on whether online learning would fundamentally transform learning or was a passing craze that could never effectively translate into higher education.

After Sullivan mobilized faculty and student support to win reappointment as president, online learning took a back seat compared to other UVa priorities. While individual schools did adopt the technology — the School of Continuing and Professional Studies most notably (see the video above) — UVA as an institution never made a major commitment. Now, as Sullivan prepares to retire, the Board of Visitors is delving deeper.

Many universities — Harvard, Berkeley, MIT, Penn State, Georgia Tech, the University of Michigan and Purdue, among others — have ramped up their investing in online learning. Here in Virginia, Liberty University has ridden the online-learning wave to become the largest university in the state by enrollment). Liberty’s online learning programs have been so profitable that the institution has been able to plow hundreds of millions of dollars into its endowment.

In September 2016, UVa’s Online Education Advisory Committee advanced several recommendations for bolstering online learning. According to Palmer’s presentation PowerPoint, they included:

  1. Identify leader to drive strategic digital learning efforts across
    university
  2. Fund small scale projects focused on measuring effectiveness and
    disseminating findings related to emergent learning technologies
    and digital environments.
  3. Remove barriers for those schools interested in digital learning
    with seed funding with plans for sustainability within 2-5 years
    (possible collaborative Strategic Investment Fund proposal).
  4. Create a Fellows Program by funding, hiring, and supporting
    thought leaders, subject matter experts and practitioners.
  5. Make all digital materials for the university fully accessible for all
    learners

A year later, many questions remain to be answered. Among those raised by Palmer: Who do we want UVa to be? Are there markets UVa could enter at scale? Will moving content online affect the cost of curriculum delivery? Could UVa use online courses as part of the admissions process? Could the university partner with other Virginia colleges or programs?

With discussions still in the early stages, said the Daily Progress, the board will continue to examine pros and cons of online learning. To better support students, said board member Jeffrey C. Walker, it would be advisable to talk to other schools that utilize online learning to find out what works and what doesn’t. Which classes are more proficiently taught online and which are more suited to traditional classrooms?

UVa Responds…

Marcus Martin

Two days ago, I posted an article, “How Big Is UVa’s Diversity Bureaucracy?” In it, I noted that Marcus Martin, the University of Virginia’s chief diversity officer, was paid $349,000, the highest salary of any of 50 higher-education diversity officer identified by Campus Reform. I also endeavored to describe the size and effectiveness of UVa’s diversity bureaucracy.

In response, I received this communication from UVa spokesman Anthony de Bruyn, which I reproduce in full:

I write to provide you and your readers important context and clarifications regarding your article “How Big Is UVa’s Diversity Bureaucracy?”

Marcus Martin, M.D., is a practicing physician, professor of emergency medicine and the founding chair of the School of Medicine’s Emergency Department, as well as vice president and chief diversity and inclusion officer at the University of Virginia.  Through his clinical activities, educating and mentoring of medical students and young physicians, he contributes to our medical and education missions. He also teaches a popular course for undergraduates. Dr. Martin is a well-published author and has served in several prominent emergency medicine leadership roles across the nation. And, he is involved in several community-based organizations in Charlottesville and Albemarle County. His compensation reflects not only his responsibilities as the University’s chief diversity officer, but also his role as a medical doctor and long-time faculty member. The characterization of him as merely a bureaucrat is pretty far off the mark.

Just last month, the National Science Foundation again awarded a $5 million grant for which Dr. Martin has been the principal investigator.  This grant, in its second renewal, seeks to boost the number of underrepresented minority students in STEM careers.  The grant involves a consortium of eight universities and colleges, the Virginia-North Carolina Alliance, in addition to the University of Virginia.  NSF renewed the grant because of its demonstrated outcomes.

Your article unfairly criticizes the work of several committees at the University that make important contributions to our living and learning environment, and implies a large number of full-time bureaucrats who do little else.  The members of these committees are students, faculty, staff and community representatives who volunteer their time and expertise over and above their academic and work commitments. The committees study important issues such as improving our recruitment and retention of faculty, staff and students from historically underrepresented groups, and enhancing our community of inclusiveness and to make UVA a better place for everyone.

And, despite the suggestion that there are few substantive results from our diversity efforts, the University has the highest graduation rate for African American students of any public university in the nation. Our current focus is helping minority students succeed in the STEM fields. Next month we will welcome the most diverse class in UVA’s history.

The Board of Visitors recently approved an endowed professorship in Dr. Martin’s name in recognition of his valuable and lasting contributions to medical education and the University community.

Bacon’s response: Dr. Martin sounds like major asset to the university. (See his full bio here. It is impressive.) I don’t think my article characterized him as “merely a bureaucrat,” but if I left that impression, I am happy to stand corrected.

Now, on the much more substantive issue of the effectiveness of UVa’s diversity program, one of de Bruyn’s statements — “the University has the highest graduation rate for African American students of any public university in the nation” — also could use some context.

Yes, it’s true, UVa does have the highest graduation rate for African-American students of any public university in the nation. That’s an achievement for which the university deserves accolades, and which I have lauded on more than one occasion.

However, UVa also has one of the strictest admissions policies of any public university in the country — certainly of any public university in the state — as seen in the exceptionally low percentage of lower-income Pell grant students in the student body. There is a very high correlation between Pell grant status and the six-year drop-out rate. More Pell students means more drop-outs; fewer Pell students means higher graduation rates. Insofar as Pell grant recipients disproportionately hail from African-American families, UVa’s admissions policies limit the number of lower-income African-Americans at higher risk of dropping out.

So, the question is this: Is the exceptionally high graduation rate of UVa’s African-American students due to the ministrations of the diversity bureaucracy or to the stringency of the university’s admissions policies, to some combination of the two, or perhaps to other policies entirely? I would love to see some hard data.