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September 18, 2012 - 5:52pm

What We're Reading: A discussion on Andrew Rice's 'Anatomy of a Campus Coup'

BY JENNIFER XU AND YOSSI LICHTERMAN AND ZACH BERGSON

“What We’re Reading” is a feature published every week in The Tangent, where Magazine Editor Jennifer Xu, Deputy Magazine Editor Zach Bergson and Editor in Chief Yossi Lichterman gather together to discuss a recent longform article and offer various perspectives on its issues. The Daily doesn’t just operate on a campus level, but also on a state and national level, so our hope is to stimulate some conversation on matters that concern the world outside of the University of Michigan.

This week we’re talking about Andrew Rice’s “Anatomy of a Campus Coup,” which was published in the September 11 issue of The New York Times Magazine.

Zach: What did you guys think of this whole Teresa Sullivan ordeal? Was the UVA rector Dragas motivated by outside influences (i.e. Wall Street) or do you think she was acting in the school's best interest?

Jennifer: Well, I think that's a complicated question considering that UVA is so, so old money. It's struggling to maintain this elitist stance while at the same time being this very large, public university catering (maybe?) to a more democratic clientele. I think she thought she was acting on behalf of the University as a whole, anyway.

Joseph: She definitely thought she was acting for the betterment of the University, and I think the conclusion at the end of the story is that she naively thought she could solve all these problems right away. And the thing is, universities aren't like corporations in that sense. Change takes time and things most be done incrementally because they are so big and unwieldy and there are so many fiefdoms.

Jennifer: You know, I couldn't help but feel this story was another subtle dig at Mitt Romney, how the fact that business models don't apply to human things like education and government.

Zach: Eh, I'm not so sure about that. I think one of the conclusions that could be made from this story is that you can't take a one-sided approach to issues like this. Based upon the story, it seemed like the UVA board thought that running the University like a business was the best way to solve the school's problems. They ignored the more traditional incrementalist approach that Yossi was talking about before.

Joseph: Which, the story points out, isn't necessarily true. The faculty were complaining about wanting higher salaries, but ultimately what mattered more to them was academic freedom, and the encroachment by the board made them feel like that was threatened.

Jennifer: I thought it was interesting that Terry Sullivan was portrayed as almost the opposite of how she's been portrayed in the past. Preceding this, news articles were about how much the students and faculty loved her and how inspiring of a person she was. From what I gathered in this story, she wasn't inspiring at all, not fashion forward, didn't give the greatest speeches, not a "visionary.” A very practical minded, safe kind of person.

Zach: I agree with that. Sullivan came off as more of an administrator than leader in this story. It seemed like she struggles a lot with fundraising, which, as we all know from Yossi's story last week, is a University President's main function.

Joseph: I know, I was so excited reading this. This story made a lot of the points I wanted to make (or hope I did in my story)

Jennifer: This got me thinking, could this story have similarly happened at the University of Michigan? Could this situation have happened?

Zach: I don't think it could have happened with Mary Sue at the helm. She's raked in so much cash over her tenure.

Jennifer: I've never been to UVA before but I really liked this quote: "Founded and designed by Thomas Jefferson and renowned as one of the country’s finest state institutions, the University of Virginia is better off than most of its counterparts: it fears mediocrity, not insolvency."

Joseph: Which is the same attitude as the University here has. I think there are noticeable differences between UVa and the University of Michigan though.

Zach: Michigan has a much broader 'investment portfolio' than Virginia does. Our in-state tuition is higher than UVA's and we admit way more out-of-staters.

Jennifer: The characterization of UVA was very, very elitist to me – the "Board of Visitors," the need to have Terry Sullivan dress well, the obsession with her being the first woman – which is something I think Michigan lacks. Michigan seems a little more open.

Zach: Also, we elect our regents, which I guess are the equivalent of UVA's rectors. That makes them more accountable and more stable.

Joseph: Michigan is one of only four states to elect university governing boards, which makes them more accountable to outside interests. Look at the GSRA unionization battle driven by the Dems on the Board of Regents.

Jennifer: Who elects Michigan's governing boards? The state? The students?

Joseph: At Michigan, Michigan State and Wayne State the governing boards are elected in a partisan state-wide election.

Jennifer: Haha did you vote for them, Yossi?

Joseph: yeah, I did two years ago and I will this year. I won't tell you who I voted for, but it's my right as a citizen of this state to elect them.

Jennifer: Maybe this will become a Daily story

Joseph: I think news is planning on doing something for later in the fall.

Zach: STAY TUNED. FIN.

Joseph: Wait we're done? I have so much more I want to say.

Zach: OK write one more thing.

Joseph: No, I'm done. The moment has passed.

Zach: Don't be bitter.

Joseph: I'm not. I just feel bad for the world which will never get to hear my brilliant thoughts on the future of public higher education. Their loss, not mine.