by James A. Bacon
Eight years ago the forced resignation of University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan embroiled Virginia’s flagship university in a controversy that played out nationally. Rector Helen E. Dragas saw an “existential threat to the greatness of UVa” from demographic, financial and technological forces reshaping the higher-education landscape. The most controversial of these was the emergence of online learning. Sullivan, Dragas said, had not moved aggressively enough to incorporate online learning into UVa’s strategic planning. In the turmoil that followed, Sullivan carried the day. She was reinstated as president and remained until replaced by Jim Ryan in 2018.
But the challenge of online learning did not go away. While change has not come as rapidly as some predicted, online learning has steadily gained higher-ed market share in the years since. Following Sullivan’s philosophy of incremental change, UVa remained committed to the traditional model of classroom teaching but experimented with online learning on the margins. Then, boom, along came the COVID-19 epidemic. Suddenly, every university in the country, including UVa, was compelled to convert in-person classes to an online format.
COVID has shifted the conversation dramatically. Continue reading