Updating yesterday’s post that used the firing of Teresa Sullivan, president of the University of Virginia, as a jumping off point for thinking about why we think rich people know how to do everything, the Post gets to the bottom of why Sullivan was canned.
Besides broad philosophical differences, they had at least one specific quibble: They felt Sullivan lacked the mettle to trim or shut down programs that couldn’t sustain themselves financially, such as obscure academic departments in classics and German.
This at the university founded by Thomas Jefferson. I’m sure he never supported the study of classics!
For the all incredible damage they’ve done to the world, one thing we can count on from billionaires is for them to overreach, sucked in by their own hubris and self-importance. And that’s what happened here, to the point that the damage control may be too great for Sullivan not to come back. Although perhaps I’m being optimistic. But at least we are having conversations about the incredibly problematic ways universities are run today.
Again, what do real estate developers, hedge-fund billionaires, and business partners of governors know about higher education? Almost nothing. Probably not more than the average student with a master’s or law degree. But because they are successful capitalists, our society lauds them as having the answer to all our problems. And if there aren’t real problems, the capitalist appointees will make something up in order to pursue their ideological agenda of running our universities in the same manner as their businesses–which have plunged the nation into a 5-year stagnation and left our national standard of living essentially unchanged for two decades while creating levels of income inequality not seen in 90 years. That’s not even to mention the fact that colleges and universities are some of our biggest union-busters, whether it is outsourcing any work that can be privatized, using violence against students protesting for economic justice, destroying tenure-track labor, and slicing apart collective bargaining agreements.
Another point worth making here is the problems with governor appointed Boards of Trustees for public university systems. Because these often operate as prestige positions for big fundraisers, governors, whether Democratic or Republican, name their friends in the business community to them. These positions may seem symbolic, and often were in the past. But they can have a tremendous amount of power over the university systems. Ironically, at the same time as state legislatures are deinvesting in higher education, the Boards of Trustees are using their power with ever-greater authority to force through changes rich business people want to see. Like getting rid of any major that doesn’t directly lead to employment within the capitalist system and in fact might lead students to question society–Classics, German, Philosophy, etc. It’s only a matter of time until they come after History.