College boards turn to business-style approaches


“No parking spot has ever cured cancer,” President Gordon Gee said, according to a report from The Lantern student newspaper, “but the money we can get from this can.”

Paul Beck, an Ohio State professor of political science who fought to scuttle the parking plan, said university boards “seem to be more in control these days and more corporate-oriented, which is the world they know best.”

Anne Neal, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, says the changes in management style reflect a need to address unprecedented shifts in the higher-education landscape.

“This is really a question of changing ways of doing business,” said Neal, whose organization supported the decision to remove Sullivan.

Some business leaders agreed.

Hedge-fund leader and U.Va. alumnus Peter Kiernan wrote in an email disclosing his advance knowledge of Sullivan’s dismissal about the need for risk-taking and proactive “strategic dynamism,” indicating that Sullivan perhaps wasn’t business-oriented enough. Another prominent U.Va. benefactor and billionaire hedge-fund manager, Paul Tudor Jones, wrote in an opinion piece that Sullivan’s ouster was a “clarion call” from the board.

“Why be good when there is outstanding to be had?” he wrote.

The traditional model has been more collaboration between faculty and top administrators, recognizing strengths that professors can bring to key decisions, said Anita Levy, senior program officer for the American Association of University Professors.

Levy says college presidents today are under more pressure to make decisions quickly and perhaps without thorough consultation with faculty and other administrators.

U.Va.’s Hedstrom notes that public universities largely are in the spot they’re in because legislators have made the political decision to defund higher education in recent years. Over the past decade, public funding for each in-state student has nearly been cut in half, according to the school. This fiscal year, U.Va. expects only about 10 percent of its operating budget from the state.

Amid pressure to keep tuition down, Virginia and other schools are increasingly relying on private fundraising and big gifts from wealthy donors, who often end up on the school’s board.

“We need more private dollars to survive and prosper but there are new problems that come along with private dollars, such as increased influence by a handful of people on the governance of a university,” U.Va. political scientist Larry Sabato said.

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