Sunday, June 17, 2012

Here Come the Zombies: Board Fires U-Va Prez for Supporting "Classics and German"

by Meg Curtis, PhD

Americans in favor of improving education need to read the Washington Post's report on the brouhaha at U-Va. The article carries this title: "Sullivan’s unwillingness to make drastic cuts led to ouster from U-Va" and carries these bylines: By  and , Published: June 17.

The key words in this report appear at the top of page 2 in the following paragraph, which requires close reading:

"The campaign to remove Sullivan began around October, the sources said. The Dragas group coalesced around a consensus that Sullivan was moving too slowly. Besides broad philosophical differences, they had at least one specific quibble: They felt Sullivan lacked the mettle to trim or shut down programs that couldn’t sustain themselves financially, such as obscure academic departments in classics and German."

Those final three words reveal the woeful lack of vision demonstrated by Teresa Sullivan's critics: "classics and German." What educator does not grasp the crucial role these departments play in both undergraduate and graduate education?  Apparently a board seeking the mentality of a "corporate executive" (1).

In this context especially, please note the gaffe committed by President Obama when he contended that America's private sector was doing just "fine." Mitt Romney may just ride that line all the way to the White House. It has already hit the top charts for sarcastic genius.

So, it is appropriate to ask: If corporate executives are doing so incredibly well, why is the American economy in the dumpster? Perhaps those attacking Sullivan need to consider the meaning of the term "overreach." They are out of their element, and need to leave education to the experts.

In the big picture, undergraduates who do not know where Western civilization came from, do not have a chance of anticipating where it is going. If corporate executives can present a Power Point on that trend without touching on Plato, Cicero, and Freud, they are creating science fiction.

A major university must also be cognizant of students' needs when applying for graduate school, medical school, and law school.  Note: One of the most common language requirements for graduate degrees is German. Psychologists especially travel to their future on the back of Freud.

In addition, terminology in both medicine and law still occur in Latin--and nobody reads a word of this language without touching on the modern world's debt to the ancient Greeks. It seems obvious to point out that people using terms they do not understand court doom. 

So, to the board which ousted Teresa Sullivan for her defense of German and the Classics, this message needs to achieve a high importance icon in their emails: If you are sending graduates to McDonald's, just continue your current course. Otherwise, reinstate Teresa Sullivan!

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