UVa’s Sullivan on MOOCs

uva11University of Virginia’s president, Dr. Teresa Sullivan, spoke in Hampton Roads Wednesday on the issue of leadership. I was there.

It wasn’t leadership that I wanted to ask Sullivan about, so I held my tongue during the Q&A. But her mention of the need for leaders to understand budgets and budgeting did raise a question on that topic in my mind, one closely connected to one of the reasons for her ouster last year.  After the event, I got a chance to pose my question to her: what, exactly, is the business model for MOOCs?

It is a topic I’ve been researching, maybe for a column down the road. But I thought maybe I was missing something. After all, it seems everyone is jumping on the bandwagon, including UVa.

Her answer? “There isn’t one.”

So why embrace it? Sullivan said that it gives her faculty an opportunity to learn to deliver course content in a new way. And it opens up the traditional class time for doing other activities, since the students can watch the lectures online. So more hybrid courses? Yes, Sullivan told me.

As goes UVa, so goes other Virginia higher ed institutions. Just wait and see.

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4 thoughts on “UVa’s Sullivan on MOOCs

  1. Sadly she is underperforming for UVA. The “business model” for higher ed has changed and our premier university has not kept up with the times let alone stayed out in front. The school is long overdue for a new president with the vision, backbone and bonafides to put it back in front of the pack.. UVA should be a top 20.. It aint even a top 50 now.. Study the revolution that took Stanford to the top of the food chain.. There is no reason Virginia does not have aU in the top 20..

    1. I think it’s important to compare likes to likes. Private universities have advantages that public insdtitutions lack. In the U.S. News & World Reports survey, U.Va. indeed is ranked 24th among national universities. It also ranks second among public institutions–behind Berkeley (21) and tied with UCLA. It is ahead of Michigan (29), UNC (30), and William & Mary (33).

      Leaving aside the sterility of reducing assessment of excellence to cold numerical rankings, the state universities have many more constituencies with which they must deal and expectations they must meet as well as pressing financial issues unknown to the wealthy private institutions.

      U.S. News published the rankings of 201 national universities. There were 66 that it ranked but did not publish the ranking and another 12 that it did not rank. It seems safe to assumer that neither the unranked nor those with unpublished rankings would crack the top of the list. So that’s 279 national universities in all, and U.Va. ranked higher than 255 of them.

      Not bad for a state university.

  2. Mr. Brown’s comments about public vs. private universities are well taken. To compare the University of Virginia with Stanford University is like comparing apples to anchovies: they exist in different mediums. That does not mean they cannot be compared on certain criteria, but it does mean that precision and clarity of criteria are required.
    Mr. Cohen sounds as if he is not qualified to comment on President Sullivan’s performance because he uses cliches and makes references to unclear sources and comparisons: “the revolution that took Stanford to the top,” for example. Serious readers will look for specifics not cliches.
    As for MOOCs at UVa, President Sullivan is wise to go carefully and to test the markets using top members of UVa’s outstanding faculty to lead the initial course offerings that are offered online. On the other hand, the UVa Board of Visitors needs to show that it knows its role by going ahead and performing, instead of posturing and appearing to lack awareness of how the best boards work and what the principles of good board practice consist of.
    It is unfortunate at this time that the governor of Virginia has the power to appoint members of Boards of Visitors of our public universities, for the sitting governor has made significant mistakes of judgment in his personal conduct. This reflects badly upon his appointments, as well as other aspects of his handling of Visitors’ performance. There was wide-spread agreement that Helen Dragas should not have been reappointed to the UVa Board after she mishandled President Sullivan’s leadership evaluation, and yet Gov. McDonnell reappointed Dragas, at the same time that he elevated others among his political mega-donors, including William Goodwin.
    Goodwin is now positioned to be chairman in two years from now, and he may be expected to perpetuate the McDonnell and Dragas type of leadership. Thus, while Gov. McDonnell may be out of office, either by resignation or by term-limits, the effect of his appointments will linger into 2017 or beyond.
    In private universities the governing boards receive objective performance evaluations, similar to what happens in successful businesses, and self-criticism takes place, along with considerations of both board and administration meeting their goals. An independent University of Virginia Board, as originally set up by Thomas Jefferson, is the only hope for keeping UVa out of religious and political influence and open to all segments of Virginia’s citizenry.

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