Woo Wows Wahoo Alumni

Meredith Jung-En Woo

The University of Virginia faces a talent crisis, says Meredith Jung-En Woo, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences. The college expects to lose about 100 faculty members through retirement in the near future and 40 for other reasons. To meet expanding enrollment, the college needs to hire another 60, plus 30 more to improve student-faculty ratios. That compares to 540 faculty who are tenured or on tenure track.

The solution? Pursue a $130 million fund-raising campaign for “faculty excellence.” The goal, Wood told a gathering of Richmond-area alumni yesterday at the Westin Hotel, is to add $100 million to the endowment and devote $30 million for near-term expenditure.

As an example of UVa’s march to excellence, Woo cited the recent recruitment of Alan Taylor, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his work, “William Cooper’s Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic.” He turned down Harvard to join UVa, said Woo. One reason was that his archives are located in Virginia. But another is the reputation of UVa’s history department for having one of the top programs in early American history. Taylor’s presence, she said, “will make us peerless.”

Woo cited other initiatives such as renewing the writer-in-residence program, which lapsed after William Faulkner’s stay at the university. The goal is to bring on board a Nobel Prize-caliber writer. The College also plans to create an artist-in-residence program and recruit a world-class China scholar.

The diminutive, Korean-born dean found a receptive audience among the Wahoo alumni, an overwhelmingly middle-aged and elderly crowd. Judging by my conservations with fellow Hoos during the cocktail reception and the questions asked after the presentations, Richmond alumni seem very comfortable with the priorities set by the university administration, led by President Teresa Sullivan. They are eager to see UVa build its reputation as a world-class university. Nary a word was spoken about unaffordable tuition hikes or existential threats posed by online learning.


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11 responses to “Woo Wows Wahoo Alumni”

  1. I just hope that those same, comfortable alumni had wallets that looked like they were bulging out of their pockets.

  2. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    An otherwise gravely flaw General Douglas MacArthur wisely said “hit ’em where they ain’t.” He could have added “hit them with your strength where they ain’t.” Wise advice on most any field of competition or trouble.

    Some say that Liberal Arts is on wane. That it can’t help address the current problems in our rapidly changing modern world, and so Liberal Arts is surely not the future of higher education. So lets abandon the Liberal arts. Instead lets double down money and talent on the latest trends in education.

    I strongly disagree. Indeed this walking away from Liberal Arts by others is likely the very reason that UVA should do precisely the reverse. It should arm itself and hit the market with its strength across a field that others are unwisely abandoning. Liberal arts are now ripe with market opportunity. Its a place where relatively low investment in modern technologies can easily combine with UVA proven strengths to reap unusually high return.

    Why? Deconstruction and the narcissistic liberal arts offerings of the past 40 years have about run their course. Financial challenges ahead that will face all members of our society with accelerate these trends. Strong Liberal Arts of a more classical bent will fill the void of demand created by a youth and society grown suddenly serious. Why, because for the first time in generations they face serious problems. Problems that can’t be fully dealt with absent a serious education in the more classical liberal arts.

    These disciplines in the liberal arts were born out of the earth wind and fire of human experience in the world. They gave our progenitors the means to confront, survive and ultimately thrive in their hostile world. That’s why Liberal Arts itself survived and thrived through troubled times since the age of Homer. Nothing has changed. Not Really. We’re foolish to think or hope otherwise.

    So Ms Woo is on to something. She says UVA will renew its lapsed writer-in-residence program modeled after William Faulkner’s stay there. The goal is to bring on board a Nobel Prize-caliber writer. Fabulous idea!

    Give that Nobel prize winning writer in residence at UVA the tools to broadcast his wisdom teaching at UVA to world. Just like Philip Zelikow, the White Burkett Miller Prof. of History at UVA, does today. Then watch tomorrow’s creative writers clamor for UVA’s Liberal Arts education.

  3. DJRippert Avatar

    Only in Richmond would a gathering of UVA alumni asked to contribute money for UVA’s greatness fail to ask why its bulging endowment isn’t tapped to assure greatness.

    Let me see if I get this straight – UVA currently has a $5+B endowment. Spending $130M would make UVA “peerless”. But taking a tiny percentage of the existing endowment and spending it to become “peerless” is a bad idea. Better to head to Richmond with your hat in hand.

    Bacon – please, please tell me that you or somebody else asked why the $130M isn’t just taken from the $5+B already in the endowment.

    1. reed fawell III Avatar
      reed fawell III

      Good question on a bunch of fronts.

    2. Nobody asked the question. I didn’t raise a hand to ask a question because, frankly, I wanted to hear the questions from the audience. I was wondering if anyone would ask about Sullivan’s proposed tuition increase or your question about the endowment. No one did.

      I can guess at part of the response: A large portion of the endowment is tied up with specific uses — already dedicated to professorial chairs and the like. The great dream of university administrators is to be given unrestricted funds to do with as they please. Hence… Teresa Sullivan’s requested “strategic fund.”

  4. Ghost of Ted Dalton Avatar
    Ghost of Ted Dalton

    I will say this….based upon my old friends from the University, I’d dare say close to 100% are in favor of whatever it takes to climb the US News rankings. I’ve not heard a single peep about “affordable tuition” from U.Va. alums except on this blog.

  5. larryg Avatar

    I kind of like the idea of charging out the wazoo for those willing to pay and then using some of that money to subsidize those who have excellent grades but poor finances…..


    I mean… what good is a State University if it does not offer opportunity to it’s own citizens who have done well at learning in K-12?

  6. larryg Avatar

    re: ” To meet expanding enrollment, the college needs to hire another 60, plus 30 more to improve student-faculty ratios.”


    I thought there was an ongoing discussion about education and the 21st century …and needing money so BIG DATA and MOOG?

    Wouldn’t this be the time to NOT replace those departing and instead use that money to transition to a system that can boost attendance without having to boost faculty?

    The funny thing about the UVA story in this blog is the obvious self-contradictions that abound in the discussions to say nothing about how among the UVA alumni themselves – massive disagreement about the purpose and future course of the University!

    I mean if the alumni themselves don’t agree should anyone be surprised that the President of the University and Chair of the BOV disagree?

    but the funny thing is that it does not even appear that we’re getting a clear picture of what it is exactly that those two disagree on because now it appears that people are questioning Sullivans “new vision” which sounds a little like what Dragas was yammering about…

    okay guys. time for a little clarity here. how about it?

    1. The key to understanding UVa, I suspect, is that it is something like a feudal hierarchy. Queen Teresa stands at the top as the reigning monarch who possesses some power, but she has all these dukes and barons underneath her. The most powerful of these are the deans of the schools — the College of Arts & Science, the Darden School, the Law School, etc. Each of these fiefdoms has its own endowmen and capital funding campaigns. So, Sullivan sets her university-wide goals/priorities, controls her own piece of the endowment and has her own fund-raising campaigns — and so do the deans of the major schools.

      It was very confusing for me as an alumnus for a while. I’d get hit up by UVa central, donate, and then get hit up by the College of Arts & Sciences. I already donated. No, you haven’t, we’re a different group.

      So, Sullivan (or anyone else occupying her position), I would imagine, finds herself in the position of herding cats. It can’t be an easy job.

      1. reed fawell III Avatar
        reed fawell III

        Feudal hierarchy is good way of putting it.

        Here the jousting is endlessly inefficient. Reading Sullivan’s memos one gets the sense she trying to cut through all this. Yet as time passes one wonders if her methods and solutions only cause more wastage. If her passive leadership style, her impulse to “reach consensus,” and her systematized mind of the technocrat work to build mountains of meetings all of which are going no where, complicating one another.

        Perhaps this why she drives the hard charger CEO Rector Dragas nuts.

  7. larryg Avatar

    If we take Sullivan, and the “cats” and Dragas and the BOV and we discuss who is in charge of the direction the University is headed – and who has the “power” to guide – it appears to be a muddled mess but with no shortage of folks who are willing to take sides – even given the lack of clarity.

    I have yet to see (or not see) anything Sullivan has done (or not) other than what Dragas and her admirers and supporters seem to believe.

    It could well be that Sullivan is the worst thing since moldy bread but I’m not seeing it …. from this vantage point.

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