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Analysis: Students Protest At UVA, Board Meets To Consider Keeping Sullivan

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A tumultuous week at the University of Virginia is ending on yet another note of uncertainty. The campus in Charlottesville was the site of demonstrations and closed-door meetings following the forced resignation of President Teresa Sullivan. Faculty and students rallied behind Sullivan even while the school's governing board selected an interim president to succeed her. Now the school's governing board is reportedly preparing to meet again next week to discuss the possibility of keeping Sullivan at the helm after all.

But the tension at UVA highlights pressures facing universities across the country. Jack Stripling, a senior reporter for The Chronicle of Higher Education, talks to WAMU 88.5 host Matt McCleskey about the situation.

On the commonality of this type of faculty-board tension that's occurring at UVA: "It is pretty common anytime a faculty feel that a board is overstepping its reach, which typically means that the faculty think the board is moving into the academic side of the house. And in this instance when you have a president who's particularly popular, that's really the voice that faculty have within these matters. It's not a binding resolution by any stretch of the imagination."

On how online education relates to Sullivan's leave: "I think what we're seeing is that boards across the country are looking at their financial models for their institution, and questioning the sustainability of that country. They know they're going to reach a tipping point for what they can raise in tuition dollars. There's too much pressure to bring tuition down, or at least sustain it. And so they're looking for other ways to bring in revenue without increasing their cost. And there are some trustees that think that online education is that magic bullet.

On why there is a sense of urgency with the online education issue: "I think that's what's striking about this story and what we've been able to see in real time... through emails that have been released that show members of the board devouring articles from The Chronicle of Higher Education and Wall Street Journal and other publications... boards are feeling a sense of urgency because they see other institutions they want to compete with seeming urgent. And that's the one thing that's kind of come out of this... that there's not only a sense of urgency, but there's also a real sense of fear."

On how much damage this turmoil has caused UVA: "It doesn't look good. The one thing that UVA is sort of known for is competency and class, and I think in both of those areas, I think that critics of this whole debacle would say the university doesn't look like it's operating with a lot of class or competency."

Listen to the full discussion here.


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