The article “Reimagining UVA” in the Spring 2013 issue began with the observation that Thomas Jefferson “created a model for secular public higher education that has become the envy of the world”, and ended with unresolved questions about the type of “imagination and courage” it will take to “re-launch UVA on the eve of its bicentennial in 2019.” Is UVA still the “envy of the world”? Will it be tomorrow or in ten years? Is the “public” aspect still important? What do recent developments suggest?
UVA was born from the fundamental belief that outstanding, accessible public education benefits society as a whole. For many, many years, the University has worked hard to be both outstanding and accessible.
In 2012, the Board of Visitors received reports indicating problems with core student competency in key areas. The BOV also noticed that UVA was falling behind peer institutions in basic technologies such as online learning programs. This prompted a stepped-up effort to develop a strategic plan to enable the University to deliver academic excellence in a rapidly changing technological world. That effort should be applauded, but the strategic plan has yet to be delivered.
In the meantime, the BOV and President Teresa Sullivan recently announced that the Access-UVA financial assistance program is undergoing significant changes that will have a profound and immediate negative impact on the ability of the poorest potential students to enroll.
So while much has been written and said about matters of faculty pay, communication procedures, academic performance, and – - of course – - last year’s drama between the BOV and President Sullivan, an entirely regressive reform to save money was rammed through with a truncated cost/benefit analysis and very little public debate. Is this UVA’s first step in the “re-launch”? Is this “reimagining”?
Former Rector Helen Dragas, one of two BOV members who voted against the change to Access-UVA, expressed concerns because it will undoubtedly make the burden of attending too great for the poorest potential students, in contravention of Thomas Jefferson’s vision for a great public institution.
It was a mistake to enact the Access-UVA change isolated from the anticipated strategic plan that is in development. Instead, the University needs to devise, announce and implement a comprehensive, forward-thinking strategic plan that will ensure both academic excellence and the widest possible public access. Anything less threatens the long term health of our beloved institution and the public it serves.
Very truly yours,
Kevin E. Martingayle ’91