The UVa mega-kerfuffle

Brian Leiter is giving us an excellent account, from a sensible academic point of view, of the UVa mess-up; see the first page here. Still, there is one point that is often noted in the coverage, but not discussed. Not only has Rector Dargas basically fired President Sullivan after less than two years, which is astonishingly quick, but, as WaPo notices:

Nearly everyone at the Charlottesville campus thought Sullivan was off to a promising start. She spent her first year in office installing an estimable team of top administrators and her second year strengthening the university’s academic model, just as she had been tasked by the board that hired her.

But at least one key player did not agree: Helen Dragas, a savvy, fiscally conservative developer from Virginia Beach appointed to the board in 2008 by then-Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) and promoted to rector of the 16-person board last summer. Her misgivings about Sullivan would pit the university’s first female rector against its first female president.

The WaPo article shows elements that could make the whole think look like a terrible muddle. But, as academic commentators stress, underneath is a hijacking of an academic structure by some of the most questionable business values. And behind that is a woman convinced another woman did not have the needed mettle. That’s despite Sullivan’s very distinguished career in academic leadership.

The fact that the whole thing appears to contain many of the tropes of a feminist critique does not mean they were really operating. But let’s just note: the first woman in a position can seem to some to lack credibility. And women are very often as much in the thrall of such doubts as men. Even a Virginia Beach developer, which actually seems crazy to me.

To their credit, many members of the campus are appalled.

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