Tag Archives: Reed Fawell

Re-Examining the Role of Elite Higher Ed in American Society

Princeton. Ivied walls or moss-backed walls?

by Reed Fawell III

“Going to Yale Could Make You Rich, or Lonely,” by Lyman Stone, published in The Federalist on Dec. 19, 2018, exposed some surprising findings regarding the costs and benefits of college attendance. Stone is worth quoting at length:

There’s a long-standing economic consensus that, for high schoolers smart enough to get admitted into the University of Kentucky (average SAT score of about 1000-1100) and Yale (average SAT score of about 1400-1600), it really doesn’t matter which college they attend … [Researchers have identified] how much money students earn 10 or 20 years later. It turns out going to Yale doesn’t add one penny to how much money a Yale admit earns.”

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Charlottesville’s Path to Polarization, Part 2

by Reed Fawell III

This is the second of five posts on the events surrounding the white nationalist protests against efforts to remove the Lee and Jackson statues that occurred in the spring and summer of 2017 in Charlottesville, Va.  The facts asserted are based on the narrative found in the Independent Review of the 2017 Protest Event in Charlottesville.”

An altogether different cast of white nationalists, a Ku Klux Klan group based in Pelham, N.C., decided to protest Charlottesville’s decision to remove the Lee statue soon after the news of the May 13 rallies reached them. On May 24, 2017, a Klan member (the Klan Rep.) filed an application for a “public demonstration” on July 8, from 3:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. to “stop cultural genocide” in Charlottesville.

Based on her experience at such rallies held in Berkeley, Ca.; Danville, Va.; Columbia, SC; Raleigh, NC; and Stuart, Va., the Klan Rep. requested that Charlottesville:

  1.  provide bus transport for the Klan from a secret offsite location to and from the protest site in Charlottesville, given that “jurisdictions that use this strategy keep the Klan separated from protesters,” and that,
  2. the city delay announcing the Klan event to the public “until the last minute.’ Again, in her experience, a delay in announcing Klan events until the last minute would result in a smaller and less hostile crowd of counter-protesters at the event.

The city declined both requests.  It publicized the rally on May 24, the day the Klan filed its application.  It later also denied bus transport, believing buses unnecessary.  The Charlottesville Police Department (CPD) did agree with the Klan as follows.

The rally event would be shifted from the Charlottesville City Circuit Courthouse steps, as originally requested by the Klan, to the site of the Jackson statue in Justice Park that had just been renamed from Jackson Park, its original name since 1921.

Regarding transport, the CPD would meet the Klan at “a secret location on City property just outside the downtown area.”  From that rendezvous point, two CPD squad cars would escort the Klan’s caravan of cars (not to exceed 25) to a surface parking lot in the city next to the Albemarle County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court (JDR).  This lot was within a short walking distance across Park Street to the Klan’s designated rally area (KKK Zone) within Justice Park.  Once parked on the surface lot, the police would escort the Klan on foot to their KKK Zone.

To facilitate this plan, the Klan would assemble overnight in Waynesboro, Va, then drive over the mountain to Charlottesville the next afternoon.  In so doing, the Klan would alert CPD to its arrival when 10 minutes away from the rendezvous site to assure their timely arrival at Justice Park by 3:00 p.m.

The CPD later described the Klan Rep as “overall, very cooperative” in working out their plan.  CPD also said that the Klan ‘adhered to the plan’ created by the police.

The Klan’s Rep., however, expressed grave concerns soon after she learned that the City had announced their rally to the public on June 24.  She told CPD that the “counter-protesters had begun organizing on social media to attend the Klan event while armed, and she urged a weapons check at Justice Park to avoid a ‘blood bath.’”

These, and subsequent events, would highlight Charlottesville’s failure to seek advice from others on how they had dealt with threats of violence in similar situations.  And how the City and Virginia state officials had otherwise failed to train, prepare, and cooperate with one another, to effectively thwart threats posed by such events.  Thus, violence ensued in Charlottesville on July 8.  Those actions ignited a cascade of consequences that fractured the City, severely impairing its ability to deal with the larger and more dangerous protests on August 11/12.  And those adverse impacts plague the City still.

This, I believe, is the central finding of the Independent Report.  But why and how did this happen in Charlottesville?  This needs further exploration.

Inexplicably, this failure occurred despite ample intelligence on the threat posed. CPD’s own intelligence gathering clearly predicted “that the July 8 event would likely be a large, confrontational, and potentially violent event … The sharing of all intelligence made (this) clear to all CPD personnel.”  Some 600 to 800 counter- protesters, and up to 100 Klan, were projected to attend.  Many would be armed.  And the counter-protesters were known to be planning to shut down the event.

“For example, the Greensboro, North Carolina police shared with the CPD a flyer from social media advertising for (out of town) counter-protesters to (travel to and) attend the Klan rally in Charlottesville ‘to shut them down.’”  The North Carolina police also suggested that squabbling within the Klan might significantly reduce the 100 Klan members earlier estimated to travel to Charlottesville for the rally.  Both predictions proved highly prescient on July 8.

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Charlottesville’s Path to Polarization, Part 1

The Lee Statue in Charlottesville

by Reed Fawell III

This is the first of five posts on the events surrounding the white nationalist protests against efforts to remove the Lee and Jackson statues that occurred in the spring and summer of 2017 in Charlottesville, Va.

America’s national and local media constantly make references to the August 11/12, 2017, white nationalist protest rally in Charlottesville. Typically, these allusions render an over-simplified judgment without facts, nuance, context or perspective. Consequently, the rhetoric inflames public opinion, exacerbates the harm done by the rally, forecloses the possibility of reconciliation, and makes it more difficult to prevent a recurrence in the future.

The media’s short-hand references to “Charlottesville” display a woeful ignorance of the demonstrations and political events in the city during 2016 and 2017 that preceded and influenced the events of August 11/12. Absent that string of events, the outcome of the August 11/12 Unite the Right rally surely would have been very different. Indeed, the event and the violence it engendered might never have taken place.

Fortunately, there is an antidote to our national amnesia — the Final Report, Independent Review of the 2017 Protest Event in Charlottesville written by Timothy J. Heaphy with the Hunton & Williams law firm. Drawing on meticulous research of that report, I hope to shed light on those earlier incidents, discern their underlying causes, and explain how they shaped the events of August 11/12.

Here we will start with a chronology of events leading up to the July 8 and Aug 11/12 protests, taken almost exclusively from the Independent Review. To avoid personalizing the narrative, I have deleted the names of participants.

From March 2016 to June June 2017:
Events Leading up to July 8 and August 12 Disturbances in Charlottesville

In March of 2016, Charlottesville’s Vice Mayor and a University of Virginia professor and chairman of the local NAACP called an “unscheduled rally in Charlottesville.” There the Vice Mayor “expressed distaste for the Lee Statue” and the UVA professor argued that the statute evoked “all the horror and legacy for black people. It romanticizes for people who do not know. They look at that statute, they think it was a gallant person who saved us, but he was a terrorist.” The vice mayor then urged Charlottesville to remove the city’s two statues of Lee and Jackson.

This rally in downtown Charlottesville ignited at virulent controversy. The debate over the future of the statues became “a significant factor in the radicalization” of a local leader who would become a key figure in the later Unite the Right rallies in Charlottesville,” a man who “described himself as an advocate for ‘white civil rights’,” one who “believed that whites were unfairly asked to “apologize for history” and to ‘deny their cultural heritage’.” He was also reportedly angered by the Vice Mayor’s urging the boycott of a UVa lecturer’s restaurant for criticizing the Black Lives Matter movement on his Facebook page. Later, too, based on research turned up by that white nationalist leader, the vice mayor resigned his job at Albemarle high school for having posted “racially offensive and inflammatory statements” on Twitter before he’d moved to Charlottesville in 2011.

Thus, in March of 2016, there began a long series of escalating rhetoric and actions by opposing factions within the Charlottesville community that, over the ensuing 18 months, would cascade into the tragic events of August 11/12, 2017.

For example, on May 28, 2016, the Charlottesville City Council, responding to local pressures, created a Blue Ribbon panel whose designated objective was to provide the Council with options on how to tell “the full story of Charlottesville’s history of race and changing the city’s narrative through its public spaces.” That fall, on Nov. 10, the panel delivered its draft report. It recommended that the Lee and Jackson statues remain in place while adding context to the monuments, telling a fuller story about what they represented. The “draft” report changed in December, however, when the same panel offered one of two options for the Council to consider: that context be added if the statues be left in place, or that they could be removed. On Feb 6, 2017, the City Council by 3-2 vote ordered the removal of the Lee statue.

The council’s vote sparked a lawsuit in March 2017 claiming that removing the statue would be illegal, and that the city was required by law “to protect and preserve” the statues. The Court affirmed the plaintiffs’ request to stay the City Council’s order. That litigation on the merits of the case continues unresolved today, although the court did affirm the city’s right to change the names of Lee and Jackson Park.

Meanwhile, on Jan. 31, 2016, Charlottesville’s mayor called “an unscheduled” rally to protest the inauguration of President Trump. “Hundreds gathered in Charlottesville’s downtown mall” where the mayor proclaimed the city “The Capital of Resistance to Trump’s agenda.” A Charlottesville police officer later noted that in his view: “The mayor’s event was tantamount to war. The mayor’s rhetoric was ‘the recipe for undermining the legitimacy of the institutions of government’.” Continue reading

The Higher-Ed Cost Crisis As Research Cost Crisis

Why is college so unaffordable? Here’s one reason: Universities are funding sponsored scientific research with billions of dollars of institutional funds derived in part from undergraduate tuition payments.

by Reed Fawell III

On January 23, Jim Bacon raised the question, “Does Undergraduate Education Subsidize University R&D?” In the post he concluded:

Here’s the problem: We can’t hope to strike the proper balance if we don’t know who is subsidizing whom. Higher-ed accounting is a specialized discipline and opaque to outsiders. We are fumbling in the dark. We need more information. The higher-ed establishment has no interest in providing that information, which can only lead to unwelcome calls for change. Only the General Assembly can make Virginia colleges and universities cough up the data. But, sadly, most legislators don’t know what they don’t know, and none of the bills submitted to the General Assembly this year (that I’m aware of) are calling for more cost and accounting transparency.

Actually, the system is not as opaque as Jim imagines. In this post, based primarily on National Science Foundation data, I contend that tuition paid by undergraduate students subsidizes their universities’ research and development, the overwhelming bulk of which is in the fields of science and engineering. Further, I argue that undergraduate tuition often subsidizes the research sponsors, including the federal government, private businesses, and/or non-profit organizations such as health care organizations. Without undergraduate student tuition payments, many such research programs at public universities would not be financially viable.

Unsponsored research paid for by U.S. universities and undertaken by their faculties has increased 49.1% in the last four years, now amounting to a staggering $17. 975 billion. I suspect that even more unreimbursed research, particularly in the humanities, is likely off these charts, unrecorded as time and money spent under the accounting rubric of “instruction.”

Source: National Science Foundation

While internally funded university research in the humanities exploded in the 1970s and continues unabated, the dollar cost of this research was relatively small, and remains so, compared to cost of hard-science research, particularly the fields of engineering, life sciences, and natural sciences. Public research universities are absorbing not only direct costs incurred by their own staff and faculty for independent research done on their own account but unreimbursed indirect costs of sponsored research relating to marketing, proposal writing, regulatory compliance, resolution of conflict-of-interest issues, lab construction, and compensation of heavily recruited faculty. These expenses, which often enrich faculty, are far too frequently paid for with funds generated by undergraduate tuition, and drain resources that could be used to better educate undergraduate students.

Why are unreimbursed costs increasing so rapidly? The reasons are many.

States bear some responsibility. Legislatures have cut state support that covered some of these research costs.

But that’s hardly the full explanation. Driven by a desire to increase their national and international rankings, research universities have entered new fields in the hope of winning more sponsored research. As competition for a limited pool of research dollars has intensified, universities must spend more money and effort submitting proposals. Where once there might have been only one bidder, there might be five or six today. Universities often now conduct preliminary or collateral research at their own expense in the hope of qualifying for future work. Often, institutions share contracts with researchers at other institutions, spreading the costs and increasing the odds of winning. But sharing research contracts also reduces revenues. (It’s likely that these sharing arrangements are imposed by sponsors to avoid stovepipe issues, forcing researchers within various universities to share their knowledge rather than horde it for their own private advantage, thus decreasing costs for sponsors at the expense of universities.)

In sum, research universities find themselves in a buyer’s market for hard-science research that increasingly favors sponsors and funders. Not only can funders pick and choose among more bidders, they can cherry pick the tasks, off load the difficult, risky and costly work, and retain the best of research jobs for themselves.

In reply, many public research universities spend more of their own funds in an effort to compete, or give the appearance of competing, and keeping busy. Public universities typically have two main revenue sources to subsidize research: state appropriations and undergraduate tuition. In the past, state appropriations exceeded tuition. Now tuition revenues exceed state aid by substantial and growing margins. In other words, undergraduate tuition increases have covered the growing gap between dwindling state appropriations and growing unreimbursed research costs.

How long will the public tolerate chronic rising tuition when higher charges go not to students’ education but to administrators, research professors, and research sponsors?

Educators have tried a variety of solutions — mostly failed — to keep the machinery running. They have increased the number of undergraduate students admitted. They have appealed to wealthy undergraduate applicants by dangling deluxe student accommodations, food and entertainment. They have discounted tuition for some students, ramped up tuition for others, and recruited high-paying foreign students. They have peddled packages of loosely underwritten loans. They have catered to students with inflated grades, deflated study requirements,”junk courses,” safe spaces and a toleration of hookup cultures.

Today’s higher-ed system is unsustainable.  The public research university business model is broken and hemorrhaging losses. Tuitions are through the roof, even as average American households have lost wealth and suffered stagnant wages. Student debt, over $1.5 trillion to date, is plagued with rapidly rising student loan defaults. In the last two or three years, there are signs that demand for higher ed is shrinking. More students, parents, and taxpayers wonder if a college education is worth the cost. The public rightfully wonders if fixes to the spiraling costs serve only to turbo-charge higher-ed’s spendthrift ways.

Absent radically different solutions, universities’ R&D obsession will exacerbate the problems outlined above. Today, federal research contracts cost universities on average 25% more money than the government is willing to pay for the work. Continue reading

Toxic Brew: Relativism and Globalism

by Reed Fawell III

For the past six years, I have warned about the damage that unrestrained and hyper-competitive academic research is inflicting on the quality of higher education in the United States. The tenor of my complaints has grown more strident over the years.

Initially, these complaints were jump-started by a May, 2011, memo from University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan to then-Rector Helen Dragas. Sullivan proposed, in my view, to dramatically dilute the education and teaching of undergraduate students at UVa. in favor of radical increases in faculty research, most particularly in STEM research.

UVa.’s ambition, I felt, was unduly driven by several powerful and damaging trends ongoing in higher education. One was UVa.’s compulsion to climb the rankings of US News & World Report’s “Best Colleges” reports, whose standards and formulas demanded ever higher expenditures on non-teaching activities, be they for luxury student accommodations and cuisine food courts or feeding the expanding needs of highly paid tenured research faculty.

A related contributor, in my view, was the Obama administration’s ambition, announced in 2011, to dramatically increase federal funding of academic STEM research. Rather than making American students more competitive internationally in the STEM fields, the STEM emphasis has fueled hyper competition among institutions and faculties chasing federal grants and favors.

Likely, too, this same impulse powered the rise of the “Strategic (Research) Investment Fund” that abruptly appeared in public at UVa for the first time five years later to most everyone’s surprise (although it was hinted at three or four years earlier for legal reasons). However covert, UVa leadership deemed the fund necessary because university research almost always costs more than it generates in revenue. In the business model of today’s research-driven university, universities often divert student tuition and teaching resources to the research of tenured professors.

Not only do students wind up paying higher tuition and get less attention from senior faculty, professors often requisition their personal time and talents for research projects. In effect, students become low-age apprentices whose exploitation helps faculty rake in massive research contracts, profit from patents, and even launch business enterprises based on new technology.

I was worried six years ago that these practices would undermine UVa’s stature as a nationally recognized institution that specialized in teaching undergraduate arts and sciences that armed students to think independently and confidently, whether they are training in politics, philosophy, entrepreneurship, the classics, history, mathematics or physics.

My concerns grew as I observed various pieces of the plan fall into place. More recently, I have become fully convinced that the emphasis on university R&D and STEM research has infected all tiers of higher learning. The siren call of STEM is drawing colleges and universities from their primary and critical mission to empower students to become independent, well rounded, and effective agents of change.

Instead, over these past six years, I concluded that higher education has undermined the ability of students to stand on their own two feet. As early as the mid-1980s, William Bennett, then Head of the National Council of the Arts and Humanities, predicted the demise of the humanities at our elite national universities. He foretold the infection and destruction of traditional courses in the liberal arts and humanities (history, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, and literature, particularly western literature and the classics) with post-modernist relativism, deconstruction, and critical culture theory. His fears have come to pass.

Academic leftists have weaponized this poison in the form of political correctness, safe spaces, claims of micro-aggression, and politics grounded in race and gender to drive an endlessly growing list of grievances and create a new identity-based hierarchy on the college campus. Much of this ideology has played out in Charlottesville with the UVa administration’s witting connivance, especially in the furtherance of the “epidemic of rape” canard.

Remarkably, efforts to undermine American culture and society went largely unopposed for decades. Leftists have succeeded in hollowing out the center of our culture, and its confidence, and its coherence, and its ability to function. Now it is spreading chaos everywhere. Our institutions of higher learning have, to a marked degree, abandoned not only their roots but their sponsors, their fund-payers, their students, and in some cases the very buildings and spaces they inhabit in their quest for greener fields worldwide.

This they call “Globalism,” which works in tandem with the explosion of research at elite universities to widen the fields of academic research to most everything, and every potential client, under the sun, while ignoring much of America’s past, and its historic culture. Witness Teresa Sullivan’s grand pilgrimage to China, a quest to set up a branch, or perhaps a second main campus, for Mr. Jefferson’s University snuggled up close to the Forbidden City in Peking.

But higher education’s ill-fated embrace of Globalism now runs the risk of leaving the newly constructed university curriculum stranded on shifting sands.   The tides are already running out. Newly constructed departments of global arts and sciences are encountering strong counter currents of resistance here and aboard.

Students in other nations, who take great pride in their own histories and cultures, are not always receptive to listening to American professors talk about their institutions. The globalist agenda of American professors is perceived as another form of Western imperialism.

At home, the problem is different.  American students increasingly feel left behind. They feel cheated out of their right to learn about their own history, people and culture, before being taught or told to venture out into another peoples’ culture. Indeed, American and European academics increasing agree with their students. Hence globalist courses and departments are contracting, not growing, at a time when the movement has just started.

In short, American’s elite research universities must shift their grand globalist ambitions and research driven plans. Federal research funds are shrinking. Teaching is disappearing.  Science itself is under threat. And Americans now want their children educated to live and thrive in the real world, not one invented by other people.

Reed Fawell III, a retired attorney and real estate developer, is an alumnus of the University of Virginia.

How Higher Ed Is Failing Faculty and Students

by Reed Fawell III

Higher education is corrupt. Each year the rot degrades the system’s ability to educate our kids. The problem is not criminal activity, malfeasance, or bad intentions. Rather, the system is losing focus on its core mission.

Last month I suggested on this blog that higher education needs a total overhaul, especially in elite undergraduate institutions. Here, and in posts to follow, I will explain why this overhaul is critically needed.

My intent is not to blame particular individuals, groups or institutions, but to highlight how a once-great system of elite higher education is failing its students and undermining all that it touches. The ramifications extend to students, parents, faculty and administrators, as well as the outside interests (public and private) that feed off the system or unduly influence it.

Even as the sector grows into a massive commercial enterprise accounting for an ever-larger share of the nation’s economy, the capacity of higher ed to fulfill its historic mission of educating undergraduate students is crumbling. Nowhere is the problem more evident than at the nation’s foremost colleges and universities once led the world in teaching liberal arts, sciences and humanities upon which Western Civilization depends.

While the threat is real, there are heroes in this story. A dwindling minority of students, faculty, and administrators fight the debilitating system every day. Too often, though, they labor at great cost to themselves and their careers. Their battles usually take place outside the public view. Yet more of them are going public, describing their struggles in books and articles. Even a few institutions are fighting the tide by focusing sharply on the mission to educating their students in an efficient, cost-effective way.

But we are losing ground overall. All too often the career and work of Col. John Boyd, a preeminent military strategist, theorist and educator in last decades of the 20th century, typifies how today’s real “educators” wage lonely, uphill battles. Boyd wrote how those caught in dysfunctional institutions are forced to do “counter productive work” instead of the real and transformation work. Higher education needs far more John Boyds. (See Robert Coram’s biography Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War.)

Each year teaching and learning get harder. Leadership failures and destructive cultural forces are overwhelming undergraduate programs at an alarming pace. Higher education inflicts pervasive, long-lasting, and often devastating harm upon many of its undergraduate students. As the corruption spreads into families and communities, it poisons everyone’s future. Elite institutions, which educate a disproportionate share of the nation’s leaders, can most do the most harm.

William Deresiewicz’s 2014 book, “Excellent Sheep, the Mis-education of the American Elite,” tells of “toxic levels of fear, anxiety, and depression, of emptiness and aimlessness and isolation” experienced by large and growing numbers of undergraduates at elite schools. He describes how undergraduates are too often the left overs from “stressed out, over-pressured high school student(s)” that elite institutions now demand.

The American Psychological Association summarized a recent survey under the headline The Crisis on Campus: “Nearly half of college students reported feelings of hopelessness while almost a third spoke of feeling “so depressed that it was difficult to function during the past twelve months.”

Excellent Sheep also reports that college counseling services are being overwhelmed. Nearly of half of students seeking help now suffer from “severe psychological problems,” triple the number two decades ago. A Stanford Provost who convened a task force on student mental health in 2006 wrote: “Increasingly we are seeing students struggling with mental health concerns ranging from depression, anxiety, eating disorders, self-mutilation behaviors, schizophrenia and suicidal behaviors.” A college president wrote: “We appear to have an epidemic of depression among young people.”

Many pathologies arise in high school among students striving to meet the admission requirements of elite colleges.  Many are overwhelmed when they get there. Many never recover. Said one student: “For many students, rising to the top means being consumed by the system.”

Why? Why is the mental, emotional, and physical health of so many of America’s elite students in apparent collapse? Why is this phenomenon so under-reported?

Professors and instructors tasked to mentor these undergraduates in college often suffer the same maladies as their students. Evidence mounts that today’s higher education system inflicts emotional, professional and financial harm, and related injustices, upon the tenured and non-tenured faculty teaching at America’s most prestigious institutions. Here, too, we find toxic levels of fear, anxiety, depression, emptiness, aimlessness and isolation, particularly among those most vulnerable: the graduate and post graduate instructors, non-tenured track professors, and younger professors seeking tenure.

When those who do the bulk of teaching and mentoring of undergraduate students experience undue stress, dysfunction, obsessive-compulsive behavior, hysteria, and depression, something is terribly wrong. The next few articles will delve into the central drivers of this dysfunction within America’s elite educational system and how they combine with cultural forces to threaten to collapse not only our elite undergraduate education but our society that depends on well educated citizens.

A Mortgage on NoVa’s Future

Dulles’ speculative bid to become a national air-cargo hub dominates the transportation, growth and economic-development agenda of Northern Virginia. Can it succeed? And if it does, will it crowd out other paths to prosperity?

air_cargoby Reed Fawell III

In 2005 the Washington Airports Task Force (WATF) hired William G. Allen, a transportation planning consultant, to conduct an assessment of surface transportation demand in and around Washington Dulles International Airport. Dulles was in the midst of a $4.1 billion capital improvement program, including construction of new air cargo facilities. Everyone knew the traffic situation in Northern Virginia was bad but WATF wanted to know how bad.

That October, Allen submitted his findings in the “Dulles Airport Access Study.” Without prompt action to stem the rising tide of traffic, he warned, the major transportation arteries around Dulles would be gripped by gridlock by 2015. Northern Virginia was “trying to squeeze a quart-and-a-half of traffic into a pint-sized road system.” By 2030, the region would be paralyzed.

The problems were complex and not readily solved. Loudoun County’s land use plans called for an estimated 29,000 new households within a 15-minute drive of the airport by 2030, while jobs would soar by 99,000 to 201,000. At Tysons, at the other end of the Dulles Toll Road, Fairfax County expected to double the number of vehicle trips generated daily to 500,000. Then there was the impact of Dulles’ own ambitious growth plan to consider. The air cargo initiative would boost large-scale industrial development west of the airport. All together, a tidal wave of growth and development would add a mind-bending 1,100,000 trips per day — including 34,000 tractor-trailers — most of it in an east-to-west direction, through and around Dulles Airport, by 2030.

Compounding the challenge of accommodating the traffic surge, the 17-square-mile airport itself posed a major barrier to county-to-county movement. Traffic originating west of Dulles would have to snake around the airport — along Route 50 on the south and Route 7 on the north, both severely congested even back in 2005 — to reach job centers on the east, and then run the same gauntlet on the return trip.

Despite the devastating numbers, which showed Northern Virginia plunging into traffic sepsis, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority and its allies have proceeded full bore ahead with their expansion plans. The McDonnell administration is pushing hard to win approval for a series of projects — the Rt. 606 segment of the so-called Dulles Loop, a set of highway improvements circumscribing the airport, and the North-South Corridor, providing access to Interstate highways — that could cost $1.5 billion to $2 billion or more to complete. (No definitive cost estimates have been made.) Yet those investments fall far short of what Dulles needs to become competitive in the air-cargo arena, according to one of the airport’s own studies commissioned in 2009.

The Dulles expansion amounts to one of the biggest economic-development gambits in modern Virginia history — if the multibillion-dollar Rail-to-Dulles METRO line is included as part of the package, nothing comes close. But a Bacon’s Rebellion analysis suggests that the bet may be a head’s-you-win, tails-I-lose proposition. If Dulles succeeds in transforming itself into a world-class air-cargo hub, the ensuing real estate development and traffic will overwhelm the road network in Loudoun and western Fairfax Counties, making the region unlivable for citizens and unattractive to other industries. If the initiative fails, Virginia will have diverted $1.5 billion from other pressing transportation needs to build highways that no one but the airport needs, and the highly leveraged airport authority could find itself financially maimed.

The truly remarkable thing is that, while bits and pieces of the plan have been presented to the public, only a handful of insiders are aware of the full scope of Dulles’ ambition and the risks it entails, not just for Dulles but the entire region. Loudoun County has part of the picture, Fairfax has part. The McDonnell administration is in a position to put the pieces of the puzzle together, but it is not clear if anyone within state government actually has. The general public around Dulles is only dimly aware that a massive industrial and truck-depot zone is part of their planned future. Other than a handful of conservationists and citizens who stand in the path of the planned highways, few are asking whether these massive road investments, or the Dulles air-cargo strategy they are designed to advance, even make sense. Read more.

Source: "Connections between Washington Dulles International Airport and Corridors of Statewide Significance in 2035."

Source: “Connections between Washington Dulles International Airport and Corridors of Statewide Significance in 2035.”

Dulles’ Grand Plan

dulles_neighborhoodHow is it that Northern Virginia, with some of the worst traffic headaches in the country, has embarked upon an economic development plan to bring thousands more trucks into the region?

by Reed Fawell III

In October 2005, the Washington Airports Task Force (WATF) got a wake-up call. Its transportation consultant reported that traffic heading east and west past Washington Dulles International Airport had begun to strangle both the airport and its neighborhood. Travel around the airport was already impaired, and gridlock soon would be overwhelming. Jobs, prosperity, education, leisure, shopping and normal daily activities were all at risk. Stated the report: “If prompt remedial action is not taken, gridlock will lead to economic decline in 10 to 15 years.”

Despite the dire warning, airport officials have embarked upon plans to triple the airport’s daily passenger traffic, triple daily truck volume and vastly expand the number of employees commuting into the airport. New strategic and development plans outline an intention to build what amounts to an entire new city in and around the airport property. “We are sitting on the crown jewel at Dulles,” Jack Potter, CEO of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) said December. “The combination of convenient global and regional access plus a healthy business environment make Dulles the land of opportunity.”

Airport officials, along with their allies in Loudoun County and Virginia state government, see Dulles as the nucleus for a massive logistical complex growing out of the airport’s air cargo business, as well as massive commercial development with no direct aviation tie-in. MWAA plans six million square feet of development in just the first phase of development on airport property, encompassing 430 acres among the 3,000 acres available — equivalent to two downtown Restons. Much of that anticipated development will feed off proximity to Dulles’ passenger service and development advantages such as the lower cost to develop and hold land exempt from various state and local taxes and land-use regulations.

Essential to the success of Dulles’ massive commercial venture is improved road access for thousands of new workers and visitors, not to mention the long- and short-haul tractor-trailer cargo trucks that will load and unload at a vastly expanded air cargo facility. The truck traffic will drive up the proposed North-South Corridor from I-95, I-66, U.S. 29 and I-8I. A critical link in that “corridor of statewide significance” is the proposed Bi-County Parkway through the Manassas Battlefield Park that has roiled so much controversy in Prince William County. The North South Corridor also is deemed critical to handle all the new auto commuters that a development boom would create.

In addition to the six million square feet of building on Dulles property, Loudoun County plans call for massive development on privately held land nearby. As reported by the Loudoun Times, Robyn Bailey, manager of business infrastructure with Loudoun County’s Department of Economic Development, said in April that land along the Rt. 606 corridor on Dulles’ western edge has the potential for 14 million square feet of high-end industrial space, while land north of the airport served by METRO and the Dulles Greenway has building potential for 23.5 million square feet of commercial and office space. Land slated for commercial and industrial development on nearby Routes 7, 28, 25 and 50 could accommodate another 38 million square feet.

Enjoying a unique central location for long- and short-haul trucks, Dulles airport officials aspire to be the major growth gateway for international air cargo into the eastern United States. Fifty-six percent of the nation’s population resides within 1,000 miles of the airport, a catchment area extending from Jacksonville, Fla., to southeastern Canada, to Chicago, Ill., Nashville, Tenn., and Birmingham, Ala. Boosters envision Dulles as the entrepot between international airlines and the trucks delivering cargo across most of the eastern United States. That’s the plan. And that’s why Dulles Airport and its friends all want this North South Corridor built.

Remarkably, this flood of traffic is being proposed for Northern Virginia despite the fact that Dulles, from an air cargo perspective, is located at the end of a cul de sac. There will be no way for trucks to exit the Dulles neighborhood except by the way they came — heading south down the North South Corridor before jumping on to Interstate 66, Interstate 95 or U.S. 29 on the way to destinations north or west — or venturing onto congested local roads.

What happens if the main routes are gridlocked, like I-66 at Manassas, one of the most congested intersections in all of Virginia? What happens if truckers or airport workers decide to go directly north to Point of Rocks and cross the river to Maryland, or head west on Route 50 to Winchester and I-81, or go east on the Dulles Toll Road into D.C. or Maryland? Will they swell the traffic load on Northern Virginia’s already overloaded roads?

How did airport officials go from a 2005 expert’s warning of an impending traffic disaster around Dulles to instituting plans that would only accelerate the automotive Armageddon? How do airport authorities propose to make all of this work? How do they expect to get away with it? How will their schemes affect the citizens of Virginia?

Upcoming articles to be posted here on Bacon’s Rebellion will try to sort these questions out.

Reed Fawell III was formerly president of a Washington, D.C., law firm and head of its commerical real department practice. He has developed commercial real estate in Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C.

Sullivan’s Risky Bet on STEM

by Reed Fawell III

Teresa Sullivan’s proposed four-year financial plan will forever alter the character and mission of the University of Virginia, undermining the financial model that has enabled the university to thrive.  If adopted by the Board of Visitors, the plan will raise student tuition to fund the conversion of the University from a teaching institution to a scientific research institution dependent on the federal government for its future financial success.

The Sullivan Plan will shift the University’s primary mission from teaching to research, with a primary focus on STEM research. Starting July 1, 2103, the University faculty will spend more of its time, talent, resources and collaboration on independent research. Their efforts will concentrate in the fields of science, technology, engineering and medicine. Thus, UVa will become Virginia Tech’s great in-state competitor. And it will vie for federal grant and contractor research dollars with the likes of Johns Hopkins, MIT and Stanford.

This shift of focus will require the university to make major expenditures in heavy infrastructure projects, including the building, purchase and operation of highly complex and sophisticated scientific labs, equipment and buildings. Large additional outlays of funds also will be spent on the training of a whole new generation of scientists, engineers, researchers and other technocrats.  Searching for, hiring, training, setting up and putting in place all these new faculty along with their new disciplines and tools will cost the University even more money. In effect, the University is getting into a new and unexplored business with which it has no experience.

The University will fund this transformation on the backs of the students. Higher tuition will be the primary source of funding to start up, build and, thereafter, enlarge and maintain the STEM concentration. In addition to hiking tuition roughly 20% over four years, she proposes to create a Strategic Investment Fund that will skim monies and borrowing power from University coffers, place that fund outside the control of the Board of Visitors, and vest power over those monies in university administrators and faculty. (For details of the Fund see the last comment to Article “More Big Tuition Hikes ahead for UVa.“)

But that is not all. President Sullivan is betting the farm on the theory that UVa can win an ever-larger share of dwindling federal research grants. This undertaking is risky, if not downright irresponsible. Let’s look at some facts:

  1. Monies available for Federal grants are in rapid decline. Given the nation’s financial crisis, the chances are that this decline will be steep and prolonged.
  2. UVa’s income from federal grants also has been in decline recently. So are its returns on fixed costs from such research. Earlier gains before these declines were largely the result of the Obama administration’s massive stimulus package whose effects are expiring.
  3. UVa to date has been a minor player in the federal grant business.
  4. The competition for federal grants, always fierce, will increase as other universities, far more experienced in seeking government-funded research, vie for pieces of the shrinking pie.

The Strategic Investment Fund, dreamed up by administrators and faculty and controlled by them as well, will deplete the monies available for other needs, putting additional pressure on student tuition and university borrowing generally. If shortfalls occur, the University will be forced to raise student tuition and/or trim other university programs. Under the Sullivan plan, the university administration will be less accountable than ever.

The Agenda behind the Attack on UVa’s Accreditation

“New Pew Research Center data show that a large majority of Americans think U.S. colleges and universities offer only fair or poor value for the financial cost – but college presidents strikingly disagree, with a majority of them thinking college offers at least a good value … I think a lot of this attitudinal divide relates to the non-market environment in which colleges operate. How do you become a successful college president? You raise lots of money, which you then use to bribe the various constituents in the university community to keep them happy.” — Richard Vedder

by Reed Fawell III

The Southern Association of Colleges and Universities (SACU) is threatening to revoke the University of Virginia’s accreditation on the grounds that the Board of Visitors improperly removed President Teresa Sullivan last year. Why does this obscure organization propose to dictate governance policy to one of the oldest and most respected universities in the country?

There are many reasons.  But the root cause is profoundly disturbing: College presidents, who control SACU, are using the accreditation agency as their Trojan horse to strip Virginia state officials and the University’s Board of Visitors of their power to run their flagship state university and to grab that power for themselves.

It’s a brazen coup.  College administrators want unlimited control of our state colleges.  To seize it, they want to overturn the power of state officials and boards, which from time immemorial have hired, supervised, and removed them. Their chosen vehicle is the SACU, which can impose the ultimate sanction. By denying accreditation, required for students to qualify for federal loans, the association can eviscerate any university’s finances.

Most frightening of all, this coup is being engineered by the small cadre of presidents who run not only SACU but many of the nation’s most dysfunctional schools.  Schools with abysmal test scores, schools where most students do not graduate.  Schools that promote rampant grade inflation to hide their failure to provide students with a decent education.  Schools that encourage non-essential courses that prop up income but delay students’ graduation. Schools that saddle students with debt to pay for the education they often failed to receive… but need to pay off that debt.

In short, these schools set kids up for failure and mortgage their future — and the nation’s future as well. It’s a corrupt system. It’s destroying our kids.

And the college presidents who built this system now want to control our institutions of higher learning lock stock and barrel.  Thus, they can avoid accountability and maintain the dismal status quo, largely at taxpayer expense, after depleting the savings of students and parents alike.

Most brazen of all, these college presidents are using the banner of accreditation, integrity and quality to pull off the heist at the university that Thomas Jefferson built!

Why target the University of Virginia?  Because the Board of Visitors launched a determined push to fix today’s broken system by finding new ways to bring affordable high quality education to more students than ever.  This poses an existential threat to those institutions now failing their students, and the nation as well.

But this assault on the University is not the presidents’ only line of attack.  The college presidents are using SACU’s mindlessly oppressive regulation to control other people’s colleges and universities as well.  Try to read SACU’s various regulatory documents.  They’re frightening in scope, detail, and intrusive power.  Note how these documents try to regulate, control and limit the power of college boards — and how few few restrictions they impose on the power and authority of college presidents.  Clearly, the objective is to to enlarge the power of of the presidents at the expense of both the board and the faculty.  Why?  It’s obvious why.  The college presidents wrote these documents, and the SACU enforces them.

The SACU also wields immense investigatory power over the faculty.  Its rules place enormous burden on the faculty to prove compliance with SACU’s dictates, even to the point of defining the proper social attitudes that will be extended to the investigators.  See the 140 page single space small font “Documenting Compliance, Handbook for Institutions Seeking Reaffirmation” pages 25-30 for insight into the coercive regime imposed on faculty.  Scholars are treated as imbeciles under this text.  And Boards of Trustees fare hardly any better.

Start your reading with SACU’s 140-page, single-spaced, small-font Resource Manual for the Principals of AccreditationIt interprets SACU’s 43-page Principles of Accreditation.

Both these documents purport to lay down “Foundations of Quality.” What they accomplish is to seize control of colleges and universities from boards of trustees, state officials and faculty and vest that control in college and university presidents.

SACU regulations inhibit innovation in areas such as distance learning without an elaborately tedious approval process that provide state college presidents  a multitude of ways to thwart change.  You can be assured they will do so if such innovation threatens their schools by offering their students a better educational alternative, as it almost surely will.

Inquisitor, Investigate Thyself

The Southern Commission on Colleges has far better subjects for its oversight activities than the University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors.

by Reed Fawell III

Despite the fracas last summer between University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors and President Teresa Sullivan, or perhaps because of it, the university has charted a bold new course, as reflected in its recently published 2012-2013 Consolidated Budget.

Budgets are rarely inspirational. This one is. Setting a new direction for the 193-year-old institution, the budget is detailed and comprehensive, even in summary. It’s also blunt, perceptive, targeted, and visionary. The university is initiating a new financial model that facilitates multi-year strategic planning, integrates University-wide functions, identifies opportunities to grow revenues and finds efficiencies to contain costs. The budget aims to strengthen faculty by increasing pay and recruiting new professors. It incorporates distance learning. If there’s a huge problem with UVa’s governance system, it’s not readily apparent.

Given the progress made at UVa since Sullivan’s reinstatement, why has the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (the “Southern Commission”) chosen this moment to investigate the integrity of the university’s Board of Visitors? Why would it mention publicly that one possible outcome of its review could be dis-accreditation — a drastic sanction that, among other repercussions, would render University students ineligible for federal loans and grants? Upon what basis does the organization claim the powers of a grand inquisitor standing in judgment of the board?

The assertiveness of the Southern Commission is all the more remarkable considering that the University consistently ranks among the top two or three most prestigious public universities in the country, far exceeding the minimal academic standards required for accreditation. Moreover, Kiplinger ranks UVa ranks number one among the nation’s public institutions for serving students in financial need. The publication uses three criteria: the cost of a degree versus its value to the student, the certainty of timely graduation, and the value of Virginia’s aid package to the student. Meeting these standards assures needy students the best-quality education at the lowest price and positions them to quickly pay off their loans.

Using these tests, the University ranks #1 nationally in graduating students on time. It’s tied with UNC for #1 aid package. It’s ranked #3 in overall value nationally among public institutions, irrespective of student need. Only UVa and UNC in Kiplinger’s ranking meet the full financial needs of enrolled students. Average annual cost for in-need students overall is only $5,138.

By nearly all measures, UVa out-performs every other public college and university, except UNC, under the Southern Commission’s purview. Yet accreditation issues are rampant among many of the Commission’s member institutions, particularly the extent of student loans and grants. College costs and student debt are soaring. Nationally, total student debt exceeds credit card debt, surpassing $1 trillion and increasing at the rate of $100 billion annually.

These cost are rising even among students graduating on time. But most don’t. Many colleges accredited by the Southern Commission graduate fewer than 25% of those who enroll. Many take six years to earn a four-year degree, dramatically increasing their cost and debt — and they’re the lucky ones. At least they get a degree. Others simply get a bill. Dropout rates are scandalous. Many students pay for years before dropping out. Of those who do manage to graduate, some discover that they have earned worthless degrees. Forty-five percent of students learn “nothing” their first two years at college, and 36% have still learned nothing after four years, according to Professors Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa who tested 2,300 students from the Class of 2009 that attended 24 accredited colleges. (See “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses.”) Read more.

Who Runs UVa?

Who runs UVa? The president? The faculty? The Board of Visitors? The General Assembly? Or the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges?

By Reed Fawell

Last month, the University of Virginia received the extraordinary news that the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges was investigating the integrity of its Board of Visitors for the manner in which it had removed President Teresa Sullivan last summer.  The Commission informed the university that it would refer its questions to two committees for scrutiny. Possible sanctions include issuing a warning, putting the university on probation, and repealing the school’s accreditation.  Thus the Commission reopened a controversy that most had considered resolved.

Where did this come from? I always reckoned that accrediting organizations worked to ensure that colleges and universities maintained threshold education standards and monitored struggling institutions to maintain those standards. But the mission of the Commission, it appears, has changed. The Decatur, Ga.-based organization, which accredits institutions through the 11 Southern states, claims powers beyond anything I had imagined.

The Commission asserts, for example, that it can compel the University of Virginia to document that it is continuously improving [its] programs and services while also living up to the Commission’s constantly evolving Policies, Principles, Standards and Requirements.

Core requirements are set out in the Commission’s 44-page, single-spaced document entitled “Principles of Accreditation: Foundation for Quality Enhancement.” These mandates, described generally as Principles of Integrity, Core Requirements, Comprehensive Standards, Federal Requirements, and Commission Policies,  are interpreted and enforced by means of some 260 documents, forms, and handbooks, which detail the Commission’s policies, guidelines, good practices, and position statements.  (See the Commission’s Index of Documents.)

For a taste of the Commission’s mandates applicable to UVa, see the 130-page single-spaced document entitled, “Handbook For Institutions Seeking Reaffirmation.” It requires, among other things, that UVa’s staff exhibit a spirit of collegiality when visited by the Commission, and that the staff maintain current knowledge and understanding of Commission policy as it permeates all aspects of the University — presumably because UVa’s Accreditation process (like that of all members) is an ongoing one.

This is quite extraordinary. Higher education is simultaneously facing an affordability crisis, driven in large part by administrative bloat, and disruptive change from the challenge of online learning. At a time that the University of Virginia needs to be leaner and nimbler, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges is encumbering it with more rules, more procedure and more administrative review on what appears to be a continual basis.  Equally disturbing, the Commission represents another powerful constituency, along with students, faculty, alumni, state government and other stakeholders, that must be placated and catered to, under possible threat of sanction.

The notion that an accrediting commission can lecture the University of Virginia, one of the most prestigious universities in the country, on how to govern itself is simply breathtaking. UVa is a public institution. While there are legitimate questions regarding the organization and conduct of the Board of Trustees, that debate should take place between the University, its stakeholders, Virginia’s political leaders and Virginia citizens – not an unelected, self-appointed overseer from Georgia, however voluntary that association purports to be.

The Commission’s reach over University policy rivals that of the State Council on Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV).  The Commission requires the University to periodically reaffirm its accreditation and submit to re-reviews when it substantially modifies or expands the nature and scope of its activities, including the delivery of its services. Changes can trigger a host of mandates.  For example, UVa must document that it meets the Commission’s Principles of Integrity, Core Requirements, Comprehensive standards, Federal Requirements, and Commission policies — including its commitment to Commission Philosophy.

Integral to this process is a mandate that UVa document its ongoing progress in improving programs and services. That effort entails identifying key emerging issues and addressing those issues by means of a Quality Improvement Plan that involves all stakeholders, establishes achievable goals, allocates adequate resources and focuses on learning outcomes, all under a system, including governance, that facilitates the student’s “total development.” All this is detailed in the 130-page, single-spaced, “Handbook For Institutions Seeking Reaffirmation.”

Not only are the Standards for Accreditation burdensome, intrusive and subjective, an air of coercion permeates the Commission’s micro-management approach to enforcing the mandates. Indeed, it’s not a stretch to view the Commission as an imperialistic entity bent upon increasing its power, imposing its values and extending its reach, even into the smallest details of the University’s governance, administration, curriculum, and teaching practices. The aim  to establish a global presence, articulated in the Commission’s strategic plan, confirms the view of an entity whose ambitions apparently know no bounds.

The imperial mindset can be seen in a staff roster that consists of all chiefs and no indians. Headquartered in Decatur, Ga., the Commission has a staff of 39 people. These include a mail/print technician and receptionist.  And a senior secretary for the president who also enjoys an executive assistant to the president.  Plus 5 Administrative Assistants, 10 vice presidents, nine directors, six coordinators, two staff assistants, a senior accountant, a personnel specialist, and a senior vice president and chief of staff.  This group claims to process some 80 reaffirmations of accreditation annually.  The Commission’s Board of Trustees, who plays a part in this process, is larger than the University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors, including 77 trustees located in 11 southern states from Virginia to Texas.

This Board of Trustees will judge UVa’s guilt or innocence, and determine its sanctions, including dis-accreditation.  These judgments will be based on the Commission’s investigation followed by the recommendation of the Board’s own 13-member executive council, and various other committees, which are occupied by the presidents of such education giants as Huston-Tillotson University, in Texas,  Samford University in Alabama,  Cleveland State Community College in Tennessee.  These 13 institutions are typical, both in size and reputation, of the vast majority of board members and its roughly 800 dues-paying members.

The Commission apparently holds within all its functions (Executive Council, staff, various committees of compliance, reports, and appeals, Board of Trustees, and Delegate Assembly) the power to investigate a charge, determine the relevant facts and law, prosecute the charge and judge UVa’s guilt and punishment, and thereafter hear appeals. But it is accountable to no one in Virginia.

Reed Fawell, a consultant, real estate developer and retired attorney, has a B.A. from the University of Virginia, Class of ’67.