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SCHEV's Davies responds to critical Newsweek article

Spectrum Volume 18 Issue 30 - May 2, 1996

(Editor's note: The following is a letter written to Newsweek by Gordon Davies, director of the State Council of Higher Education, in response to a set of higher education-related articles which appeared in the April 29 issue; Cover story: "$1000 a Week: The Scary Cost of College").

To the Editor:

The article by LyNell Hancock and John McCormick about the sorry plight of the nation's colleges and universities ("What to Chop," April 29, 1996) is a slick hatchet-job riddled with error.

Let's just take the two mentions of Virginia higher education. First of all, the University of Virginia does not have 15 campuses; it has two. Virginia has 15 public senior colleges and universities, 14 of which are completely independent and one of which is a unit of UVa. It also has a system of 23 community colleges.

This group of 39 institutions, having endured state budget cuts of more than $400 million when Virginia's revenue plummeted during the recent recession, has undertaken to become more efficient by collectively eliminating 49 programs, reducing the bachelor's-degree requirement to 120-124 hours (where it used to be in the good old days loved by reactionaries), eliminating administrative overhead, and adopting telecommunications technology as a way of teaching people around the state.

Consider that these institutions include the College of William and Mary, founded in 1693 and the second-oldest institution of higher education in the United States; the University of Virginia, founded by Thomas Jefferson; Virginia State University, the nation's first publicly supported collegiate institution for blacks; Virginia Military Institute, which produced General George C. Marshall and countless other leaders of our nation; and several institutions generally rated as among the best in the United States. This is no fly-by-night assemblage of mediocre schools.

Having had big tuition increases in the early 1990s, we're holding the line and will have no increases for Virginians during the next two years. We've tripled state financial aid for needy students. We've attracted major industries into the state because of the quality of higher education. And enrollment keeps growing.

Not only did the authors fail to understand the first thing about the Virginia system of higher education as a set of highly autonomous colleges and universities. They also impugn the University of Virginia by implying that it is ill-managed or, indeed, hardly managed at all. This is nonsense. Whatever criticisms might be leveled at the university, it is well-run by a responsible board of visitors and highly competent scholars and administrators.

For shame, Newsweek. Not only did you do a hatchet-job. You did a sloppy and deceitful one.


Gordon K. Davies, director

State Council of Higher Education