Last week, the University of Virginia's Board of Governors forced its President Teresa Sullivan to leave after only two years on the job. Thousands of students and alumni have mobilized in response. One University Professor submitted a letter of resignation in response. I know UVa alumni and faculty, and the folks I know are pissed. And they should be. It appears as if President Sullivan was fired largely because select members of the Board wanted the university to be more corporate like–and wanted President Sullivan to institute changes she felt would be harmful to the university's reputation, much less to its faculty, staff, and student body. More specifically they wanted Sullivan to cut the funding of academic departments that weren't carrying their financial weight, they wanted her to make a more aggressive move towards e-learning, and they wanted her to be more aggressive in getting star faculty from other schools.
In response to real changes in endowments, and also to changes in the way people think about institutions, universities have become much more entrepreneurial. And they have begun to think of themselves as corporations as opposed to universities. To the extent that Sullivan attempted to stave this move off, she should be commended. She is, to my knowledge, one of the only high level administrators to not only fight this move, but to be fired for it.
But there's another layer that no one's talking about.
The neoliberalization of the University doesn't just affect faculty. The move begins much lower…with the way that workers are treated.
Months ago, members of the group Living Wage at UVa waged a hunger strike. They weren't fighting for themselves. Rather they were fighting for the right of UVa workers–the ones that clean the dorms, that serve and cook the food, that clean and help manage the buildings–to get a living wage. It took President Sullivan days to meet with them. The hunger strike–which led to some concessions from the UVa administration–didn't get anywhere near the attention that Sullivan's firing did. It's unfortunate because on its face it seems like a classic case of "then they came for me". It's very difficult to render the story of what happens to workers on campuses like UVa in ways that resonate with a wider community of potential supporters.