The Deeper Problem With Ousting of UVA President Teresa Sullivan

Former UVA President Teresa Sullivan didn't think the university should be run like a business, and paid the price with her job.

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Jefferson's Rotunda at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

It's tough to condone vandalism, but one can't help but feel a bit of satisfaction at the temporary defamation of the historic Rotunda at the University of Virginia.

"G-R-E-E-D," the vandal spray-painted in a message that was then speedily painted over.

It's a message that the board of the university should hear, even if the mode of communication was inappropriate. The board, with no public discussion or even an official series of meetings, decided to oust the school's popular president, Teresa Sullivan, who had been in the job only two years. An interim president was named early Tuesday morning.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the budget and deficit.]

The reasons for Sullivan's ouster were never made clear, but then, the board never bothered to have an open dialogue about it. Philosophical differences, Sullivan's detractors on the board summed it up. Sullivan was more direct, saying the board wanted her to make "deep, top-down cuts" that would imperil the very mission of the university itself. She said, "A university that does not teach the full range of arts and sciences will no longer be a university.” She added,  “Certainly it will no longer be respected as such by its former peers.

Sullivan underscored the word "former," according to the Washington Post, which has done a stellar job of reporting the story.

[Read the U.S. News Debate: Is a College Degree Still Worth It?]

Sullivan's ouster—widely and vociferously protested by faculty and students alike—is indicative of a deeper and disturbing trend—the idea that educational institutions should be run according to corporate and business principles. No doubt, universities are a business, and must adhere to budget limitations. But the basic mission of a corporation is to make money for its shareholders. A university is meant to educate people—yes, even people who might run private corporations someday. If an institution of higher education were to conduct itself according to corporate principles, it would only accept students who can pay the entire cost of tuition with no help from the school or government aid. It would give "A"s to those who brought the most money into the school—perhaps by being a great athlete who attracted ticket-payers to the field—instead of to those who performed well academically. It would pay more to professors whose graduates went into higher-paying fields, instead of those who taught liberal arts or music.

The university board may get its financial comeuppance yet, as big-time donors are already talking about withdrawing their financial support. It would be a shame if finances alone led the board to do the right thing. But someone needs to remind them why the university is there.

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