The University of Virginia is trying to figure out what it means to be a public university at a time when state money makes up a small percentage of the overall budget and state lawmakers wield control. This week the university released a preliminary report from a strategy planning working group that recommended U-Va. cut many of its ties to the state
and operate more like a private university.
At the heart of this debate is a question of which “public” the university serves. Is it the taxpayers of Virginia or the nation as a whole? This has been debated at length by many, often in private.
Paul Tudor Jones, a billionaire hedge funder who is one of the university’s biggest donors, summed it up this way in April: “What is the mission statement of the University of Virginia?”
Jones said that he sees two potential paths for the university. In one, U-Va. “delivers the best education it can at the most effective, lowest cost it can to predominantly the best scholars in the state of Virginia.” In the other, U-Va. becomes “the best academic and research institution in the country.”
U-Va. stakeholders, which include the General Assembly and governor, need to realize that public universities now compete with private universities that charge higher tuition rates and have “incredible war chests” of cash.
“They’re now out-competing us — certainly out-competing the University of Virginia,” Jones said, naming Vanderbilt University as an example.
“We have to come together, and we have to figure out: Which of these two models are we going to be?” Jones said. “That’s something that needs to be, certainly, brought front and center, debated throughout this campus, through all the alumni, with the faculty, in this legislature. And then together we have to find some kind of consensus and answer that question.”
A spokesman for Jones declined to comment on Wednesday.
Jones’s comments came during a symposium in late April sponsored in part by the U-Va. McIntire School of Commerce, which is led by Dean Carl P. Zeithaml, who also chaired the working group that produced the preliminary report. The symposium audience was told that it couldn’t repeat anything heard during the event, but the university made a video recording and The Washington Post obtained a copy through a public information request.