Wednesday, June 20, 2012

More from the UVa Debacle: Going Out in Style

At least one prominent full professor at UVa, Bill Wulf, has already resigned in protest over the way that the Board of Visitors has handled the firing of Teresa Sullivan and the installation of an interim president after an 11-hr (!) closed-door meeting on Monday. Here's the flava from Wulf's resignation letter:

"By this email I am submitting my resignation, effective immediately. I do not wish to be associated with an institution being as badly run as the current UVa. A BOV that so poorly understands UVa, and academic culture more generally, is going to make a lot more dumb decisions, so the University is headed for disaster, and I don't want to be any part of that. And, frankly, I think you should be ashamed to be party to this debacle!"

The man is plain-spoken. I like his style. I bet his departure will be a loss to UVa, and I hope the school doesn't have to suffer too many more losses like this before the BoV come to their senses (or, better, are replaced). 


  1. Good for him! Of course, given his field and his reputation, he has options (and who knows whether he actually wanted to stay in Charlottesville -- my cynical side says that this could be a dramatic way of advertising that he's on the market). But hey, whatever his combination of motives, he's exactly the sort of person who *can* take a stand without undue fear of personal disaster, and whose departure will send a message, so I'm all for it.

    I must say, I'm finding myself strangely obsessed with the UVA mess. It's not as if there haven't been plenty of terrible higher ed stories lately, from Wisconsin, California, and elsewhere. But something about this is hitting close to home. Of course it's still not entirely clear what was going on behind the scenes, which makes the whole thing something of a Rohrschach test for one's own anxieties. For me, I think, it's seeing someone with both a very practical grasp of budgeting *and* a strong commitment to liberal education, including the humanities, defeated by buzzword-spouting business-school types who, among other things, seem to think that online education will both boost the school's reputation *and* somehow make education cheap. It ain't gonna happen, but I'm all too aware that my own online classes, after an initial period where we were free to experiment, are increasingly being pushed toward standardization and an information-delivery-focused model (rather than the much more student-inquiry-and-interaction-centered one I had evolved, and which works well, but is harder to assess and otherwise quantify, because the course does build organically). I'm also keenly aware that I have a job because I teach a labor-intensive required course, and that, at some point, my university may decide to eliminate or radically change that class, exercise the "flexibility" my NTT multi-year contract provides, and eliminate my job.

  2. If this is the direction higher ed is going, I'll be another full prof leaving too. I'd much rather be at an independent high school.

    1. And I more than occasionally find myself wishing I were better-suited to independent-school teaching. It's a wonderful environment, but not one that's well-suited to an introvert; much as I appreciate the education I received at the all-girls high school I attended, I realize in retrospect just how utterly exhausting I found the very long, very activity-filled, days as a student, and how badly I would deal as a teacher with that pace, or with either students deprived of sufficient parental attention, or over-involved parents (both common groups in such environments). If anything, I want to write more and teach less. I don't have any illusions that that option is going to be available to any but a very few people in the academy, however. So what should I do instead? I'm not sure, but I'm thinking about it, actively.

  3. More on Wulf here, and full text of letter here. While he does have options (and apparently was in the process of retiring, or at least transitioning to a greater focus on non-UVA activities), he also has longstanding ties to UVA, and is giving up a very substantial salary -- so, yes, a principled stand.

  4. Too bad his wife or lawyer didn't proofread his letter before he submitted it.

    Imagine Muhammad Ali writing, "I bee tha greatest boxer of all time."

    OK, yes, you're truly wonderful, but....


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.