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01 Aug 2017
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Alicia Moreland

Claudrena Harold Transcription

Documenting UVa’s Future


Alicia: My name is Alicia Moreland and I’m from the class Documenting UVa’s Future. Today, we will basically discuss the events that occurred this past summer with Teresa Sullivan. If you could just please state your name and spell it for us and just let us know a little bit more about you and where you are coming from as far as the university. Umm, so you can go ahead and start.

Claudrena: Sure, my name is Claudrena Harold. It’s C-L-A-U-D-R-E-N-A Harold H-A-R-O-L-D. I’m an Associate professor of history in African American Studies. I have a joint appointment in the Carter G Woodson Institute for African American and African Studies in the history department.

Alicia: Wow, so you are really involved with the university. Can you please explain to us a little bit of what you do here besides being a professor? I know you’re involved in a bunch of different organizations.

Claudrena: Um, Yeah. I am also a faculty advisor to the Black Student Alliance. Currently, I just finished filming a movie, uh, short film that looks at the history of African Americans at UVA during the 1970s, and that attempt to capture , I think, kind of the complexity of the black experience here and the complexity of the protest tradition. So I must admit, I looked at so many pictures of protests for 1960s to the 1980s, I’ve just discovered or rediscovered, found footage of the first black protest in 1969, February 18th, 1969. Well a protest evolved around issues related to African Americans, desegregation, and wages and the protest had about 1000 people. It was interesting to observe what happened this summer as a professor here and someone concerned about higher education and also as someone who is making a documentary and to see that many people on the Lawn for the first time since I have been here. I was not only experiencing history and living in the moment, but it also enabled me to imagine what it is was like in the 1960s and the 1970s. It was really really interesting.

Alicia: can you let us know where you were when you found out about the situation? What did you think immediately and what did you do immediately?

Claudrena: I was on the plane and we had just landed, No- we hadn’t landed. It happened that Sunday, that Sunday I was scheduled for a flight out of Dallas to Charlottesville at 6:00 in the morning. I had been up since 4:00 in the morning, but somehow I managed to miss my flight even though I was at a hotel in the airport. So, needless to say, I had to wait much later and I was waiting for the flight to kind of take off and I still had my phone on, which I know I shouldn’t have had my phone on and I received the email and I was just like WOW! I think within a matter of seconds I had all of these texts from former students and I was shocked and I tried to make sense of it, like “What’s happening? What is this about?”, but I think I was in a state of shock for like 2 hours. In addition to being in a state of shock, cause I actually had to pay an additional $350.00 dollars for that new ticket. I missed my flight and I had to teach that Monday. I knew that first day of class, summer session, was going to be interesting. I knew we had a lot to talk about.

Alicia: Did any of your students have anything in particular to say about the event? Were they caught off guard with the email? I know as a student reading the email I was just kind of like Wow! I did not expect this, but did they have any particular feelings?

Claudrena: Sure! I mean I have a group of students who are very involved in the Living Wage, so some of those students wondered if it had anything to do with them. I think I had some students who wondered if it had anything to do with her graduation speech. There were a variety of sort of theories, people attempting to explain it and some people very early thought it had something to do with the business community. Some of the students kind of expressed that, but when I got into class the next day, and here I am in front of ten students, I guess eleven students, who I had never met before, they all had their theories, but at the same time they were still in a state of shock and didn’t really know how to make sense of it, but no one at that moment assumed that they would have her return. Everybody sort of felt like it was a done deal.

Alicia: When you read the email were you satisfied with their explanation of the events that occurred  or brought them to that decision? I know a lot of people have said that’s kind of what made them stop and say “ you know what this doesn’t seem right”

Claudrena: I didn’t think that far. I think it would be nice if I could say that I had thought that far, I was really in a state of shock for like an hour.  Just attempting to make sense of what just happened not so much “why it happened” but just wow she’s just gone. It was just the suddenness of it all. I don’t think I really began to process things and try to find answers for things until probably two days later and then it was like “Okay I need to learn more about this, I want to know more about this, I want to know more about what this was about”. I think somewhere during that time I read her memo that she had submitted to the board and her vision of the University and that helped me kind of flush out some things. I’ve always been concerned with the state of higher education and my big concern has been the issue of African American enrollment. When I got here it was about 10%, its about 7.5% now and a lot of that decline is related to the Black Middle Class and they get hit particularly hard by the recession and to me it was sort of flushing out if this was a business move and we’re now concerned about issues of profitability. What impact will this have on diversity? In some ways I had already been thinking about some of these issues and the response from the board was going to somewhat guide me or the ideas coming out of the Board was going to sort of guide me and how I was going to make sense of this, but immediately my thoughts turned not to my situation, but the situation of my students.

Alicia: When you found out everything, were you able to go to any of the rallies or protests or anything?

Claudrena: Yeah, I was at every rally and that was likely because I was teaching in the summer and the first one let me know that we’re in for a battle and this is a battle that people are going to fight, was a the Father’s Day faculty meeting at Darden. I am habitually late to everything and I was not late. I was 5 minutes early and when I got there you couldn’t get a seat, I was in the overflow room and faculty meetings don’t draw large crowds and certainly not on Father’s Day and just to be there to be a part of that moment and that energy where you know that bodies matter. I constantly talk to my students about the politics of presence, sometimes you have to be there, not send a text, not do the Facebook thing, but BE THERE! In the future, you know, or immediately after everything people were trying to make sense of how did this happen. Some people said it was social media, some people said it was Facebook, Twitter, but I also think that day , when people actually came out and you saw bodies, it represented protest and it also represented unity and for people to know that they were not alone. I think that was monumental and then there were other important moments, but the fact that people were consistently there, not just in spirit but in body over a long period of time, I think really made the difference and I think really caught people off guard.

Alicia: Did the faculty members, I know you all are looking at it from a different perspective than students, did they have any concerns? Or, did they immediately call for her reinstatement? What was kind of the feel of the conversation?

Claudrena: I think at first people just wanted the truth. They wanted transparency and here I’m working on my best memory. I feel like the call for her reinstatement came perhaps a little later, but I could be wrong in this, but I think most importantly people wanted answers. I think by the time on Sunday, people almost felt as if people in the College of Arts and Sciences, the college were being marginalized in some ways. The arts and sciences, the liberal arts were being marginalized and I think there was some general concern about that impetus and to also think it was one of those situations where someone’s alleged, where you mobilize not out of a deep or undying love for that person because I think if we’re completely honest a lot of us, some of us know her really well, but a lot of us, myself included didn’t really know her and she had only been here for 2 years and that’s what I would characterize it as. I think people were already frustrated with issues of salary pay , with issues of transforming the landscape of the university, issues of transparency, I’m sure some faculty folk had been frustrated with transparency when it gets to issues of wages and issues of all of these things. There hasn’t been a robust hiring, policies are, there hasn’t been a robust hiring activity so I think there was a lot of frustrations and it came to a boil and they mobilized around her in that particular moment. I think that’s what kind of happened for most people, clearly some students felt it was clear to me in ways that I didn’t understand, she was very popular amongst certain students, I didn’t get that feel, necessarily, from all segments of faculty, not in the sense that…she definitely wasn’t disliked, per se, I think there wasn’t this strong feeling of affection because it was that, developing relationship.

Alicia: What do you think if anything these events say about the University of Virginia or higher education today? Do you think that UVa is a distinguished case that or just happened here  or do you think this is happening across the country at public universities?

Claudrena: No, it’s happening across the nation and the issue of public education is so important and I think in some ways UVa, where they were sort of that last bastion, where people took undergraduate education just as seriously as they take research. When you think about the small class sizes, when you think about the fact that you can get a really solid liberal arts education here, and at the same time receive a very diverse education, the University of Virginia, mattered and I think that’s why it got so much attention from the national media. From the New York Times to the Chronicle to the Washington Post. I think it is a symptom, or what happened is a part of a much larger movement and what you saw, you saw people coming together. Saying No! we will not allow this to happen. We do have certain core values as a university that we want to uphold. We are committed to a certain kind of education, I feel very confident in saying I hope that or I know that when my students take my class or when students major in African American Studies, that they are getting a particular education, and though I have many issues with the University of Virginia, and the University of Virginia is far from perfect, there is something unique about this place and there is something very unique about the kind of education that students can get. I marched, not out of I protested, there was no march really, but I was there out of a sense of “ I want my student’s children to get the same type of education”, and so it definitely matters , when profitability becomes the bottom line in education, that’s scary. It’s also scary when; when certain decisions are being made that don’t even have anything to do with profitability. I mean there is just this notion to…that this is going to make money or this particular idea is going to make money or that certain entities within the University, be it business school, be it education, be it whatever, that they know best. I think our current market has taught us that what’s happened on Wall Street in the last four years sometimes the business community does not know best. One of the things we have to be attentive to is the University becoming sort of a play pin for certain entities, just like the housing market was a play pin for certain entities. That’s what I think we have to be very concerned about and very vigilant about and there are still questions that are unanswered. We need to, as a person in this community, who’s committed to diversity and not just racially, but economic diversity, we still  in a need to know about the future of access UVa and certain questions need to be answered about access UVa, we have to continue I think to have those conversations.

Alicia: What do you think of the make-up of the Board of Visitors?

Claudrena: You know that’s interesting, I had never given much time to the Board of Visitors in terms of its makeup, probably because of the circles I run. I always knew the sort of African American members of the board, but I had never given it much thought. It’s funny in 1969, when students marched..calling for an end of racial discrimination at UVa. It also called for more wages for workers. They also had a platform, part of that platform I just noticed two days ago and I’ve read this article a million times and was that the board be reflective of the racial, sort of class, religious, and sex make-up of Virginia and what they were arguing for was indeed a very diverse board that came from different backgrounds and could represent the different constituencies that make up the University of Virginia, and I think that’s important. I think that diverse representation of the board is very important, but at the same time we also need to be attentive to the ways in which the rules of the board. We need to be attentive to the way the rules of the board can prevent transparency and democracy, even if you get diverse numbers. When people say we want faculty representation on the board, or student representation on the board….One of the things we saw this summer is that you can have that representation, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that that person will have the opportunity to be conversing with his or her supposed constituency.

Alicia: In your opinion who should be on the board? Do you think it should be faculty, students, businessmen or businesswomen? I know there was a lot of talk about the makeup of the board and their backgrounds and their backgrounds being in business. Ideally, what would you like?

Claudrena: Ideally, I don’t think I could speak in specifics, but ideally I would want someone who has a thorough understanding of the opportunities and the challenges of higher education. I think diversity is important, but I think you really need to have people who understand what’s going on with higher education, and who are not interested in  sort of fads who are not interested in the latest conversation, but who really understands what’s going on.

Alicia: Do you think the board of visitors, even with President Teresa Sullivan, do you think they have really given the university a clear answer on what happened, where we stand, what we’re going to do in the future? There was a lot going on over the summer, do you think we were really given a great answer on what has happened?

Claudrena: No, I think as far as faculty members, we’ve had meetings with, for example the dean of the college of arts and sciences. Teresa Sullivan or President Sullivan has met with faculty as a collective and I think that has been important. There has sort of been an implementation of a sort of merit system or implementation of a review process that will allegedly assist us in getting better wages or at lease having a process in place, but there are still questions surrounding that and I think people still have answers and people still have concerns.

Alicia: With her reinstatement, did you feel satisfied? Do you think they made a decision to reinstate her based upon the fact that they were receiving so much bad press and it made, in a sense, the University look bad? Do you think they reinstated her for that matter or do you think they really believed that was the right thing to do to reinstate her?

Claudrena: I think a little bit of both and they may have felt it was the right thing to do because of the press and I think you can read news articles of New York Times that say there still some strains. I think some of the things they wanted to implement have been implemented and so I think one could argue that perhaps those of us who protested won a battle, but we didn’t win the war in the sense that a lot of the things were suggested have been implemented , for example the whole review process for the faculty is complicated and there were certain questions that faculty had that were never really fully answered and faculty differ in how they feel about the review process, for example some faculty believe that cost of living wages and across the board wages should be implemented regardless, it should not always be tied to sort of merit races, and this is coming from people who have been very productive, but having those conversations I think is very important. Having those budget models operate like what is the future of small departments at this university. One of the most interesting things for me when I hear about the “for profit” move is that I am in a big department, one of the largest departments, History, but I also have a joint appointment in the Woodson Institute, which has a different set of needs and I’ve been a situation when history has been able to get more hires, but those same opportunities aren’t available to the Woodson so there were things about a lot of the memos when it came to issues of cutbacks and the status of certain programs and departments was disconcerting on both sides. I think that, those are issues that I definitely don’t think have been resolved . You know, we haven’t raised that question of where does an institute like the Carter G. Woodson Institute, how would this fit into the financial model, how do we see this institute fitting in terms of the intellectual mission of the University?

Alicia: Do you think that those questions will be answered within the next two years? Do you think they are ever really going to sit down and talk about those issues or are they just trying to deal with what going on right now and hope that we’ll get to that point?

Claudrena: Yeah, I think they are going to deal with what’s going on right now, and what they feel are the important issues, and I definitely like I said being in two units I definitely see where you’re in a big unit, you see those moments of urgency and things are getting done, and it’s not always there for the other units, and here I’m talking about the Woodson, Women and Gender Studies, this includes a lot of other programs, this even includes really big and successful programs like religious studies which if you read some of those memos, that department, which is one of the best departments sometimes ranked number 1 in the nation was not always talked about in the best light, and these are issues in which I see are important, and we have to get students to think about how those units contributed to your education as well. These are the things that are scary. We also know sometimes that certain academic initiatives or intellectual initiatives are marginalized even when they are profitable, even when they are profitable. That’s another thing, even without transparency a lot of people make certain assumptions about what is profitable and what is not profitable, without really even knowing the truth. College of Arts and Sciences is a profitable enterprise, so I mean all of these issues are important and one of the things I think really is important for our leadership is to always value the liberal arts education, which is far too often sometimes marginalized, but is very important.

Alicia:  Do you feel as if they’re trying to put a price tag on certain departments, certain forms of education, you know valuing more majors or more departments over others?

Claudrena:  Sure, in some ways that’s always happened, and you do have to raise tuff question but it has to be a multidirectional conversation.  Look, I mean numbers are important and if we sit here and act like they’re not important then we’re kidding ourselves.  I teach an African American Studies course and I never have a problem with numbers.  I mean, like I said I don’t have problem with students getting jobs.  It also requires me as a teacher to teach my students in a particular kind of way,  to try to prepare them in a particular kind of way, and the market has changed, it is changing, no one is denying that we are living in a very dynamic world.  We’ve always lived in a dynamic world and we’ve always face great challenges, but I think that is just important that these conversation be multidirectional, and that we value the unique contributions that people bring. Sometimes our intent is to keep up, we aren’t really reinventing the wheel.  I mean it was this whole question of online education, and digital education.  You know the University of Virginia has been in the forefront of digital humanities for more than a decade.  So having these important conversations I think is great.  It’s funny, I think this summer was interesting, it was definitely a learning experience for students on how change takes place and how you can be a part of something transformative.  One of the things I talked to my students about was just the centrality of the student media.  I think the Cavalier Daily did a wonderful job, and think these are all things that we’ll look back on, and really, we’ll be analyzing this stuff for decades and decades to come.

Alicia: I’m going to go back to one of the points that you made.  How do you feel about online education being brought to the University of Virginia?  I know that across the nation that online education is showing up at a lot of other universities.  Do you think it has a place here at UVa? If so, is it for certain classes, or for certain semesters, summer sessions, January, fall, or spring, and do you think that we should have it here at all?

Claudrena: Yeah, I definitely think that there is a place for online education.  I was talking to a good friend of mine who teaches at Brown, and he met a high school student who was interested in going to college, and interested in a career in math, and he told the young man that you should go sign up for class and it provides you with an opportunity, and indeed it does.  When I think about this project “Black Fire” which has an online component.  It’s a film but we also have a website, I was thinking about what would it be like to have that film, teach a class, and have alum’s who can take that class, but who could also interact with students.  I think it would have been very dynamic, but I also believe that, there is not like the sort of intimate contact you get in the classroom.  We would all be, we all know there are situations in the classroom where students are on Twitter, and on Facebook, and so completely disengaged.  That kind of interaction and the intimacy that you get in the classroom can’t be replaced, and the only thing that I worry about online education in general is creating an increasingly, a more bifurcated educational system.  When we’re divided education system, in which some people have a certain experience, as Daine Ravich once said, “some people will get computers and teachers, and some people will just get computers.”  We know the University of Phoenix is spearing this, we know how it breaks down in terms of class, in terms of race.  We also know that the University of Phoenix has closed some locations recently.  So, I think online education has a place, but we have to be attentive to the ways it can democratize education, and also the way it can reinforce existing social divides, and divisions, and sort of distinctions.  Getting a certificate from MIT is not the same as getting a  degree from MIT, or even going to MIT.  I’m very attentive to that.  We already have an educational system in this country that is sometimes divided along the lines of class and race.  We can see that in the university system, and so I think online education definitely has some benefits, but it definitely has some drawback and I would never go as far to say that it doesn’t have place at UVa.  We have to really be honest about if a particular initiative improves education, and democratizes education, and we know in our country’s history that there have been certain initiatives that have democratized education, higher education, for example the G.I. Bill that was passed in 1944 played a critical role in democratizing education, opening up education to working class people, and opening up certain universities to working class people, and that to me is different than online education.  The social experiences that you get from going to a university, you just, you can’t replicate.  There will be nothing like the undergraduate experience, you’re never going to experience anything in life like the undergraduate experience, I mean nothing like it.  We have to I truly believe, not for just career reasons, but for citizenship reasons, I mean for social reasons, for political reasons, we have to constantly reinforce that, and preserve that, that undergraduate experience.  I wouldn’t, one thing in my life I would never take back is my years a Temple University, and I know that there are people that feel the same way about this place and you have to preserve that.  If them preserving it means, you’re fighting for a class where it’s ten people and not 20, you know I have, I’m from Florida so I know what those really big big state universities are like, when you’re in a class, a psychology class with 600 or 700 people and it doesn’t work for everybody.  All of these things to me are important. 

Alicia: With that being said what do you think the impact on the students has been?  Do you think that, obviously you’re always going to have some students who are going to be a bit more attentive to the issues going on at their university everywhere, but as far UVa do you think the students are taking it serious, one, and two do you think that they’re kind of equating this issue or what happened this summer, as it’s kind of hot for the moment, and then we move on?  Do you think there has been enough protest since the summer, I know there we a lot of protests and rallies, and a lot of people calling for the reinstatement of President Sullivan, but do you think that momentum has kept going, or do you think that it has kind of fizzled out throughout this semester?

Claudrena:  I mean I think it has fizzled out, and I think what has happened is that certain groups who were political, who have always been political, I think they have maintained conversations about this issue and have sometimes connected to larger issues.  So transparency has become a word that a lot of people focus on when talking about the state of education, when talking about the state of higher education.  I think one of the reasons that we didn’t get, in my view, now I could be wrong, a lot of long distance runners, is that people aren’t really thinking hard or talking a lot about the issue of higher education.  I think for my students, if I talked about, mainly my African American students, in my African American studies courses there is a fascination among my students with the issue of failing schools, and we have these long winded conversations about the problems of the public school system, private versus public schools, charter schools.  We have these long conversations about Teach for America, is it good, is it bad?  Because, there is an idea within the African American community that education is very much tied to issues of social mobility.  When we think about education and social mobility, we think about K through 12 doing well enough to get to college, but when it comes to issues like the student debt reaching one trillion last year, that’s not a conversation that people were having.  When it comes to rising tuition rates, that is not a conversation that students are having intensely, and when they have it, and it’s something that I’ve noticed, they don’t talk about with the passion that they talk about the “problems of inner city public schools.” So when events like this happen, it may generate some buzz, but to me it’s kind of episodic and not sustained, and usually for movements to become sustained there has to be some momentum and  there has to be some entities already in existence in organizations, conversations, and forums, and I haven’t seen that in a lot of student communities.

Alicia: Going back to The Board of Visitors, I know when this whole situation happened a lot of people just really, one never really paid attention to The Board of Visitors, and two don’t really know exactly what they do here at the university.  Do you think that this situation might have been a little bit different if The Board of Visitor had been a little bit more present, more visible on campus and people kind of knew what they bring, what their decisions are?  I think a lot of people were really caught off guard because people were like board of visitors, we don’t really see you too often and now you’re making, in our opinion a drastic decision.  Do you think their visibility would have maybe changed the way people felt about the situation?

Claudrena:  That’s a good question and I’m not sure, but I will say this, in our country we are very comfortable with the managerial elite controlling things, and usually we protest when they do something that we don’t agree with, but the very existence of the managerial elite or a group of twelve or fifteen people that make decisions, I think is something that we’ve learned to accept in our culture in this political moment and so, I think one could argue if they had been more visible it may have been a more paternalistic relationship, but I think if they were more visible then things would have still been problematic for a lot of people.

Alicia: What do you think this whole situations impact had been on the universities reputation across the board form other universities, or perspective students, from alumni? Do you think the reputation has changed?

Claudrena:  I’m on the Search Committee and we have hundreds of applications, and I think in terms of, I think there was that threat that people would think about coming to the University of Virginia in terms of what was happening and I think people are still going to apply, and students are still going to want to come here.  I think with the market people are still going to want a job here.  I think it reinforced some of the already negative images that people already had of the University of Virginia.  I mean the University of Virginia is a place that already has a certain reputation, and it’s loved by some and not loved by others.  What happened here I think confirmed in the minds of some that this university has some issues.  I think people who are a part of this community are still going to want to be a part of this community.  I think, at the same time while the actions of the board may have soured some to the University of Virginia, I think the actions of people who said, no this is our university was a source of great inspiration for others.  As a person who was in other settings during this time, everybody wanted to talk about what happened, and everyone wanted to talk about how people had mobilized to fight for what they believe in, so I think you saw the good and the bad and that’s the beautiful complex reality of the University of Virginia.  I think it’s a moment in history where you can see democracy functioning in all its beauty and ugliness. 

Alicia: Moving forward, what would you like to see from The Board of Visitors and from President Sullivan?

Claudrena:  I would like to see not just transparency, but recognition of the similarity that is the University of Virginia.  I would like to see economic agendas and educational initiatives that reflect what this university is about to do.  Not what Princeton is doing, not what the University of Michigan is doing, not what the University of Texas is doing, but an agenda that reflects our possibilities.  One of the worst things that you can have is an identity crisis, when you don’t know what and who you are.  Virginia is a lot of things; one of the things it’s not is in crisis.  I want to see a vision, this is what we are, we are a world class university, and this is what we can offer our community, our students, our educators, the world, that no other university can offer.  So, really embracing the singularity that this university can offer, without marginalizing or overlooking the problem. That’s what I really want to see.

Alicia: What about the students?

Claudrena: What do I want to see from them?

Alicia: Mhm.  Any of our perspective students when a situation like this comes up.

Claudrena:  I want to see them hold people accountable, I want to see them hold people accountable and I want to see them fight, articulate and fight for what they think they love most about this place.  I would like to see students more engaged, and I think I want to see students thinking more critically about this issue of higher education, because it’s so important. I mean, some of my students were very nonchalant about the entire thing if I’m perfectly honest, in the sense of they didn’t feel an identity with the board, but they didn’t necessarily have an identity with Sullivan, let’s just be honest.  One of my goals as a teacher and I don’t know if you got this and I don’t know if I should even say this, but some of the African American students raised the question what has Theresa Sullivan ever done for black students.  Some students feel that the university has been sorry and subpar when it comes to issues of diversity, increasing black faculty, issues of enrollment, and all of these things are valid and I think in this moment where you have a chance to influence the university and say where do we want to be.  I want my students to know enough about history so that they can say, in the mid  1990’s we had a black enrollment of thirteen percent, and we have 7.5 percent now.  What can we do, how can we address this issue?  In your vision of the university, what is your vision of the new millennium, where do we fit into this.  These are the things that I would like to see students do, rather than have another forum on what is wrong with the black community.  These kind of internal politics and these kind of raise the questions about the university.  How do we make our world anew and how do we create something and I think that’s very important.

Alicia: Well I think you have done a great job throughout this interview.  Do you have any final remarks or anything that you want people to know about the university or anything in general about the situation this summer or issues of higher education?  Is there anything else that you want to let people know? 

Claudrena: No, I think I’m good

Alicia: You think you’re good!

Claudrena: Of course I’m going to think of something.

Alicia: Well if you think of anything let me know, but I truly appreciate you sitting down with me.  On behalf of my class we really appreciate you sitting down with me and giving your opinion, and you can share, and we’ll have more classes that analyze what’s going on here at UVa, so I guess we are pretty much finished up. Thank you.

Claudrena: Cool, no problem.