Howdy, friends. Since I’ve been living in the long eighteenth century for the past week or so, at least in my own head, I haven’t been consuming either print or electronic news as I usually do. But several of you have written to ask my opinions on the unexpected and untimely cashiering of the President of the University of Virginia, Teresa A. Sullivan, last week. As many of you know much better than I, Sullivan had been prez for only two years, and was the first woman chosen to lead Mr. Jefferson’s university. This morning, I read something that several of you (in person and via e-mail) had already suggested to me, namely that forces on the university’s Board of Visitors against Sullivan were peeved at her resistance to online education. (Earlier this week, other reporting suggested that Sullivan was perceived as reluctant to cut low enrollment programs such as German and Classics.)
I’m really grateful to you readers for the e-mails and the prodding on this, but since I’m actually making some research and writing progress this week on my own irrelevant and self-indulgent intellectual work, I’d like to turn the conversation over to you. Some of you who have written to me have UVA connections, so feel free to discuss the Sullivan firing and its causes and consequences. Go ahead and leave links in the comments–more than two non-embedded links will trap your comment in my SPAM filter, but I’ll try to keep an eye on the comments through the day, although I will not have time to comment. I’m really eager to see what’s going on out there, and you know this blog would be in the thick of it if I were back at the ranch.
Finally, I found it interesting that this story broke last week while I was reading Joyce Carol Oates’s new novel Mudwoman, which is about the first white woman president of Princeton University. (Oates never writes the words “Princeton,” she just calls it “the University,” but it’s pretty clear which storied, rich institution of higher education in northern New Jersey she’s writing about.) Of course, since this is after all an Oates novel, her youthful philosopher and new uni prez, M.R. Neukirchen, is a survivor of a traumatic childhood that comes back to haunt her even as she ascends to lead the University at the age of 41. This story also unfolds in 2002-2003, in the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks and during the Bush administration’s determined attempt to invade Iraq, so the politics of those times also inflect the story Oates tells as well, as Neukirchen faces not just her own demons but also an attempt by some on her Board of Trustees to remove her.
Longtime readers will probably guess how much I liked the cover of the book, and the story clearly shows that Oates clearly shares my fascination with creepy dolls and sees them as proxies for female disposibility and worthlessness, too.
In any case, I’m turning this over to the rest of you. What’s going on in Charlottesville today? What do you think?