Their voices deserve the same attention.
Nearly a year ago, you defended the board’s actions and said: “In my view, we did the right thing, the wrong way.” Do you believe that sentiment today? Why?
We did the right thing in that we pushed for needed planning and change. We did it the wrong way by not understanding that when you do so at a high-profile, public institution, you have to communicate with the public. A lot. That seems clear in hindsight, but it was a lesson I learned the hard way.
This experience highlights the tension that Board members feel between our roles as university boosters and promoters, and need to communicate publicly about problems that don’t necessarily show the University in the best light. We should have communicated more openly, and much earlier, about the faults and concerns we had.
However, for those who thought that business as usual was acceptable, I suggest three things:
First, calculate our tuition increases over the last decade. Compare them to real family income growth in Virginia.
Second, read the Art & Science full assessment. It’s fairly unflattering. Prospective students say we’re “elitist” and unwelcoming; we’re lagging our peers in research funding and philanthropy.
Third, research our students’ performance on a recent state proficiency test. Only 8 percent of our fourth-year College of Arts and Sciences students tested “highly competent” in writing while 61 percent tested “competent”. We underperformed drastically in what should be our greatest strength — communications skills.
Change was needed, even if it wasn’t welcomed, and I didn’t drive it as well as I should have. The biggest point is that, working with the president, we’ve made real progress since, and we’re on track to continue.
In the past year, you have been publicly attacked, criticized, satirized and questioned. Hundreds called for your resignation. When you took the stage at commencement this year, a few boos came from the audience. Did you ever consider stepping down from the board? Did the criticism ever shake your convictions on the issue? How have you responded to your critics?
Naturally, I thought about the trade-offs I was making. I’m a mother, wife and business owner who is here as a volunteer. But I was appointed to represent the Commonwealth and I believe that keeping public universities affordable — and public — is an issue that deserves unwavering commitment.
My father, who ran our business before me, was a big influence. As a child, he survived war and famine. He taught me a lot about resilience, endurance and sticking it out through tough times. And in those dark moments when I doubted, I’d keep coming back to the idea that boards of governance should govern and should not relinquish an insistence on keeping a public university a public asset.
And, lots of people have been very supportive and encouraging as well. They want U-Va. to be both excellent and affordable. They just don’t organize themselves to sign petitions or send e-mails to the Governor.