Monday, June 18, 2012

UVA: What the Hell were they Thinking?

One of my bankruptcy buds ventures that maybe he knows the motive behind the firing of University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan: she's a co-author with the notorious Elizabeth Warren, bankruptcy scholar, scourge of the mighty and Massachusetts Senate candidate.

Okay, true about the co-author part, but otherwise, the theory seems to me to border on the tinfoil hat, a bit like saying that the culprits were mad because they found out Thomas Jefferson fathered slave child. I hesitate for one reason only. That is: up to now, I haven't been able to think of any better explanation for for such a clunky, ham-handed (yet by all appearances, not remotely accidental) mishandling of the public's business.

Now my friend Michael points me to another, scarcely less conspiratorial but apparently better documented, from a blogger (one Anne-Marie Angelo) I'd not hitherto heard of:

The theory I have is that Goldman Sachs’s Education Management Corporation, a for-profit education provider, wanted to make or made a bid to offer online education through UVA. From this endeavor, EMC would invest profits back into the University, helping to heal some of the University’s fiscal woes. When Sullivan was reluctant or refused to agree to the venture, key members of the Board threatened litigation related to her performance as a fundraiser for the University.
There's a lot of detail here, some fascinating, some not so plausibly relevant. EMC (it says here, quoting) “recently took a major ownership position in a group of online universities.” A commenter at Angelo's blog point observes:
It's also worth noting that one thing that ECM lacks is a prestigious, high-profile University partner--its current partner schools are smaller and far less well known than UVa. A deal with UVa would immediately boost the company's credibility and public profile.

Angelo connects other dots, maybe interesting, maybe off the mark. I particularly liked the stuff about Peter Kiernan, the chair of the Trustees at the Darden Foundation, the Board of UVA’s Graduate Business School (since resigned)--especially the suggestion that Kiernan knew about the "project" to oust Sullivan weeks ago, while Sullivan got the word only last Friday.

Afterthought: I can see as I write that there are two intertwined issues here--one, why did they do it, and to why (in the Sam Hill) did they try to carry it off in such a bush-league manner?  This is one of the world's flagship universities we are talking about here, and somebody is trying to trade it off like they're selling a flat of marijuana seedlings behind the billboard at the Durham Road expressway ramp. 

Followup:  I'm still reading stuff about how this fight is about "cutting Classics and German"--whereas it turns out that German is doing nicely, thank you, at UVA. amd classics (or at least, Latin) is by some measures flourishing.  Observed in context, I'd say this dustup was never about German and Classics to begin with.  My guess is that the person who first leveled the charge never bothered check the numbers; s/he figured it was an argument that would sell, and would distract attention from something more urgent.

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