One story getting attention is the departure of University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan after only two years on the job.
It’s not surprising that this news would hold interest for many in the Washington, D.C., region, given the prestige of Thomas Jefferson’s university. But if initial reports are true, this story has deeper implications for universities and colleges across the country.
Reportedly, Sullivan was pushed out because she and the university’s trustees disagree over how to confront the challenges facing not only Virginia but many institutions of higher education: declining state aid, an aging tenured faculty, a bad economy and how to adapt its value proposition in a digital age.
While our nation has had a debate recently about how students will afford to pay for college, we have yet to have a broad-based discussion on what students are getting for their money. Interestingly, one of the areas of disagreement that led to Sullivan’s ouster was over whether U-Va. should move into a more digitally oriented curriculum.
We live in an age where most information is free – or about to be – and where it is almost universally accessible. Every course taught at MIT, for example, is available free, online, to anyone. Many of us, of course, would need several classes in how to understand an MIT course before we could benefit from this offering.
Universities are not going away, and sitting alone with Google as your instructor is no substitute for the complex social and intellectual transactions that take place in college. But universities are facing the same revolution that transformed the music and newspaper businesses – indeed, all of the content businesses, of which they are a part.
This will take awhile to shake out, but in the meantime prepare for more shake-ups.Carter Eskew was the chief strategist for the Gore 2000 presidential campaign. He wrote this for The Washington Post.