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What Would Jefferson Do?: UVA and the Crisis of Liberal Education

In a Washington Post article published on June 22, University of Virginia Professor James Ceaser took on the abrupt decision by his university’s Board of Visitors to fire President Teresa Sullivan by invoking the name of the school’s founder, Thomas Jefferson, and his vision for liberal education:

“What has been lost in the secrecy surrounding the board’s actions is any understanding of the educational issues at stake. News reports indicate that the board identified departments such as German and classics as a drain on resources, making them candidates for the chopping block. If true (so far the board has denied that it is), Jefferson would have argued against such cuts. He considered the study of Latin, Greek and Hebrew, as well as German, to be an essential component of the university’s curriculum. And he insisted on an education that ‘generates habits of application, of order, and the love of virtue.’ There are financial bottom lines, and then there are academic ones.”

What does the crisis at the University of Virginia teach us about the nature of liberal education in America today? Is the university properly subject to business principles like “strategic dynamism,” invoked by some of the regents as they sought to remove Sullivan? How do we balance financial and academic bottom lines?

Required Reading

James W. Ceaser, What would Thomas Jefferson think of the U-Va. turmoil,? The Washington Post, June 22, 2012.

Anne D. Neal, The University of Virginia — ground zero for change, The Washington Post, June 23, 2012.

William Schambra, Moderator

Hudson Senior Fellow and Director, Bradley Center for Philanthropy & Civic Renewal

David W. Breneman, Panelist

Newton and Rita Meyers Professor in Economics of Education and Public Policy, University of Virginia

James W. Ceaser, Panelist

Harry F. Byrd Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia

Michael B. Poliakoff, Panelist

Policy Director at the American Council of Trustees and Alumni

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