Note: Audio not available
MDST 3559 – Documenting UVA’s Future – Fall 2012
Interviewee: Emily Catino
Interviewer: Kseniya Belik
KB: Hello. Could you please state your name and spell it out for me?
EC: Sure. It's Emily Catino. Spelled: Emily Catino.
KB: Thank you. My name is Kseniya Belik and we will be conducting this interview at the University of Virginia on October 11, 2012. Would you like to give consent for this interview to be distributed -- well, put online -- for public viewing?
KB: Thank you. Alright, I guess we can get started. So, today we will be talking about the events of the past summer at University of Virginia -- specifically what some people call the "ouster" -- or more politically correct, the resignation of Teresa Sullivan and the subsequent reinstatement.
Alright, so first of all, before we get into that, maybe you could describe your role at the University; maybe what brought you here, how long you've been here -- those sorts of things.
EC: Sure. I have been at the University four years. I am not the most active member of the University community, but I participate in Pet Pals, which is fun.
KB: What is that?
EC: It's through Madison House; it's when you go to the SPCA and you kind of socialize the animals.
KB: That's nice.
EC: So, as a huge sucker for animals…
KB: So I guess you're part of the community outside of UVA.
EC: yeah, yeah. And what brought me here is: I am in-state and my parents wanted me to come here, so I came here.
KB: And you are a third-year…?
KB: …fourth-year student planning to graduate in the Spring.
EC: Yes, which is really scary.
KB: Almost there.
EC: Exciting and scary.
KB: Okay, awesome. So, could you tell me about the moment when you first learned of Teresa Sullivan's resignation and where were you, how did you react to that?
EC: Sure. I was actually at the beach with my friend, visiting her -- she lives in Virginia Beach -- and I was watching a sand soccer tournament and she went on Twitter and saw people talking about how, you know, Teresa Sullivan resigned, and then I checked my email, because I figured I must have one, and then I saw the email from Helen Dragas about how they came to a mutual decision and she would be resigning in the next couple days or.. yeah.
KB: And the "philosophical disagreements" that they had.
EC: Yes, yes.
KB: So, you mentioned you were at the beach with your friend. Was it a University of Virginia student?
EC: Yeah, she also goes here.
KB: So how did you guys react to it together? Did you talk about it? What was your thought?
EC: We did talk about it. Well, we talked… Neither of us knew much about Teresa Sullivan. When we first came here, John Casteen was our president and, you know, he had the best reputation, everyone loved him, so we were sad to see him go. And we kind of didn't know anything about Sullivan. We knew she didn't even go to UVA. We were a little bit weirded out about that. But, about the resignation -- yeah, we kinda -- I don't want to say we didn't care, but it just didn't really register with us that it could be the big deal that it turned out to be-- just because, because we hadn't heard much about her, we figured she wasn't actually doing much.
KB: Do you think it was a little bit of shock? Or, it did not -- since, like you said, you hadn't had much contact with the University president prior, it just did not phase you as much as some other news might?
EC: I mean, it was definitely shocking. I wanted to know why she was leaving and at that moment I was just so far away from the whole University mindset -- being in school -- that I didn't think about the wording of the email and -- this is hindsight -- but, you know, I just didn't question it, even though I noticed it was extremely vague and there was nothing concrete about why she was leaving. It was definitely shocking, I just didn't look into it right away.
KB: You also mentioned that you heard… the first time you heard of it was through Twitter (well, your friend on Twitter). So, after that initial hearing about it through Twitter, what other sources or news places did you gather your information from?
EC: A lot was just emails -- whether it was from the Board of Visitors, or Student Council, or Faculty Senate, professors I had had previously were emailing about pieces they had written on the subject. So, once I started actually reading essays or news pieces that people here and elsewhere were contributing, I started to really realize -- Like, Okay, something's not right here. And I got more interested in the story, and I would, you know, also go on my own Twitter and like, see, hash tag UVA, which was trending for like a whole month or something, and go see what stories and what people were saying about that.
KB: So, as you got interested, did you take any particular actions yourself in the events? Like, maybe sending emails or attending the rallies? I think there was also a petition that went around to just express no confidence in the Board of Visitors and to reinstate Sullivan.
EC: I wasn't really active just because I was working and didn't really have time or really the initiative to come back to grounds, even though I knew that rallies were taking place and it seemed really exciting. I just- I couldn't make it. But, you know, I read the stories of the rallies, and I didn't join any Facebook pages or send any emails, but I definitely talked about it with my friends who also go here and with my family and, you know, what it might mean -- each of us putting in our guesses for what's going to happen -- is she going to come back? We just had no idea.
KB: So, in those discussions, would you say they were more along the lines of wondering what happened or were you guys expressing opinions of "Well, I think she should come back," or "It's okay that she was -- well, fired essentially."?
EC: It's weird, because, we didn't really talk about the Why -- what led to it. It was just what was going to happen next. We -- at least I thought -- there was no chance of her coming back. They successfully got rid of her somehow, so how could it even be possible to bring her back? And how would she govern the school when she came back? How could people have -- I mean, not respect for her because she didn't really do anything, but questioning her governance because, clearly, the Board was, and that's why she left. But, yeah, I just never thought they'd vote to reinstate her after the resignation or ouster or whatever you want to call it.
KB: That's a little topic in itself. Alright, so it sounds like you were focusing more on the future (it sounds like). That seems to be something that's somewhat common -- that people … because it was so vague why she was let go to begin with, more or less -- just, though, "Well, what does this mean for us?"
EC: Yeah, yeah.
KB: So, during those 17 days -- from the time that it was announced that Teresa Sullivan would resign to when she was reinstated -- what would the gamut of your feelings be described as?
EC: I don't know, I guess at first mild apathy and then definitely interest, surprise, questioning, and definitely when she was reinstated very surprised. Not because I don't think she's an able educator or governor of our school, but just because it just seemed unfathomable to go through that effort and bring her back. But, yeah, I think the whole time, I was kind of just incredulous about the situation, because from beginning till the end of the 17 days, nothing made sense, obviously no one knew what was going on. Even the players themselves didn't seem to have a clear idea of what could happen, what happened already.
KB: Were there any personal values or opinions that you became more aware of during that time? You said you felt surprised, and a little bit apathetic at first. From that beginning to the so-called end, did you think of any values that played into your feelings?
EC: After I saw the signs from the rallies -- that really made me realize that, as a University, we have the honor code, which is hugely prevalent. People really care about it. And, being open and, you know, just communication. As a University of Virginia student I definitely felt that that was violated just because I wasn't one of the people asking question but I know a ton of people were, and I don't think anyone was getting answers, so I definitely felt a double standard. I thought that, you know, when we even apply to UVA, I think -- it was a while ago -- you have to sign the Honor statement, saying you're going to abide by it, so it was kind of just hypocritical that we have to abide by it or risk being kicked out, and they can do it and get away with just because they're at the top. So I guess that value definitely came into play.
KB: The Honor statement states that we, as students, or parts of the UVA community, will not cheat, steal, lie. Is that basically it?
EC: Yeah, I think so. I don't know, and just act in an honor manner -- for the UJC, not just the Honor committee.
KB: So, is there anything in particular in the Honor Code that was -- not violated, but, somehow something went wrong? What part of the Honor Code do you think that was?
EC: I mean, not directly lying, but it's dishonesty.
EC: And I don't think you would get kicked out for telling a lie or being dishonest, because everyone is sometimes. But when it affects everyone around you, I think that that is a violation of the honor code -- if it's affecting your student life, your education -- because the president of our University does affect that. He or she can make decisions that affect that -- then I think that it's a big deal. It's all about having a safe community, and I think no one felt -- I meant, I don't want to make a broad generalization -- not no one, but it could be possible that people could not feel safe here because look what they did to the president.
KB: Maybe it's to do with what people say about lying by omission.
EC: Right. Yeah, exactly.
KB: That makes sense, alright. So, if you were telling the story of the ouster to somebody, how would you characterize it from the beginning, middle, and end?
EC: Well, for me, my beginning was that initial email. I know there were things happening before then, and we still haven't seen the end of it for sure. I think it's in January that there's going to be something about reappointing the Board. I'm not positive on that. I might've just made that up.
KB: That's interesting.
EC: Did we talk about that? Isn't it January?
KB: I don't think we've talked about it in class, but I think that I've heard that there'll be a reconsideration of how the Board of Visitors…
KB: is appointed.
EC: And I think more specifically, Helen Dragas -- I think her contact is coming up for review or something. I don't know. But, you know, that's just one part of it, but I don't think it's over, and I think in terms of the larger effects on higher education and the public university system, definitely this is just -- this event is the beginning or middle of what's happening at other places. So, I think it's going to have a big ripple effect.
KB: So, basically a story that is continuing.
EC: Yeah, until there's some sort of resolution, which -- I don't know what it could be. Thank goodness it's not my job to know those things, but, yeah.
KB: How do you think -- with that in mind -- the University has been affected immediately by this occurrence and maybe a little bit into the future as well?
EC: Immediate effects… I think, at least for students like me who saw it happen and weren't super motivated at first, but now I'm taking this class, and it's really gotten me caring a lot more about the University and the institution of the public university itself, I think it's definitely brought a lot more people together more than tearing them apart. I haven't heard many people who are like, "Wow, I don't want Sullivan here anymore. She was fired once, we should've left it." There's been none of that, it's all been supportive, and I think it has brought us together as a community. But, at least from our discussion in class, it's shed a lot of light on the fact that the very essence of what this University is right now is coming under fire. I think down the road there's going to be a lot -- there's going to be more instances like this where people don't necessarily like or understand what's going on, but maybe then we won't be able to change it or rectify the situation.
KB: So, one of the things that the BOV has said, implicitly and explicitly, is for the University community not to really delve into what happened this summer -- to try to make anything out of it because they think that that will hurt the University. In your opinion, do you agree or disagree with that?
EC: I whole-heartedly disagree with that. I mean, how are we going to change for the better if we're just going to ignore this pretty enormous blip on the whole radar that is UVA? It was a national news story, so many people were talking about it, it has so many political consequences. Obviously we're going to talk about it whether they like it or not, and we need to, because we need to look at what went wrong and what went right in that situation and change or replicate whatever that was.
KB: In terms or what went right and what went wrong, do you think -- what do you think the University can do from now on to successfully move forward from the problems that happened?
EC: I think the main problem and why people were so up in arms was the whole idea of openness. So, if you're going to make a major decision about governance, tell us why. And give us good reasons why, because we don't want our daily lives changed for this tiny little reason. I think we should be more informed about why changes are taking place anyway, so tell us why things need to change and then tell us what specifically you hope to accomplish by this change and where you see it going. I think there was none of that. They tried and it was so strangely worded and confusing and nothing I've ever heard of, so I think just clear -- a clear vision of what they have in mind is really all we can hope for.
KB: Exactly. And we didn't get, as you know, get any of that, I think.
EC: No. Not at all.
KB: So, if we go back to the general scheme of things and king of theorize a little bit… What do you think might be the primary reasons for why Teresa Sullivan was asked to resign from the presidency and then also why she was reinstated?
EC: I still do not know why. I mean, I've read more articles about it and what I've gather from that is -- basically, only online education.
KB: That seems to be the only particular point.
KB: Others are just, general things we have problems with.
KB: But that's the one concrete thing that's been mentioned.
EC: Right. Besides the ever-so-vague "philosophical differences", the only thing that was mentioned was online education, which she was actually in the process of working on. I mean, not that the Board knew about it at the time, but it was happening. So I really, I don't know. I can't speak to that at all.
KB: What about in terms of why she was reinstated?
EC: I think she was reinstated because the Board and the governor realized they made a mistake in the way things were handled and because there was so much support and so much outcry on that subject by prestigious faculty, by hundreds of students and community members. I think they had no choice if they wanted to uphold the community of honor that we hold so dear here. They had to reinstate her, and also give her a chance to make the changes that they were asking her to, because she's been here two years. How much do you think can be accomplished in that time? I know she's made steps and maybe even mis-steps, I don't know, but you have to give a president more than two years to get her footing and start making progress, I think. So, I think it was fair that they reinstated her, and I think people would've been even more angry and even more -- I think it would've been an even bigger deal if she hadn't been, and they don't want that, they want to uphold their reputation too, so I think it was a cover-up. And then what you said about how they're like, "Let's not talk about that anymore." Clearly, they aren't proud of what happened.
KB: Do you also perhaps get the sense that they may have realized that it was a mistake, but, was a part of it also the reluctance to be open, like you said, by reinstating Teresa Sullivan, and avoiding being more open about what happened?
EC: Yeah, like, "Okay, she's back now, everyone be quiet." Probably. That seems … I mean, after that, I just have no faith in them anymore. Because after what they did, it's just, oh, you'll do anything to shut us up.
KB: Exactly. Speaking of the BOV, what do you think the relationships between the types of people appointed to the BOV has with what happened in this episode?
EC: Like, what do you the BOV members think?
KB: Yeah, like the kind of people that sit on the BOV -- the kind of people that have been on the BOV recently -- how do you think that impacts or impacted what happened?
KB: Because we know that none of them are faculty members, there's one student that does not have voting powers, and for the most part they're appointed by the governor largely due to campaign donations.
EC: Yeah, I mean hopefully it will shed some light on the problems with how it's being governed and by what types of people. Because it seems like just one type and they're just successful business people, which is great, good for them. But, you know, it's a school, so we need to -- I think it's great to have a student and maybe they're not ready to have the voting power, but I know that people actually affiliated with and working at the University should have a say about how we're governed -- one or two, I don't know -- and then the business people can do their thing.
KB: So you would support and maybe some staff or faculty on the board, but do you think there should be requirements or guidelines for people on the BOV in terms of who is chosen to be on the BOV other than the governor's campaign?
EC: Yeah, I mean, I think they should have a clear opinion and knowledge of education and logistics of how they want to get us to their ideal place for the educational system. They shouldn't just know how to crunch numbers and turn a profit. That's not going to help us.
KB: So, basically, individuals who can express a worthy opinion we want to have at our university?
EC: Yeah, and they don't all need to be the same. Of course we're going to need some compromising and whatever, but I think they should have a huge knowledge of education and obviously that's the most important thing.
KB: So, in terms of the BOV, there's also the issue that it's appointed by the governor and how much funding we actually get from the state. What is your opinion on the way that the BOV is appointed by the governor and how much power he has over that?
EC: I don't know much about the appointing process, but I don't know how I can speak to that, but I don't think it should be a unilateral decision by the governor to appoint these people. Maybe if -- I'm just spit-balling -- a group of people from the University throw out some names and he has the veto or, you know, Yes power… Other than that, I think there should be some conversation other than, "Oh, I like you, you gave me thousands of dollars, come on over, I'll give you a job." I think there should be more than that.
KB: So like maybe a vetting process or discussion among the community? I think it would only make sense that, if we're going to have these people make such radical decisions, ...
KB: …that we know something about them beforehand.
EC: Exactly. And, you know, we have with our actual national government and state-wide, so it's kind of the same thing. It's our own little community so we're the people that have to deal with the consequences of their decisions, so we should have some say.
KB: I agree.
KB: Okay, so, in terms of the relationship of this event to higher education, do you think these events say anything about the University?
EC: I think it shows that it's in a much more precarious place than it lets on. From before June, I would've guess everything was just dandy, nothing bigger was going on in higher education, or public education. I mean, I know that tuition costs are going up, so obviously funding -- but that's always been an issue. That's never been a secret.
KB: Not "news" to anyone.
EC: Yeah, but besides that, I had no idea. So, I think it just shows the uglier underbelly of what is actually happening in our education, and that way it's kind of good that it happened, because it opens up so many peoples' eyes to harsh reality.
KB: In that vein, what do you think is the goal (or goals) of an institution like UVA, which is public, I guess, in name, but in effect not very public?
EC: What do I think of it?
KB: The goals of the university.
EC: I have no idea. I really don't know.
KB: Or, perhaps I'll rephrase the question. Maybe the role the university plays in our society.
EC: I think the role it should play is to educate future generations who are going be contributing to the world and making our economy and government. That's what --- training for a better future, and I think increased privatization -- while it's great in certain aspects in terms of actually having enough money to actually educate these people, it limits the scope of people who can come and learn here. It makes it more expensive and, you know, more hard to become a part of. I don't know anything about it. That's my guess.
KB: On the topic of funding and the increased privatization of the University, how big of a role do you think that played in the things that happened this summer, or the reasons for this event?
EC: Well, I know -- I just remembered this -- but, I think something like she wasn't fundraising enough -- that's one of the reasons they cited in her ouster. So, I think… Wait, I lost the question. What were you asking?
KB: What role do you think the privatization of UVA, and the need to secure funding from private means, played in this episode with Teresa Sullivan?
EC: Right, so I guess that fact that they didn't think she was bringing in enough money. Like, "oh, she's not doing her job." She was just doing other things, focusing on other things of equal importance, but not in their eyes, because in their eyes it's all about the money and the investors and making them happy.
KB: What do you make of this general dichotomy between the wishes of the BOV to continue on with increased funding from year to year, and the more liberal wishes of the University being a place to educate young minds? Does it unsettle you, or do you feel this is just the direction we're heading in?
EC: It's definitely unsettling, because I don't want it all to be about the bottom line, about how much money we're getting. So, yeah, it's definitely unsettling, and it's sad to see. It was Thomas Jefferson's vision to have a public and open University. So, at a school that prizes its traditions so much, it's a little bit ironic that its become all about the money, and it's sad for sure.
KB: So, speaking of TJ and the beliefs he had, of course, for the University -- how much do you think we should adhere to his ideals when he founded the University? We've obviously changed a lot since then.
EC: As much as possible and as much as right. It shouldn't just be for those rich white males who can come, but obviously that's not what it is anymore. I think in terms of his idealistic vision, I think it's great and maybe it is a little bit much to ask in these times where, you know, you need money to do things. That's always been the case, but it's just become more and more vital. I mean, again, from my limited knowledge, I don't think we're at the point where we need to throw it all away. So I think if we're going to still act like we're Thomas Jefferson's pride and joy, we should be that. We can't just say we're Thomas Jefferson's university – Mr. Jefferson's university -- if that's not what we actually are. That's just wrong, and it's a lie. I don't want to be a part of something like that either -- something that pretends to be one thing and is actually another.
KB: Yeah, and, on that point. I think in some of the things we read for class, they often mention UVA or TJ as the beacon of public higher education and hope.
KB: Like you said, it's a little bit ironic that this would go on here.
EC: Exactly. And I think that's why it was such a big deal and why people are so embarrassed and the reputation was so hurt.
KB: Yeah, because I think UVA has that UVA culture that holds it up.
EC: Right. Yeah. That's a lot of what it is.
KB: So, before I finish and we close out this interview, I thought we would talk a little bit about the future of UVA. Particularly, what do you think we can learn from the events of the past summer?
EC: I think we can learn just to be willing to have conversations about big decisions, to question authority. I mean, I think we've fallen into a rut where we just blindly accept things and this was kind of the final straw -- not the final straw, but something that…
KB: A little too out-of-nowhere?
EC: Yeah, way too random, way too aggressive of an action for us to just sit back and let it happen. So, I think it's great to ask to engage in more of these conversation and there's been a lot of that being back in this current semester. I just really hope that that can continue throughout the rest of this year and many years to come. Just talk about where our school's headed and let people know where it's headed.
KB: Sounds like openness and dialogue are some of the keys to a more positive future in your opinion.
EC: Yeah, that's what I think. I mean, again, I don't know anything about running anything.
KB: It seems pretty complicated.
EC: I'm sure it's so much complicated than "Let's just talk about it," but I think that's always important, and maybe it can get lost in the shuffle of all the other important things.
KB: Alright, well, my last question is… People sometimes say that the point of history, or of doing history, is to learn from our mistakes so that we don't make them again. So, if you were writing this history, what is something -- maybe one thing or a couple things -- that you would focus on for the future generations to know?
EC: For mistakes made?
KB: Yeah, something that you think people that will come through UVA in the future might benefit from knowing.
EC: That is a hard question. I don't know… just, don't make those unilateral decisions. I don't think people like being told what to do and what they should want. I think they like deciding that on their own.
KB: Sounds just like democracy.
EC: Yeah, yeah. There you go. There's one word for it. Yeah, that's all I can think of. That's a good question.
KB: That's a good answer. I like it. Well, that's all I have for questions. You've been a great interviewee. Thank you.
EC: You've been a great interviewer.