This news is almost a month old, but I hadn’t seen anyone else pick it up, so here goes… The University of Virginia will create 20 new research professorships in “Democracy and Equity” to examine “underlying causes” of the white supremacist demonstrations in Charlottesville last year.
Each of the 20 professorships will be funded by $1 million in donor commitments matched one-for-one by UVA’s Strategic Investment Fund. The Board of Visitors approved the group’s recommendation to set aside $20 million in matching funds to support faculty research and teaching around “related social, cultural and political issues.”
The professorships follow a recommendation from the Deans Working Group, created last year by UVA President Emerita Teresa A. Sullivan, stated UVa Today last month.
“We have an opportunity, unique even in higher education, to advance scholarship and education on these critical issues for our society and for our way of life – via a wave of hiring into the classroom,” said Executive Vice President and Provost Tom Katsouleas.
The professorships will be awarded on a rotating basis for two- or three-year terms. The rotating professorships are designed to ensure continuity, as the work will rely not just on one faculty member, but on many faculty members across all disciplines at the University, for many years to come, stated UVa Today.
The $40 million initiative follows an international symposium, “Universities, Slavery, Public Memory and the Built Landscape,” in March, and a “Teaching Race at UVa,” a seminar covering the founding of UVA, the history of enslaved laborers, emancipation, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights movement, and struggles for justice and equity by African Americans at UVA and in Charlottesville.
Bacon’s bottom line: The UVa Today description of how the professorships will work is not entirely clear. I interpret it to mean that a $2 million endowment ($1 million from donors, $1 million from the Strategic Investment Fund) will be established for each professorship. If I am correct in that assumption, the endowments should throw off about $60,000 to $80,000 a year, which presumably will be used to supplement the existing salaries of professors who sign up for the project.
I can understand that the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville last year, a violent demonstration that intruded upon the University of Virginia, was a traumatic event for the university community. And given the institution’s role in slavery and segregation, I have no problem with the soul-searching at UVa over the university’s racial history. These topics are worthy of some self-examination. However, it is possible to go overboard — to wallow excessively in the travails of race.
I have two concerns with this initiative. First, the focus on white supremacists constitutes a nice way to distract from far bigger issues affecting African-Americans today — the breakdown of the black family, the failure of the 50-year Great Society experiment to lift blacks from poverty, the dismal education that public schools provide poor blacks, the debacle of social-justice housing policy that peddled mortgages to poor blacks who then proceeded to lose what little wealth they had in the 2007 real estate crash, and more recently — and the direct consequence of higher-ed policies — the large-scale peddling of student loans to young blacks who subsequently drop out of college, default on their debts, and ruin their credit ratings forever. White supremacist ideology is vile, but adherents represent a tiny, marginalized, loathed and powerless group. They aren’t black peoples’ problem. Failed social policy is.
Which leads to the second point. Even at UVa, $40 million is serious money. Are these really the professorships the university wants to endow? Is this the academic expertise The University thinks will prepare UVa students for the future? I’m willing to change my assessment if presented different information, but this strikes me as institutional guilt money — designed to assuage the sensibilities of the white liberals who dominate the academic establishment.
Businessman Heywood Fralin just endowed Virginia Tech with $50 million to endow research to attract top-rated researchers to Tech’s medical research center in Roanoke. By contrast, UVa is raising money to encourage professors already employed by the university to conduct research on white supremacists. No wonder Tech, not UVa, is Virginia’s dominant research institution.There are currently no comments highlighted.