UVA and Strategic Dynamism

Just posted the following to the Writing Program Administrators listserv (archives) about the situation at UVA. I want to think more about it later.


… The folks who instigated the firing have been using the term “strategic dynamism” to describe their desire for — as you might guess — a more responsive, more efficient administration model. I think the lead instigator, Peter Kiernan, sent an accidental e-mail that included the argument that UVA needs more strategic dynamism and less strategic planning. In other words, he wants UVA to be able to respond immediately to market trends and investment opportunities rather than waste its time figuring out how best to educate its students, improve its faculty, etc.

We’re seeing the (re?)convergence of several decades-old trends: One, the decline of state funding for public higher education. Take a look at the charts in this piece fromInside Higher Ed (IHE). UVA appears to be getting 45% of its budget from patient revenues from its med school. Only 5.8% comes from the state. Who should the BoV serve when the funding stream looks like this?

Two, another push by fiscal conservatives to cut funding for programs that appear to have low immediate returns on investments: humanities, arts, social sciences. See this op-ed from Forbes. These (stale) arguments are couched in financial terms so that they appeal to broader audiences, but another purpose for them is to align university outputs with the interests of certain segments of the corporate economy. We’re seeing even bolder (but certainly not new) attempts to genetically re-engineer higher education so that it produces a stable flow of labor for these industries. Darker still, I think, this re-engineering is also an attempt to un-do most of what the open-admissions, college-for-all movements accomplished. Those movements muddied the gene line, so to speak, and put pressure on the good-ol-boy, connections-based systems that kept certain groups in power. Now, those groups can influence universities to keep bulking up particular programs. Those students who make connections get jobs. The others are labeled losers who either couldn’t cut it or who made the mistake of following their interests and majored in the humanities. It used to be that powered groups controlled who got into college. Now they control who gets out.

Three, a deeply mistaken notion that our quick-paced lives require quick actions, not slow thinking. The BoV’s move seems steeped in crisis rhetoric. The world is changing fast. We’re not changing as fast. Let’s change faster and think about it later. None of this is news to those of us on this list.

When I was just starting out in this profession, I used to blame the humanities for some of this: for the way we squandered our cultural capital in the 1980s, for how poorly we articulated our value and values, for how unconcerned we seemed about the pragmatic lives of our students. But I was so much older then …