It’s become cliché at UVa to say “I’ve never been prouder of UVa then I am now.” But I’ll say it. And I’ll say I’ve never had more fun on the lawn then playingTwisted Sister with my colleagues, friends, children and students. I mean, seriously, Twisted Sister and Thomas Jefferson in the same epistemological space. Ok Dragon lady you may need to handle your so called “philosophical differences” by firing someone and summarily going around any process of civility and governance. But here’s to a few grad students namely Emily Gale (melodica) and Chris Peck (piccolo) who managed to take philosophical divide, historical difference, and everything else and make music with a message. “We’re not gonna take it….” The group featured everything from a kick ass trumpet section (thanks John and Emily) and a quite literally puny melody section of ten and under on violin and flute. It’s true that the puny melody instruments were essentially inaudible, but it’s all about the effect. And yes, the Good Old Song was lovely too… (Well it was lovely except for the part where the five year old was hanging on me “whews’s MY INSTWAMENT!!!!! BECCA TOOK my INSTWAMENT. I’m in THIS BAND) I’m pretty sure that I heard Mr. Thomas Jefferson himself, Peter Onuf, call TJ the philosopher of LOVE which means that “stop in the name of love” was also fabulously appropriate.
I’ll take Twisted Sister and Donna Summers over TJ any day—can we please put that genie back in the box? TJ said and did some great things. I personally love the fact that he said books are capital. Take that Board of Visitors…. He made his University largely to educate citizens for the business of citizenship a privilege many of us who were on the lawn yesterday would not have had. Remember that to him African Americans didn’t even qualify as people much less citizens. Even with this TJ cycnicism, one of my favorite moments at yesterday’s rally on the lawn was my colleague and friend, the above mentioned Peter Onuf, saying that as far as he knows he’s the only one around here authorized to speak for Thomas Jefferson and that what TJ would be saying is “This is what I envisioned for my academical villiage.” And who knew that Professor Onuf was such a rabble rouser?
I was really glad to see Susan Fraiman speaking, not just because what she said was to my mind characteristically spot on and brilliantly articulated. But because we need to hear from women, and we need to see women on the front lines. Gender is by no means the central issue at play here, but it’s a part of it. Sure the BOV could have fired a man and sure Dragon Lady is a woman. But it would have been a hell of a lot harder to do this to a man. Here’s a teachable moment young women, women can be sexist and misogynist too. It’s escaped no one’s noticed that the so called issues with Preisdent Sullivan’s leadership come in part from the idea that she moves by consensus building and by consulting. These are supposedly feminine leadership qualities. And in my personal experience of being in two meetings with President Sullivan she really did seem to listen, take things in, and think about it. Remember she’s a scholar and a thinker.
But the gender issues are also far more visceral than leadership traits. I’m not alone in saying that at some level Terri Sullivan may not look like a University of Virginia President to the BOV. At a roundtable with Tim Kaine a few women not affiliated with UVa said “she looks like a mother….” And like so much about this whole ousting, this visceral issue is fully in keeping with UVa’s culture. I’ve never been at an institution with less respect for women. It is extremely hard to be taken seriously here. I have some friends and colleagues whom I think of as patriarchal arm candy. That means I need their tall white man selves to get stuff done around here. I am regularly completely disregarded and ignored. I was rejected from a University committee because I was supposedly not senior enough but the replacement was male and junior to me; that means seniority implies certain anatomical structures. If Terry Sullivan doesn’t look like a University of Virginia President. I don’t look like a University of Virginia Professor. And we look super different, which makes me wonder what kind of woman looks like they belong in power here. I’m hoping for better by the time my kids get to college.
The final thoughts I had about the rally is that this is much bigger than UVa and liberal arts education. I’d fight tooth and nail for both of those things; I’m after all in a department that’s so obscure it doesn’t even rate as obscure. But I care even more about the philosophical belief in the right to public education for every kid. And that’s under attack. I spend a lot of time working in the community to expose underserved kids to UVa so that they think of college as a place where they belong. That means we cannot lose sight of the fact that Access UVa may matter more than any of the rest of it. If a few rich and powerful people can torpedo an institution like UVa, think of what they can to do less prestigious public universities or public schools serving predominantly children living in poverty. No matter what happens on Tuesday, we the UVa community have an opportunity to be heard on a local and national level. Let’s make sure that we remember we’re not just fighting for our own institution now. I’m pretty sure that no matter what happens tomorrow I’ll still have a job and my privileged children will still get a good college education. I’m much more depressed about what may happen to the kids I take on Arts field trips.