Briefly, the facts of the case are these: Teresa Sullivan was hired by the Board two years ago and quickly won the loyalty and affection of faculty and students by winning consensus support for her visions. This included streamlining the university’s budget flows to save money, while also beginning the process of improving UVA’s research status, a goal of both the Board and faculty. Board member Helen Dragas, however, a real estate developer from Virginia Beach (which in my opinion has become the shittiest, most run-down vacation spot in the U.S., no doubt due to developers like Dragas), decided that Sullivan was not following the tenets of something called “strategic dynamism.” This is apparently a business school fad that aims and constant changing of short-term goals, shifting of resources, and other turmoil to achieve organizational ends. E-mail exchanges between her and another Board member showed that Dragas felt Sullivan wasn’t moving fast enough to adapt to what New York Times simpleton David Brooks, a Wall Street journal editorial, and a single article in the Chronicle of Higher Education said was a new academic environment:
The board never formally evaluated Sullivan's performance. But the emails obtained by the the Cavalier Daily demonstrate that Dragas worked closely with her vice rector, Mark Kington, planning Sullivan’s ouster -- while shielding their machinations from students and professors.
The rationale for the leadership change is as strange as the secrecy. Dragas and Kington appear to have built their case against Sullivan from just a few media articles that offer vague praise for the use of Internet technology in higher education, according to the emails.
Dragas displayed particular esteem for a David Brooks column in an email to Kington, in which the New York Times columnist touts the sort of online education initiatives undertaken by the for-profit University of Phoenix. "What happened to the newspaper and magazine business is about to happen to higher education: a rescrambling around the Web," Brooks wrote.
"Don't dismiss the for-profit colleges and universities, either," proclaimed John Chubb and Terry Moe in a Wall Street Journal editorial. "Institutions such as the University of Phoenix -- and it is hardly alone -- have embraced technology aggressively."
Dragas, who sent this article to Kington, included a reminder in one of the emails obtained by the Cavalier that this was, apparently, "Why we can't afford to wait."
Dragas then secretly built up majority support for Sullivan’s ouster with the rest of the Board, most of whom appear to have gotten their positions through large campaign donations. After a massive outcry by students and faculty, and ultimately under threat by the governor to fire the entire Board if the disruption was not resolved quickly, the Board Wednesday re-hired Sullivan. However, her’s is not the only case like this, and this is simply another step in what has been a long process of the commodification of education in America, in which it is possible now to simply buy the right to hire professors if you are as wealthy as, say, the Koch brothers.
The UVA Board of Visitors' explanation throughout has been filled with business-school management buzzwords. It’s clearly a business mindset being applied to a non-business institution. It doesn't even work for economics: what business schools mainly do is promote corporatization, corporate raiding, offshoring, commodification, and advertising propaganda, rather than the responsible management of society’s collective economic resources. I don’t see why anyone would think it moral, appropriate, or desirable to export business values, practices, and systems into other spheres of life; but of course the opposite has happened and capitalism has penetrated and colonized almost every other sphere of life. It imposes one outlook and one set of standards and values -- the outlook and standards and values of the merchant -- onto education, medicine, family life, religion, art, music, literature, community, morality, government -- everything, whether fitting to these other fields of human activity or not. It would be a better world if we would understand that each of these spheres of life has its own set of standards appropriate to it, independent of instrumental rationality or the profit motive.