UVa, UMW, and What are we to Do?

Yesterday’s abrupt announcement about Teresa Sullivan’s departure from UVa left me wondering more than ever about what’s going to happen to public higher education.  Dr. Sullivan was well-liked, enrollments increased, and the reputation of the institution remains intact. Still, she failed to meet fundraising goals. In addition, current board members seem eager to move into the online learning space, now that Harvard, M.I.T. and Stanford seem to have made it respectable.

Regardless of how we feel about the UVA Board’s decision, it is indicative of the level of anxiety I think many of us feel in the current environment of public higher education. It would seem that institutions with the mission to encourage the growth of the imaginative spirit seem to meet ideas for innovative programs with a persistent lack of resources. In short, we all seem to have enough to keep going, but not to grow.

The bottom line appears to be that, whatever Thomas Jefferson may have envisioned as quality education for all, “The State” is distancing itself from the business of higher education; private funds will increasingly fill the gaps, eventually dwarfing what public funds can provide. At UVa, that is already the case.

In the short term, it’s painful and exciting both to watch and live through these times, when existing ideas are being dismantled. My question is, is there an upside to this re-creation of how public higher ed is funded? What is your vision of public higher education in 10 years if traditional funding sources continue to dry up? UVa aside, does UMW have the fortitude to make the transition and not lose our soul in the process? Is it wise to approach online education simply from a fiscal and “keeping up with the Joneses” perspective? Finally, and perhaps most painfully, how many of our long-loved “darlings” are we willing to sacrifice on the way to an affordable education for our children?

I have no preconceptions, but change seems inevitable. What do you think?