Recently, an attempted coup against the president of a leading state university in the US prompted national and international attention. The scandal raises issues about the future of public higher education in the US.
In the past few weeks, a storm of protest burst over the University of Virginia, a state university founded by Thomas Jefferson, third president of the US and author of the Declaration of Independence. A secretive clique on the board of trustees backed by billionaire Wall Street manipulators, attempted to oust the nationally respected president, Teresa Sullivan, the first female president of the university.
Faculty, students, and alumni became outraged and showed their support for Sullivan and the democratic traditions of the university through demonstrations, phone calls to university officials, and social media commentary. Sullivan's forced resignation was put aside and the board of trustees was forced to reinstate her.
The scandal gripped the attention of Virginians, who now realize they must make state political leaders aware of their concerns.
Nationally, attention is focused on the designs of some in the corporate world and Wall Street on public institutions of higher learning. These special interests want to force the privatization of public state universities so as to exploit the institutions and students financially.
There are political angles as well. Since the 1990s, extreme right political forces have targeted public higher education. These forces dislike the more liberal and progressive culture of public state universities. They have, in effect, launched a culture war against public higher education.
The leading right-wing lobby targeting US higher education, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a neoconservative stronghold, is at the forefront of the attack on the University of Virginia and other public state universities.
The rightist governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell seeks a high position in a potential Romney Administration. News media reports suggest that McDonnell is on a short list for consideration as vice president. Others say he may be looking for a cabinet position.
Some believe McDonnell was working with the coup plotters from behind the scenes to remove a progressive academic leader and to replace her with at rightist tool of corporate interests and Wall Street. The timing raised suspicions.
Sullivan was forced to resign on June 10 while McDonnell went on to attend, two weeks later, a major Romney campaign event in Utah and then a major Republican strategy meeting in San Diego sponsored by the billionaire Koch brothers. Was McDonnell looking to make a grand entrance to these significant political events as a slayer of progressive education and of public control of higher education?
Both Romney and McDonnell seek to privatize public state universities. They want private business corporations to expand their markets to offer educational services.
Owing to the disastrous state of the US economy, states have made drastic cuts in funding for public education. Thus, state universities across the country are vulnerable to encroachment by predatory corporate and financial interests.
For example, private corporations providing online educational services and content are moving into the multi-billion dollar education market. They are establishing privately owned virtual educational operations and providing services for existing schools. One major provider is the Education Management Corporation which was created by Wall Street's Goldman Sachs to parasitically tap into this market.
Peter Kiernan, a graduate of the University of Virginia business school who has been exposed as one of the coup plotters against Sullivan, was a former top executive in Goldman Sachs.
Kiernan teamed up with another alumnus and billionaire hedge fund operator, Paul Tudor Jones, and several of the trustees to oust Sullivan. Kiernan recently published a bestselling book, Becoming China's Bitch: And Nine More Catastrophe's We Must Avoid Right Now, attacking the Sino-US relationship.
As the dust settles in Virginia this week, many concerned citizens across the country may come to realize that, while this battle is over, the rightist war against public higher education in the US will go on.
One would hope that the American people will defeat the neoconservative culture warriors and the Wall Street manipulators.
The author is a professor at the Virginia Military Institute, and an alumnus of the University of Virginia. firstname.lastname@example.org