What Would T.J. Do? He’d Make the Tough Choices.

by James A. Bacon

Finally, hints of clarity out of Charlottesville. Digging into the departure of University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan, Karin Kapsidelis with the Times-Dispatch has uncovered at least one concrete instance of the “difference in philosophy” that drove the Board of Visitors to seek Sullivan’s resignation. Money quote from David Leblang, chair of the department of politics:

[Sullivan] made it clear that the board wanted her to lop off, for lack of better word, parts of the institution that were under performing. Her point of view was that you don’t get rid of a department like classics, for example, just because it doesn’t produce enough graduates. There are parts of a university that need to be part of a university regardless of how many graduates they have.

That’s really a remarkable statement. Think about it: “There are parts of a university that need to be part of a university regardless of how many graduates they have.” Costs and tuition going through the roof… students borrowing themselves into indentured servitude… an online revolution looming that can beam in classics courses from top professors around the country… new disciplines emerging that the university wants to fund… And Ms. Sullivan sees no justification for shrinking or eliminating under-performing departments!

Leblang mentioned UVa’s classics department, so let’s take a look.  The program has 11 faculty members and nine “affiliated faculty,” and it draws upon professors from other departments. The department claims 25 graduate students, according to the department’s website, and at any given time “over 50” undergraduate students are majoring in the classics.

Could the department be run with greater productivity? Of the 11 full-time faculty members, three taught no classes in the Fall of 2011. Perhaps they were on sabbatical, I don’t know. But that strikes me as a pretty high ratio. Of those who did teach classes, three professors taught only one. And all of the rest taught two. Add it all up, and 11 professors were teaching 15 classes. (The course guide did have three Latin language classes “to be assigned,” presumably if there was sufficient enrollment to justify them.) However you count the numbers, that’s a remarkably low level of productivity.

Now, we all know how it’s “publish or perish” in the academic world, so it’s possible that UVa’s Greek and Latin scholars are busy writing academic articles and books. While I personally love reading in classical history — Hannibal and the Punic wars, awesome; 1st century Palestine and the historical Jesus, beyond awesome — I question whether there is the same social value created by research into the classics as there is, say, in nano-technology, cancer treatment and other fields that UVa would like to pursue.

It would not strike me as unreasonable, for instance, to ask UVa professors to shoulder a larger teaching load. Indeed, I would go so far as to suggest that it would be no calamity to do what many other universities do, and go without a classics department entirely. UVa would not, as my alarmist lefty counterpart Peter Galuszka suggests, have to “eliminate Plato and Aristotle because they don’t contribute to some kind of STEM corporate broadsheet.” But it might have to eliminate courses like “Latin Elegiac Poetry of Tibullus, Propertius, and Ovid.” Faculty members teaching essential subjects could be reassigned to the history, religion or philosophy departments. Others could enter early retirement or, like stiffs in the private sector, seek employment elsewhere.

Such restructuring would not be a heartless “corporate” exercise. The university’s current Six-Year Plan states the need to “audit programs for productivity and viability in line with [State Council for Higher Education in Virginia] and U.Va. standards.” For the most part, that part of the plan seems to have gone ignored. Let’s see the results of those audits. Do they even exist? If so, perhaps they should be published.

The alternative to restructuring is to live in a fairy tale world where resources are unlimited. Peter G. appears to find it offensive that a $2.5 billion institution like UVa would be forced to make hard choices. (See the previous post.) He deems it a monstrosity that in order to dedicate more funds to, say, nanotechnology faculty, the university might have to reduce its commitment to a different discipline. People who think like Peter G. have been running the country for too long, and that’s why it’s going broke.

That said, it is incumbent upon the Board of Visitors to make its priorities crystal clear. The board cannot negotiate the resignation of a popular president for reasons that go unexplained. What are the board’s priorities? What would the board like to see in the university’s strategic plan? Do we really have to wait until the board selects the next president for its vision of UVa’s future to be revealed? At this critical juncture, wouldn’t it be appropriate for the board to define its philosophy and accept feedback from the taxpayers, students, faculty and other stakeholders? The BoV appears to be doing the right thing but going about it in the wrong way.

Update from today’s Washington Post reporting: Rector Helen E. Dragas illuminated her differences with Sullivan:

We have calls internally for resolution of tough financial issues that require hard decisions on resource allocation,” [Dragas] said. She alluded to stagnant faculty pay and looming retirements and portrayed them as “truly an existential threat to the greatness of UVA.

This sheds a very different light on the BoV’s concerns. Stagnant pay and looming retirements constitute the existential threat, not emerging models of delivering education.

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  1. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    You are obviously twisting my tail for a response so here goes:

    BACON NEEDS A TRUTH SQUAD. First, he launches into a supposition that Sullivan was against online learning and cites the “revolution” pushed in t e area by MIT and Harvard. The Washington Post reports today that Sullivan was deeply concerned about the diminishing quality of UVA’s courses and actually proposed MORE online instruction for students taking introductory courses. As my previous response shows, MIT and Harvard’s program is interesting but hardly revolutionary. You take their course for a modest fee and get a little certificate that you completed it if you did. You get ABSOLUTELY NO CREDIT for a degree anywhere. Harvard and MIT kids can’t get any credit at all for the online courses.

    DON”T LET BACON DECIDE CURRICULUM. Why should he choose what is relevant or not? Why must every intellectual pursuit have a cost-benefit ratio assessed? If you did so, in say, art, the only courses taught would be ones in which money could be made. We’d end up with graphic comic books and no masterworks. They sell better. More in keeping with the Libertarian free market ideal.

    WHAT”S WRONG WITH A CLASSROOM? Sitting in class listening and discussing has worked for centuries. Putting everyone into their home basements and emailing or twittering if not the same thing. It ruins the college experience.

    GOOZEVIEW’S BOTTOM LINE: Listen to Jim Bacon for entertainment purposes. Otherwise, run his stuff through Google to see what floats.

    1. jlanderson Avatar

      Thank you, Peter.

  2. larryg Avatar

    who makes the budget decisions ? what’s the process for establishing budget priorities?

    Whether one likes it or not – JB put quite a bit of light on the financials which I feel, DID advance the discussion.

    What is the correct amount of money that UVA should be spending on providing classics education?

    is there a top number?

    what is the spending on Classics now compared to 10 years ago?

    is Classics a random target of opportunity or has it become more of a financial burden because of it’s own increasing costs?

  3. Wrong on every count!

    I never supposed that Sullivan was “against online learning.” I supposed that the philosophy regarding online learning was one of the differences separating Sullivan and the BoV. What those differences were, I could not fathom from the limited information available.

    Bacon has no desire to decide the curriculum. My only point is that *someone* has to make hard choices regarding the curriculum. I wouldn’t presume to tell UVa what priorities to set. I use the example of the Classics Department to show the kinds of questions that need to be asked and the kind of choices that need to be made.

    There’s nothing wrong with a classroom. I’ve never suggested otherwise. The question is, how do you integrate online learning with the traditional residential-campus setting, if at all. The question is fundamental. Virginia Tech has made progress, as I’ve blogged about previously. I’ve seen no indication that UVa has.

  4. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    What about MIT and Harvard’s revolution? I mean I can get a certificate for diving at my favorite Bahamian resort. I have a bathroom full. You can get a certificate there for breathing!

  5. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka


    “Costs and tuition going through the roof… students borrowing themselves into indentured servitude… an online revolution looming that can beam in classics courses from top professors around the country… new disciplines emerging that the university wants to fund… And Ms. Sullivan sees no justification for shrinking or eliminating under-performing departments!”

    U.Va.’s in state tuition and fees are $11.5K. Out of state $36.5. Increase instate of $948.

    Harvard tuition and fees $37K

    Washington & Lee $42.4K

    Tufts $43 K (My alma mater)

    So, how can U.Va’s in state tuition be “going through the roof.” Sounds like a bargain compared to private schools.

    Remember Bacon, whenever you make such overwrought statements NOT based on fact, the TRUTH SQUAD will be watching!

  6. The TRUTH SQUAD needs watching!!

    First, that passage you quoted was describing the challenge to higher education generally, and I have made it clear that UVa is less culpable than the average institution of waste, extravagance and exploitation.

    However, that being said, there is a big difference between the *gross* price of attending a university and the *net* price — as Mark Kington explained at a recent BoV meeting. Harvard, W&L and probably Tufts have large endowments they use to provide scholarships that will bring the cost of attendance way down. UVa has relatively meager resources for scholarships, therefore its tuition is not heavily discounted. Out-of-state students pay as much as they would for top private schools (unless their parents are richer than God). The tuition is still a pretty good deal for in-state students.

    If universities are heavily discounting their tuitions, how can I say that tuitions are out of control? Because, it’s not just gross tuitions that are increasing — it’s net tuitions. Even when you adjust for the scholarships, tuitions are fast outpacing inflation.


    1. DJRippert Avatar

      The TRUTH SQUAD is still watching you, Jim Bacon!

      “Harvard, W&L and probably Tufts have large endowments they use to provide scholarships that will bring the cost of attendance way down. UVa has relatively meager resources for scholarships…”.

      Actual endowments:

      Harvard: $32B
      W&L: $1.218B
      Tufts: $1.45B

      UVA: $5.24B

      1. Give me the numbers on a per-student and you might have some meaningful figures.

        1. DJRippert Avatar

          UVA has 14,591 undergraduates enrolled. That’s $359,125.48 per undergraduate, I believe. At 5%, the interest on that amount would be $17,956.27 per undergraduate student per year.

          There are approximately 10,126 in-state undergraduate students enrolled at UVA. That’s $517,479.76 per in-state undergraduate student in the endowment. At 5%, the interest on the endowment would generate $25,873.99 per in-state undergraduate student per year.

          Meager resources indeed.

          1. You’re still not telling me anything useful regarding the original topic of this thread. First, I recall reading that 70% of those funds are restricted in how they can be used. In other words, they can’t be used for scholarships. Second, how does that compare to W&L, Tufts and Harvard?

            I’m not sure how we ended in this place. I’ve argued before that UVa should use more of his massive endowment to keep tuitions lower. That’s what you’re suggesting, too. Why are we disagreeing? You just like to take an argumentative tone about everything I write, picking up on minor points and ignoring the big picture. The affordability crisis is the big-picture story, and it’s one that I’ve hammered on relentlessly for years now.

  7. larryg Avatar

    until we see a bill of particulars from the BOV about their concerns, we’re probably imagining boogeymen…

    I’m still troubled by what was apparently mostly a “private discussion” between some members of the BOV and the President about issues that are far bigger than either one or both of them and deserve a far wider-scope discussion.

    I’m more concerned about “process” here than the priorities at this point because there is no real way to address priorities with the dysfunctional process currently in place.

    looks to me that they had a retreat to address budget and vision, …. powerpoints were presented…words and ideas exchanged…and shortly after a Saturday night massacre then everyone else were “informed”.

    this is how Va is largely governed…whether it be the UVA BOV or the MWAA or the CTB.

  8. “UVa has relatively meager resources for scholarships”


    The “truth” is plain as day….UVA has an endowment of over $5 billion…..so the “lop off” argument is complete B.S., IMO. As a taxpayer in VA, trying to convince me UVa can’t afford something is almost insulting.

    Face it, she pissed somebody off and got fired.


  9. larryg Avatar

    ” Face it, she pissed somebody off and got fired.”

    sometimes the truth is so simple… we don’t see it until someone like RBV mentions it.

    I’m thinking something more than mere powerpoints regaled the BOV at their retreat….. or perhaps this is a truly perverse example of “death by powerpoint”, eh?

  10. Since when can three members of a board demand (and receive) a resignation at a private meeting?

    No matter what the issues or differences of philosophy, that is a stupid way to run any enterprise. No matter if all freshmen are now required to take mandatory online courses in nanotechnology, no matter if Sophocles is required coursework for all medical Ph.D.’s, no matter if the budget is balanced or not–it doesn’t matter. The next president will not have the necessary independence to do anything whatsoever worth doing. I’d say if the trouble is money and vision, then the way to save money is to NOT replace a president (nice sum saved, there) and simply run everything by fiat from the little committee that apparently could. Of course, then they would have to take responsibility for their decisions, rather than blaming an executive they didn’t like.

    BTW–Mr. B., don’t believe for a moment that endowments are used for scholarships at private institutions. They are, for a few, but hardly for very many students and never for living expenses (which are where the real bulk of costs get run up–trust me, my 100% scholarship didn’t go very far at all). If you’re applying from SWVA, you better have a daddy with a name, because otherwise you ain’t getting that scholarship. (Of course, if you do have a daddy with a name, you’ll get the scholarship although you might not have needed it.)

    1. DJRippert Avatar


      Exactly. And why is it acceptable for the state’s governor to declare that he “will not intervene” in a dispute that was caused by 3 of 16 board members firing the respected leader of a state university in an illegal meeting called on a Sunday morning?

      Where is the accountability of our governor and state legislature in this matter?

      Where are the statements from those who would be governor – Cuccinelli, Bolling, McAuliffe (maybe)?

      This is a typical Virginia disaster – a small number of unelected and unaccountable (although well connected) insiders make a bizarre decision regarding public assets while our elected representatives stand on the sidelines slack jawed and glassy eyed.

  11. larryg Avatar

    I’m with Ken. Basically it sounds like the “three” had different ideas about how UVA should be run. You don’t fire someone because of philosophical differences of “vision” because neither the President nor the BOV, much less the “three” are going to be the sole arbiters of what the “vision” should be much less implement it via the budget.

    I still like would like to know who actually approves the budget – which in turn, decides how much money to allocate (or not) to things like “classics”.

    No amount of to and fro on “vision” is going to have much effect if it is not connected in some way to ongoing budget priorities and decisions.

    How you implement a “vision” starts with the priorities resourced in the budget (and those things not resourced or cut/streamlined/slimmed down, choose your own nomenclature.

    the “three” on the BOV apparently saw the President as a real or symbolic obstacle to budget priorities. The “vision” thing sounds like a proxy for budget priorities but I still cannot image that the President alone calls the shots on budget.

  12. jlanderson Avatar


    In several of your posts about the Sullivan, you’ve mentioned that the higher education model is “broken” and needs to be rethought.

    I would posit to you that the model of public higher education as envisioned 200 years ago by Thomas Jefferson IS STILL VIABLE.

    What is broken is the promise by the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia to support this fundamental institution … and I’m not just referring to UVa but higher ed in general.

    The Assembly refuses to support key infrastructure needs, transportation, local public schools, local governments. All because the Republican Party in Virginia refuses to budge from its “No New Taxes” pledge.

    How about asking Del. Lacey Putney, who proposed a referendum on raising the state sales tax, or Sen. Tommy Norment, who proposed indexing the gas tax to inflation to pay for transportation work what they think of the Assembly’s oversight of the longterm needs of the commonwealth? I bet you’d be surprised at their responses.

    And before you accuse me of being a wild-eyed, tax-and-spend liberal, I’ve voted for more Republicans than Democrats in my 33 years of voting. I’ve voted for every Republican who ran for president, but I’ve become disgusted and sickened by the intransigence of the Republican Party when it comes to actually governing.

    1. DJRippert Avatar


      Bravo! I have been saying the same things for years.

      In my opinion, the General Assembly (as a whole) is an absolute, complete and total disaster. Our one consecutive term only governor has no lasting power. The entire state government is a fiasco.

      Here’s my favorite sentence from the article cited by Jim Bacon:

      “McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin said the governor will not intervene in the dispute.”.

      Intervene in the dispute? The useless governor won’t even describe what the dispute is over.

      McDonnell’s own appointed BoV member – Mark Kington – was one of the three Star Chamber members who became Terry Sullivan’s judge, jury and executioner.

      Presumably, Mr. Kington agrees with Ms Dragas that the University faces an “existential crisis”.

      Yet, our utterly worthless state government can’t describe what the “existential crisis” involves, won’t demand and explanation from the BoV members they appoint and confirm and won’t “intervene in the dispute”.

      Dear Lord, the Imperial Clown Show in Richmond is hopeless!

  13. DJRippert Avatar

    Hey Jimbo:

    I remember you raging against the opacity of the MWAA. You spent oceans of electronic ink and burned thousands of kilovolts powering your stream of anti-MWAA posts.

    When I asked you about the same opacity on the UVA Board of Visitors you hid behind Virginia’s lame FOIA laws claiming that made the UVA BoV transparent. You seem to have forgotten that repeated requests for Michael Mann’s work under Va FOIA were denied by UVA while the same FOIA requests by Greenpeace for the work of another UVA climatologist were quickly fulfilled. Nice process on which to hang your good government hat there Jim.

    Now we find that the three person UVA BoV execution squad (representing a whopping 19% of the BoV) held their so-called emergency meeting illegally …


    What now, Baconator? Is this sufficient cause for McDonnell to remove the three? Or is your attempt to hide the misdeeds of the Imperial Clown Show in Richmond and their BoV minions behind the apron strings of a useless set of transparency laws just a ruse?

    Are open government laws something that should be enforced or are they only an intellectual crutch to justify the corrupt behavior of your pals in Richmond and their campaign contribution fueled overseers of UVA?

    What penalty should the Three Amigos of the BoV pay for violating Virginia’s open government rules?

    1. Gosh, Don, I guess I don’t get up as early in the morning as you do (2:51 a.m.) to read the morning paper. I haven’t seen this latest information. If it is as you describe, it casts a very poor light on the BoV, and I’ll have something to say about it.

      1. DJRippert Avatar

        Actually, Jim – it appears that BaconsRebellion operates in an alternate universe where space, time (and occasionally logic) are warped.

        Today is June 15. It is 6:51 am EDT. Your last post was from 10:38 am on June 15. I know you always claimed to be able to see the future. I just didn’t know you lived there.

        Given your ability to exist in the future – please put more useful information in you comments. Information people can really use. For example, how is the market doing today? Any stocks doing particularly poorly or well?

        1. Take a look at the time stamp on the post I was responding to. Looks like you’re the one who engages in time travel. I’m jealous!

          … Er, I just looked at the time stamp on my own post. Looks like it’s four hours out of whack. I’ll have to see if I can fix that.

          1. DJRippert Avatar

            Buy Exxon. I am operating four hours in the future. Just trust me.

  14. Richard Avatar

    This blog has spent quite a few lines over the last year discussing the failings (philosophical, management, and even moral) of government, public employees, educational institutions, the welfare state, and liberals generally. The fiasco at UVA shows I think that all of these failings belong to the business, legal, financial, and political elite as well, in spades. Look at the Board of Visitors and particularly the Executive Committee as described in the Washington Post:

    “Dragas called an emergency meeting of the board’s executive committee for Sunday afternoon to accept Sullivan’s resignation and authorize the rector to negotiate a severance package. But according to the sources, she called the meeting knowing that at least two members thought to favor Sullivan could not attend. Only three board members are needed for a quorum, university spokeswoman Carol Wood said. Dragas, Kington and a third member, real estate developer Hunter Craig, attended the meeting.

    Caputo, an advisory director at Morgan Stanley who lives in Greenwich, Conn., had a fractured hip and was unable to travel. George Martin, managing partner at a prominent Richmond law firm, McGuire Woods, was in South Africa. Another board member, Marvin Gilliam, whose family owns a coal company in southwest Virginia, also did not attend.”

    So the 3 actors on Sunday on the Executive Committee were 2 real estate developers (Dragas and Craig) and a venture capitalist (Kington). The members of the Executive Committee who did not attend were a Richmond lawyer (in South Africa), an advisory director at Morgan Stanley (probably rich, old and compliant), and a coal company owner.

    Isn’t this is a typical Board for our elite business and financial institutions?
    Is the way these other institutions are run? [It probably is.] These are people who make their money from finance, from political connections, or from working for the foregoing. Is it any wonder that they blew up the economy in 2006-2008, and now they want to do it again! (Alright maybe I’m a bit off track.)

    I get so tired of the ____ from these people who use their connections and other people’s money to get rich, and then use their money to move up into positions of responsibility like the BOV of UVA. This is no way to run a University.

    This is a big problem with the country. We’ve given power to the wrong people, and they’ll do anything to keep it.

    1. DJRippert Avatar


      Your points are well taken. At least Bacon’s Rebellion has a policy of encouraging people with different political viewpoints to participate. Nobody could confuse Jim B for a liberal or Peter G for a right winger. Virtually all of the other blogs focused on Virginia politics are either clearly right wing or clearly left wing. The commentary on those blogs often veers to the bizarre as one poster tries to “out fanatic” the next.

      I second Jim’s comments about using BaconsRebellion as a venue for expressing your opinions about the Commonwealth of Virginia or whatever else is being discussed.

  15. I’m not defending how Dragas and Kington handled the Sullivan resignation. I need to catch up on the details. If events transpired as you describe, it does make the firing, to use Peter’s word, look like a “putsch.”

    As to your broader point about how unfair it is that rich people end up running the boards of American universities. That’s kind of the way the world works. Rich people translate money into power, and then they (often) translate power into more money. Tell me a country where it doesn’t work that way.

    Or, more to the point, tell me how to make it better here in Virginia. What criteria would you use for appointing board members? You’re a UVa alumnus. Maybe you can start a reform movement. I’d invite you to use Bacon’s Rebellion as a platform for disseminiating your views.

  16. larryg Avatar

    better way to operate:

    1. recharter BOV to require permanent seats for specific stakeholders like students, faculty, alumni, business community, etc – i.e. the people who are directly affected by the BOV decisions to include taxpayers.

    2. all candidates for the job must fully disclose their finances with a statement of economic interest just as all other elected officials in Va have to do.

    3. the right of stakeholders to initiate recall ( a high bar… 60% signatures) anytime they feel the BOV has gotten off course on their performance.

    right now the BOV and most other boards of this type in Va operate with impunity with respect to their decisions.

    Here’s an example from Falls Church on the NoVa water fight:

    ” In addition to pursuing merger talks, Falls Church officials said they are also considering creating an independent water authority that would be immune to the county’s ordinance.”


    this is the way that much of Va operates -outside the purview of citizens and stakeholders…

    they just create an authority or board that is unelected and unaccountable and do what they want no matter what.

    We do not want boards where every controversial decision would result in recall … but currently, we have no real way to rein in a board that is on a systematically wrong track because they know they cannot be affected .

    These folks are operating as if they have the power of a judge but their role is depicted as a kind of representative governance …but who and what they represent is whatever they wish it to be and accountability for the decisions is just not there.

  17. larryg Avatar

    well there is a certain amount of nattering and niggling going on here with what are really ancillary issues such as tuition costs, alumni money, etc.

    the core issue IMO is how this board operates.

    And Creigh Deeds puts his finger on it. There are prospective candidates for the job (assuming their decision sticks) but those candidates if they have half a brain are going to recognize what a loose cannon the BOV is and how it can interfere in areas it was never really tasked to do.

    Without the age of internet – this would have been more of a tempest in a teapot …. in terms of the scope of those who became aware of the issue with most of RoVa and NoVa fairly clueless of the goings-on.

    That’s become a “complication” for these unelected boards who used to be able to easily operate under the radar of most everyone not directly involved.

    I’m further troubled by the admission and resignation of a person in the Darden School who participated or was privy to discussions to fire the President and this same person is said to be a possible rival for the post.

    that’s bad. It looks bad and it smells bad despite the assertion that the backroom scheming to dismiss was a “class act” done with “respect”.

    don’t be drinking you coffee when you read that account.

  18. saunders Avatar

    Here are two points that I do not believe anyone has yet made:

    1. Any major academic institution should have certain departments. Literature, mathematics, and, yes, classics should be part of the program. You need to connect to the past as well as look towards the future. That does not mean that you cannot cut the number of faculty or classes if they are under performing. Or even combine them with another department. But what Dr. Sullivan said is correct.

    2. It is falling on the sword time. We need to see a couple of resignations from the BOV so that the University can move on. If the remaining board members still feel that Dr. Sullivan should resign they can explain to everyone why that is so and then look for a new president. But a University is not a corporation. It is like a cross between a corporation and a country. Once you have lost the trust of the citizens, running the place is going to be impossible. Just get out of the way and let someone else do it.

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