Category Archives: Administration

Look What UVA Is Hiding

by James A. Bacon

Acting on behalf of The Jefferson Council, Walter Smith has filed a complaint in Henrico County against the University of Virginia, seeking a remedy for its refusal to supply documents under the Freedom of Information Act. Smith serves in a volunteer capacity as chair of the Council’s research committee.

The suit alleges 14 instances in which the University’s FOIA staff improperly denied emails and other documents to the Council. Smith’s FOIA requests asked for documents that would shed light on the inner workings of the University’s administrative decision-making process.

The cases highlighted in the complaint illustrate two main themes. First, UVA’s FOIA lawyers have stretched the presidential “working papers” exemption beyond its original intent of protecting the university president’s personal deliberations. Second, the lawyers did not apply privacy protections to Bert Ellis, a Board of Visitors member who was widely perceived as a threat to the university status quo.

“UVa’s FOIA process seems designed to delay and discourage and deny inquiries that may be embarrassing to the Ryan administration,” said Smith. “The administration says it’s all for open inquiry. These are matters of legitimate interest to the public. It seems hypocritical to hide so much.” Continue reading

What Does UVA Need in a University President?

by James A. Bacon

For anyone following governance issues at the University of Virginia, Bill Ackman’s Twitter broadside against Harvard’s now dethroned president Claudine Gay and its governing board is must reading. Ackman, the hedge-fund manager-turned-activist who spearheaded Gay’s overthrow, identifies serious systemic problems at Harvard, from its ponderous DEI bureaucracy to a tuition policy that prices out the middle class.

Every one of the pathologies he describes at Harvard plays out at UVA (although, one can argue, in diluted form). Little of this is new to readers of the Jefferson Council blog, for we have been documenting the problems for two years now. But Ackman raises one point that we have not considered: What qualifications should a governing board look for in a university president?

The question might seem academic, but UVa President Jim Ryan is surely feeling nervous these days. As dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education before ascending to his position at UVA, he is a product of the same hyper-progressive Harvard culture as Gay. And Liz Magill, the University of Pennsylvania president who was sacked after her abysmal testimony before Congress, was Ryan’s hand-picked provost for UVa before she moved on to the Ivy League. Ryan is less politically tone deaf, to be sure, he is popular among UVA students and faculty, and he has said all the right things regarding free speech and institutional neutrality. No one in authority has publicly called for his resignation. Even the Jefferson Council, as critical as it has been of UVA under Ryan’s tenure, has taken no position on whether he should stay or go.

Nevertheless, it is worth asking the question, in light of the presidential defenestrations at Harvard and Penn, what should an elite university look for in a president? Continue reading

Wait, What? An Operating Deficit at McIntire?

For policy nerds fascinated by the University of Virginia as an ongoing business enterprise, there was all sorts of interesting financial information in the Auditor of Public Accounts’ presentation Thursday to the Board of Visitors. Fiscal Year 2023 revenues for the combined health system and academic division closed out at $4.3 billion. Revenue from student tuition and fees was $690 million, philanthropic gifts amounted to $232 million, and investments (mostly from the endowment) generated another $190 million.

Oh, and then there was this note tucked away in the prepared Board materials but mentioned only in passing during the meeting: The McIntire School of Business — a business school where they teach things like, oh, I don’t know, like accounting — has been operating at a deficit.

Here’s how the Auditor of Public Accounts summarized the concerns raised in its audit of UVa finances (my bold): Continue reading

The Incomplete Case for Higher Tuition at UVa

by James A. Bacon

As the Board of Visitors ponders how much to raise tuition & fees in the next two academic years, the University of Virginia is grappling with strong inflationary pressures and a long-term shortfall in state aid, senior university administrators said Wednesday.

Even so, administrators told the Board’s Finance Committee, UVa offers a great “value proposition” compared to other Top 50 universities. Its in-state tuition is lower than that of top private universities, and its four-year graduation rate is the highest of any public university in the country.

The Finance Committee meeting yesterday marked the beginning of a two-month decision-making process. The purpose of the initial meeting, said Committee Chair Robert M. Blue, was to provide “context” for the discussion. A November hearing will allow students and others to express their views about college costs. The Board is scheduled to adopt a new tuition structure in December. 

Although university officials did not say explicitly that a tuition increase is justified, the “context” presented was geared to supporting such a conclusion. Board members offered no pushback during the one-and-a-half-hour session, asking only a few questions for purposes of clarification. They did not drill into the data proffered by administrators, nor, despite assurances that UVa was working assiduously to achieve efficiencies and reduce redundancies, did they ask for specifics. No one addressed faculty productivity, administrative overhead, or other drivers of university costs. Continue reading

Woke Bloat at Virginia’s Universities


by James A. Bacon

Step aside California! Public universities in Virginia have built larger diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) bureaucracies than taxpayer-funded universities in any other state, concludes a new backgrounder by The Heritage Foundation. The DEI bureaucracy at the University of Virginia includes 94 employees listed on its website, says the report. Virginia Tech has 83 DEI personnel, while George Mason University has 69.

Expressed as a ratio of DEI bureaucrats to tenure-track faculty members, GMU earned the top spot as DEI top-heavy, with a ratio 0f 7.4 to 100. UVa was close behind with 6.5, while Tech was 5.6. In comparison, uber-woke Cal Berkeley has a 6.1 per 100 ratio.

(I’ll have to stop making quips about UVa being the Berkeley of the East Coast. From now on I’ll describe Berkeley as the UVa of the West Coast.) Continue reading

UVa’s Ever-Expanding Bureaucracy: Student Advising Edition

by James A. Bacon

University of Virginia old-timers (like myself) remember what it was like to find help in picking courses and deciding majors. We’d latch ourselves onto a professor who took an interest in us, and he or she would walk us through the process. It did require some initiative on our part to reach out, but then, we were accustomed to taking matters into our own hands. I was fortunate. My advisor, history professor Joseph C. Miller, was not only a charismatic teacher and a leading scholar in his field, but he regarded the care and tending of students — even lowly undergraduates like me — as part of his vocation.

That’s not the way it works anymore. Faculty members are still expected to play a role in advising students, but it is a much diminished one. At UVa, responsibility for dispensing advice has been bureaucratized.

At the UVa Board of Visitors meeting Wednesday, the Ryan administration highlighted what it is doing to improve student advising. The dominant themes of the session were (1) the student experience is lacking for many, and (2) the answer is hiring more advisors and investing in the latest, greatest technology.

The picture that emerged is that UVa has numerous fragmented initiatives at the school and college level but no coherent university-wide vision. Practices vary widely. The cost of programs was not discussed. No cost-benefit analysis has been conducted. With no clear objectives beyond “we want to be the best,” there are no logical limits to an endless expansion of programs.

It was evident from the presentations that some very earnest, well-meaning people have been working on the issue for a considerable time, but the Board heard no analysis of how the perceived problem came to be, nor did anyone suggest that the answer might be returning responsibility for advising students to the professors. Blasted with a firehose of information, Board members were given little time to formulate questions.

One obvious question, never posed, is how much it costs to advise students. The inflation-adjusted cost of “student services,” of which student advising is a significant component, increased 22.4% between 2012 and 2022. To what degree does expansion of advising programs contribute to the ever-rising cost of running the university — costs that must in turn be covered by higher tuition? Continue reading

How Many UVa Students Feel Sense of “Belonging”?

by James A. Bacon

As the University of Virginia Board of Visitors grapples with contentious issues such as equity, inclusion and racial preferences, it could benefit by knowing how well the policies of the Ryan administration have succeeded or failed in making UVa a more welcoming place for students across “every possible dimension” of diversity, to use President Jim Ryan’s words.

The administration possesses considerable data to answer the question. During the final year of the Sullivan administration, 2018, the university conducted a comprehensive, in-depth “campus climate” survey. Since then, the university has participated in biennial surveys conducted under the auspices of the Student Experience in the Research University (SERU) consortium, which, th0ugh less comprehensive than the 2018 effort and fraught with discontinuities in the questions asked, does contain useful information.

The university’s office of Institutional Research & Analysis posted results for 2022 for public viewing in August. The graphic below summarizes student responses to the statement, “I feel I belong at university.”

Three of five (60%) students agreed or strongly agreed with the sentiment that they belonged at UVa. Seventeen percent expressed various degrees of disagreement. 

Is that a good finding or a bad finding? It depends on context. Continue reading

UVa Spending on Staff Surges, Spending on Students Trails

Inflation-adjusted percentage increase of UVa E&G expenditures (in millions of dollars) compared to those of all 15 Virginia public four-year higher-ed institutions.

by James A. Bacon

Always alert for opportunities to arm the University of Virginia Board of Visitors members with statistics they don’t see in their board presentations, the Jefferson Council presents the table above, compiled from data published by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV).

The takeaway: UVa boosted overall E&G (educational & general) spending faster than Virginia’s other public four-year colleges and universities between fiscal 2011-12 and fiscal 2021-22, but UVa funds were more likely to flow to faculty and staff and less likely to go to student instruction, student services, or research support.

E&G expenditures represent spending on an institution’s core educational mission. Under SCHEV’s accounting methodology, E&G strips out spending on athletics, dormitories, food service, and auxiliary enterprises. The Council’s data portal adjusts for inflation over the 10 years displayed above, so these figures reflect real spending, not funny money.

SCHEV breaks down E&G expenditures by seven broad categories so the public can get a clearer idea of where the money is going. The data is consistent with the interpretation advanced by the Jefferson Council in previous posts that UVa has experienced excessive growth in administrative overhead. Continue reading

Student Vets Win Back Their Space

Military memorobilia at the Veterans Center. Photo credit: WVIR-TV

by James A. Bacon

The Student Veterans of America (SVA) at the University of Virginia notched up a small win Friday when Student Affairs officials reversed a decision to expropriate some of the Veterans Center space at Newcomb Hall. But the veterans’ battle for recognition and respect at UVa is far from over.

What they need most, student veterans say, is for Student Affairs to designate someone with specialized knowledge of the G.I. Bill and other veterans issues to help them through UVa’s bureaucratic maze.

Veterans comprise a tiny fraction of the undergraduate student body at UVa. SVA leadership estimates there are only 60 veterans among the 17,000 undergraduates. That count may not have identified every undergraduate veteran, but Tomas De Oliveira, president of the club, says it represents most.

“It’s a chicken-or-egg problem. There aren’t enough vets to justify a significant commitment of UVa resources,” De Oliveira says. But the lack of support makes it difficult to recruit veterans cycling out of the military. UVa vets have friends. Word gets out. “Why would I recommend UVa?” Continue reading

Correction

by James A. Bacon

In two recent stories about administrative bloat and faculty bloat at the University of Virginia, I published inaccurate information. I stated that annualized full-time-equivalent student enrollment between fiscal 2012 and fiscal 2022 increased 1.1%. The correct figure was 8.8%. The result of the error was to exaggerate the degree to which the increase in salaried staff and teaching faculty outpaced the increase in student enrollment.

However, the larger point of the articles stands: The increase in staff and faculty exceeded that of enrollment by a wide margin. The headcount of salaried staff increased 25.4% over the same period and the headcount of tenure-track faculty, instructors, and lecturers increased 25.7%.

I regret the error and moved to correct it as soon as it came to my attention.