Governor McDonnell has reappointed Helen Dragas to the Board of Visitors at UVA.
This shows that if you muck things up sufficiently, you will be rewarded. The Peter Principle has been verified.
Dragas' claim to fame is that she engineered a coup (with questionable due process) against a sitting president who had committed no malfeasance. The president's only non-action was to not jump to adopt Dragas' goofy scheme to turn UVA into a University of Phoenix satellite campus. For a slightly opposing view, see Jim Bacon.
I am amazed at the resilience of Teresa Sullivan, UVA's re-anointed president, who claims she can work with Dragas. That's very much like Ceasar saying he can work with Brutus. That's a lot of forgiveness, but can there be trust?
Politically, the reappointment of Dragas lets Senate-candidate Democrat Tim Kaine off the hook, since he initially appointed Dragas and might have taken heat from Senate-candidate Republican George Allen.
Through this reappointment McDonnell signals to his conservative base that he isn't kowtowing to those damn whiny professors, who are all liberals anyway and who he thinks must stand in the way of market-driven reforms in academia. It also signals his support toward business interests, who largely run the board.
I once felt very strongly that many research universities were wasteful because so many resources go into producing research that may have little value to society. I still feel somewhat that way. Do we really need state-supported PhD programs that rank in the bottom 100? Let's get rid of weak researchers and hire faculty for their teaching abilities.
My views today are somewhat different. Not all researchers are good teachers, and research often does take away from teaching. But being a good teacher means being actively engaged in one's profession that is rapidly evolving. There is no way to do that without attending conferences and reading journals. And even better is going head-to-head by submitting your own papers for publication and critical review. All of that is a huge time commitment.
The rising cost of higher education is typically not the result of lazy faculty. Administrative programs pop up like mushrooms in the forest. Part of this is the bureaucracy assembled to ensure accountability and assessment needed for accreditation—killing forests for paper and taking up huge amounts of faculty time.
The most egregious aspect of rising higher education expenses is the very aspect that conservatives extoll—the market! Yes, in a market-driven world, schools compete for the best students by building fancy recreation centers, elaborate dining halls, and so on. That's the consumer asking for amenities, and universities obliging. Just as it nearly impossible today to buy a plain-vanilla Dodge Dart, early 1960s-style (photo), that gets you from point A to B without fuss or style, it is nearly impossible to find an accredited university without the bells and whistles.
Before you complain, remember that this has been market-driven. The reason schools raised tuition rapidly after the 1990s is because demand rose. Prices rise when consumers signal a greater willingness to buy. That's what happened over the last 20 years with a demographic surge of high school seniors combined with growing real income and assets. Otherwise intelligent people seem baffled by the rising tuition, acting as if it resulted from a grand conspiracy of faculty members. It's just the market!
That bubble is now bursting, and many universities are retrenching. But will business-driven boards get rid of the consumer luxuries and amenities or begin disassembling the liberal arts, one discipline at a time?