Every year over the course of the summer, high school seniors cobble together a list of schools they plan to apply to. They consider academics and social life, location and school size, reputation and school culture, all in an attempt to find that elusive perfect fit. But recent scandals in a pair of the most storied public universities in the country — the University of Virginia (UVA) and Penn State — draw attention to another important consideration for future college students: What are the values and priorities of the administration and the trustees?
At UVA, controversy erupted after a popular president, Teresa Sullivan, was ousted by the board of trustees for not moving the school quickly enough to a hybrid model of education, one in which a greater proportion of the university’s offerings were made online. Sullivan wanted to make the changes from the bottom up, with the cooperation of students and faculty. The board wanted a quick, top-down change, in the style of a Fortune 500 corporation. In the end, Sullivan was rehired, and the board’s vision was effectively rebuffed. Indeed, donations plummeted after Sullivan’s ouster then shot up after she was rehired, which would seem to indicate supporters of the university prefer Sullivan’s approach to the board’s.