Pre-COVID, the UVa Kaffeestunde met every week. German speakers of all levels hung out to sprechen deutsch.
by James A. Bacon
Last month the University of Virginia Board of Visitors approved a recommendation to eliminate the M.A. and PhD programs in the Department of Germanic Languages & Literatures. While UVa students retained a healthy appetite for learning to read and speak in German, only a few showed an interest in plumbing the depths of German literature.
The scaling back of the German department, which offered advanced courses in such authors as Freud and Kafka last semester, was part of a larger restructuring of UVa’s graduate foreign-language program. The board also voted to eliminate the M.A. program in Italian and the B.A. in Comparative Literature.
Whether the rollbacks result in a reduction in the number of courses, staff or expenses is as yet unknown. The University is “still assessing” the impact of the cutbacks, says spokesman Brian Coy. “Because the University makes a practice of fully supporting doctoral students, we expect the termination of the PhD in German to result in some small savings, however other changes within the department have not been made.” Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
You’d think James Socas would know better. As an employee of the Blackstone Group, he invests in technology companies. He knows what it takes to run successful business enterprises. He has even served two terms on UVa’s alumni association board. But he’s willing to cut Virginia public universities plenty of slack when it comes to the way they run their enterprises.
In an op-ed he wrote for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Socas calls for greater state funding for Virginia’s public colleges and universities — with no strings attached and no calls for accountability. He should know better.
The op-ed makes some legitimate points. Higher-ed is an engine of economic growth. And the importance of higher education will only grow as the economy increasingly revolves around information technology, data science, machine learning and robotics. “Almost 50% of all employees,” he writes, “will need reskilling by 20205 as work becomes more knowledge-intensive and higher-order cognitive skills such as creativity, critical thinking and advanced problem-solving become more important.” Continue reading
Cartoon circulating among University of Virginia alumni. — JAB
Alex Hernandez, dean of the School of Continuing and Professional Studies at the University of Virginia.
by James A. Bacon
Eight years ago the forced resignation of University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan embroiled Virginia’s flagship university in a controversy that played out nationally. Rector Helen E. Dragas saw an “existential threat to the greatness of UVa” from demographic, financial and technological forces reshaping the higher-education landscape. The most controversial of these was the emergence of online learning. Sullivan, Dragas said, had not moved aggressively enough to incorporate online learning into UVa’s strategic planning. In the turmoil that followed, Sullivan carried the day. She was reinstated as president and remained until replaced by Jim Ryan in 2018.
But the challenge of online learning did not go away. While change has not come as rapidly as some predicted, online learning has steadily gained higher-ed market share in the years since. Following Sullivan’s philosophy of incremental change, UVa remained committed to the traditional model of classroom teaching but experimented with online learning on the margins. Then, boom, along came the COVID-19 epidemic. Suddenly, every university in the country, including UVa, was compelled to convert in-person classes to an online format.
COVID has shifted the conversation dramatically.
“Today every student is learning online. Every faculty member is teaching online. Every parent has an online student.” Alex Hernandez, dean of the School of Continuing and Professional Studies (SCPS), told the Board of Visitors at its December meeting a week ago. “In a post-COVID-19 world,” he asked, “can we just go back to normal?” Continue reading
by James C. Sherlock
Sometimes things come together that confirm one’s worst fears but improve hope for the future simultaneously. Such a turning point happened with me not long after UVa’s alumni magazine, Virginia (Winter Edition 2020), arrived at my house earlier this month.
The first story in the magazine was a piece written by Richard Gard (Col ’81), alumni association vice president for communications and editor of Virginia. It was titled “BOV Blesses Racial Equity Plan — More Diversity, Less Confederacy.” Catchy.
It purported to update alumni on “Audacious Future: Commitment Required,” the report of the University’s racial equity task force, and the Board of Visitors’ specifically partial and entirely unfunded endorsement of that report.
The members of that task force were:
- Kevin McDonald, Vice President for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Community Partnerships
- Ian H. Solomon, Dean of the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy
- Barbara Brown Wilson, Assistant Professor of Urban and Environmental Planning and co-founder and Faculty Director of UVA’s Equity Center
All three were smiling in the pictures that accompanied the article. Hard to say why. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
Over the past four years the University of Virginia has raised $500 million, enough to endow 350 undergraduate and graduate scholarships, President Jim Ryan informed the Board of Visitors Friday. He highlighted two programs in particular that share the goal of “fostering excellence and diversity of the student population, and ensuring their success.”
The University Achievement Awards, inaugurated during the presidency of John T. Casteen are given to Virginia students who demonstrate outstanding leadership and character while overcoming personal hardship. The Blue Ridge Scholars program, launched in 2014 with a $4 million gift from alumnus John Griffin, supports undergraduate students with exceptional academic promise and significant financial need.
The need for financial assistance has intensified over the years as UVa has aggressively increased tuition, fees, and charges for room and board. The annual cost of attendance (including books and modest personal expenses) runs around $34,000 for undergraduate Virginians and $69,000 for out-of-state students before financial aid is taken into account. Continue reading
This cartoon is circulating among University of Virginia alumni along with a link to an article in the Daily Wire, describing how participants in a student council public comment period attacked a conservative group, YAF, for videos it had posted online. Among the quotes was this from student government representative Akshita Kalavakonda: “Hate speech is not protected under the First Amendment. I repeat, hate speech is not protected under the First Amendment.” And who defines what constitutes “hate speech?” I’m guessing that in Kalavakonda’s mind, he, not YAF members, makes that call. — JAB
This cartoon is circulating among University of Virginia alumni… along with a link to an essay by Joel Gardner on the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal website, “UVA and the Dangerous Politicization of Our College Campuses.”
by James A. Bacon
Pity poor Stephen Farmer. The newly appointed vice provost for enrollment at the University of Virginia has a thankless job: fulfilling the goal of admitting more African Americans and Hispanics, even as Virginia’s flagship university has inadvertently branded itself as a racist institution.
Farmer’s appointment was highlighted in the most recent issue Virginia, the UVa alumni magazine. A UVa alumnus, Farmer was recruited from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he was vice provost for enrollment and undergraduate admissions. With a record of attracting more first-generation students and students from underrepresented minorities, Farmer has made “remarkable contributions to the shape of the class,” says Provost M. Elizabeth Magill.
Taking charge of both undergraduate admissions and student financial services, Farmer will build new strategies for attracting applicants and supporting students’ financial needs. “There’s a real logic in bringing them together,” Magill said.
He has two big challenges. First, in its recent report, “Audacious Future: Commitment Required,” UVa’s Racial Equity Task Force has articulated the goal of building a student body that “reflects the racial and economic demographics of the Commonwealth of Virginia.” Only 7.4% of the undergraduate student body is African-American, compared to about 20% of Virginia’s population. Only 7.4% is Hispanic, compared to about 10% of the state population. Asians are significantly over-represented: 17.1% of the student body compared to 5.6% of the state population. Whites are slightly under-represented. (These numbers are calculated from data published on UVa’s Diversity Dashboard, omitting foreign students and students whose race is unknown.) Continue reading
James Ryan — what has the Board of Trustees incentivized him to accomplish? We don’t know, and the University of Virginia won’t say.
by James A. Bacon
When the University of Virginia hired Jim Ryan as president in 2018, the terms of his employment were spelled out in a contract. Anyone can obtain a copy of the document under the Freedom of Information Act, as Bacon’s Rebellion has done. You can view it here.
Among other things, the six-year contract calls for paying Ryan a base salary of $750,000, provide him a $20,000-a-year car allowance, cover membership fees for two clubs, give him free housing (including the cost of housekeeping and utilities), grant him 22 vacation days a year, allow him to accrue Sabbatical leave at the rate of two months per year, and award him a performance bonus of up to $100,000 a year.
While the details of a university president’s compensation are interesting, the most important clause from a governance perspective covers the performance bonus. The contract says this about the bonus:
An evaluation of the President’s performance shall be conducted annually by the Rector after consulting with the Board of Visitors. The evaluation shall be based on the achievement of mutually agreed upon performance objectives determined by the Board of Visitors and Mr. Ryan.
by James A. Bacon
In the previous post I gave a chronological account of how a classroom joke delivered by Associate Professor Jeffrey Leopold in University of Virginia business class exploded into a full-fledged racial controversy. The post was a straightforward, just-the-facts-ma’am narrative of what happened. I made every effort to give all sides of the story and to keep my opinions out of it. With this post, I’ll say what I think.
In the scale of injustice, the Leopold incident is trivial. A professor who knocks down a salary about twice the income of the average American household suffered personal embarrassment and was relieved from solo teaching of his class. He will go back to work. His life will return to normal. He did not die with a policeman’s knee pressing down on his neck.
But the story of how the drama unfolded tells volumes about the nature of race relations at the University of Virginia and, by extension, other elite institutions of higher education. The story illustrates the ever-morphing definition of what constitutes “racism,” the narrowing scope of what is permissible to say out loud, and how those who disagree with the cultural Marxist critique of America as a irredeemably racist nation are condemned and silenced as racists.
Those things are indisputable. But I would go farther. The Leopold incident reveals the depth of animosity that many minority students, especially African Americans, bear toward UVa. The young Asian woman who posted, “FUCK UVA” on the door of her lawn residence was not an outlier. She reflected the views of many on the grounds. The intellectual climate at UVa fosters the sense of minority victimhood and grievance. Perceived slights are viewed as acts of intolerable and unforgivable bigotry. Not only have the UVa administration and faculty allowed these sentiments to emerge but they have actively fostered the bitterness and resentment.
Jeffrey Leopold, a University of Virginia assistant professor, was assigned this fall to teach “COMM 1800 — Foundations of Commerce,” a prerequisite for students entering the McIntire School of Commerce. On October 22 he lectured the class on the topic of globalism. His purpose was to explain the necessity of adopting a “global mindset,” which among other things, required appreciating cultural differences.
Leopold kicked off his lecture, as he commonly did, by telling a joke. For this particular class, he told one that played on stereotypes of peoples around the world. It went like this:
The United Nations conducted a survey worldwide. The only question asked was: “Would you please give us your honest opinion about solutions to the food shortage in the rest of the world?” The survey was a complete failure…
In Africa they did not know what “food” meant.
In China they did not know what “honest” meant.
In Europe they did not know what “shortage” meant.
Cartoon circulating among University of Virginia alumni…
by James A. Bacon
Aubrey M. Daniel III, author of two widely read letters critical of the University of Virginia administration for its handling of the controversial “F— UVA” sign posted on the door of a Lawn resident, has issued a third, which he says will be his last.
Following the advice of university counsel, Rector James B. Murray Jr. and President Jim Ryan said that any move to take down the offending sign would violate the Lawn resident’s right to free speech. Daniel responds in this letter that all signage on Lawn room should come down because all of it violates the contractual terms signed as a condition of residency.
Addressing the letter to Murray, Daniel argues that Ryan and the board have failed to preserve the Lawn in accordance with its status as a UNESCO world heritage site, that Ryan has failed his fiduciary duties to the university, and, most controversially, that the authors of the “F— UVA” sign and other detritus applied to Lawn doors are guilty of honor code violations for their failure to live up to contractual obligations, incurred when they became Lawn residents, to “enhance the general reputation and good name of the University in the eyes of the public.”
Here follows the letter: Continue reading
Circulating by email among University of Virginia alumni….