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01 Aug 2017
44 min 36 sec
Audio Overview

Susan: Today is November 2, and I am here today to interview Professor Elzinga. My name is Susan Gravatt. S-U-S-A-N G-R-A-V-A-T-T, and I'm with Sarah Hainbach as the observer for our interview. And this is for the class, Media Studies 3559: An Oral History of the Ouster and Reinstatement, Documenting UVA's His...  Future. So if Professor Elzinga, if you could say your name and spell it, that'd be great.

 

Professor Elzinga: My name is Kenneth Gerald Elzinga. Kenneth is K-E-N-N-E-T-H. Gerald is with a G E-R-A-L-D and Elzinga is E-L-Z-I-N-G-A, and I'm the Robert C. Taylor Professor of Economics at the University of Virginia.

 

Susan: All right. Well, thanks so much for letting me interview you today. Um.. I'm just gonna start going with the questions here. So my first one is, how long have you been affiliated with UVA, and what brought you here to this school?

 

Professor Elzinga: Sure. The answer always stuns undergraduates, but I'll give it anyway, so prepare yourself. I've been here since the fall of 1967.

 

Susan: Wow, that's so old!

 

Professor Elzinga: I've been on leave a number of times from the University, but I've always returned. This was my first teaching job out of graduate school, and I came to the University of Virginia out of the different alternatives that I had, largely at the -- I'll almost say orders of -- but certainly the strong counsel of my major advisor, who of different schools that I was considering predicted that -- actually encouraged me, strongly encouraged me -- to go to the University of Virginia, and predicted that, in a way that I thought was outrageous at the time and totally wrong, but he predicted that I would be there the rest of my life. And it turned out that it was a good fit for me. And I've been on the faculty here since the fall of 1967.

 

Susan: And um.. Since then, what courses have you taught primarily?

 

Elzinga: Sure. The primary courses that I've taught here have been kind of binary in their size and pedagogical style. In the fall, typically I've taught Econ 201 -- Econ 2010 -- now, and that's the introduction to principles of microeconomics. It's a large class for the last several years. It's had over a thousand students. And in the spring, as a kind of relief from that, I teach my favorite class frankly, which is anti-trust policy. My research interest is anti-trust economics, and that's a class that I teach socratically. So the teaching style is totally the opposite of Econ 201. Econ 201, as Sarah knows, I don't entertain any questions. It's a straight lecture. And Econ 420, or 4200, is a class that's virtually all questions. I teach it socratically so students can't escape being called on in the spring. They are not allowed to raise questions in the fall. And the spring class is usually limited to around twenty to twenty-five students.

 

Susan: Okay. Well.. Um.. So.. You're a professor here, and that kind of brings me into the heart of this whole interview. I wanted to interview you to get the perspective of a professor about the events that occurred this summer at UVA with President Sullivan and her resignation and reinstatement. So to begin going into that, could you tell me about your initial reaction when you heard that she was resigning, and I guess, when you read the email, that was your first...

 

Professor Elzinga: Sure. My initial reaction was a complicated one in the sense that I was disappointed because from my perspective – limited – but from my perspective as a faculty member, and in all my contacts with Terry Sullivan had been very positive. And I thought that her performance as a president was really strong and positive. There have been eight presidents at the University of Virginia, and I have served under five of them. And I really liked her personally and I thought she was doing a good job.

 

So it was one of disappointment, and that's understandable. But also surprise. I serve on the board of trustees of a college and am somewhat familiar with board governance. Currently, I serve on six different boards, and so I spend a lot of time, and unlike most faculty members I'm on boards and know how boards are supposed to work, I know something about board governance. And this just seemed like a very odd situation as I learned just the initial details of her termination. Such things as it was a surprise to her. That's very odd in traditional board governance. Usually, the leader of an organization, president or whatever, is aware from the board that there is a level of disappointment and instructions with what needs to be done to offset the disappointment. None of that from the initial news report seemed to be present. In fact, there did not even seem to be a full meeting of the board in which Terry Sullivan's services were terminated. It seemed to have been done through kinda ad hoc phone conversations. "What do you think?" "What do you think?" "Well, I'm in favor of this. Let me call this person." A very.. Again, from my perspective, a very unusual form of board governance. So it was both disappointing personally at the prospect of losing a president that I thought was a good one and extreme... just lots of questions about mechanics, about the procedures. Again, from my perspective of what board governance usually looks like.

 

Now, there's nothing like a bible handed down from above that tells us how a board is supposed to behave. But within the context of non-profit organizations and profit organizations, whether it's a for profit corporation like Apple or whether it's a university or a small charity, the boards usually have a sense -- There's a an organization, the AGB, the Association of Governing Boards, that give you practical principles of how you do this. There are board policy manuals about how you do this. And a board - a lot of students aren't aware of this, a lot of faculty members aren't aware of this -- a board is not someone that manages the firm. That's what the management is there for. That's why you have a president, a provost, and so on. A board should avoid, if at all possible, micromanaging an organization. Really, two things that a board is responsible for that nobody else is responsible for. One, is the firing and hiring of the president. So the board firing Terry Sullivan or hiring Terry Sullivan, that's fully appropriate. That's not the job of the faculty, it's not the job of the students, it's not the job of the alumni. The board may listen to these groups. But their bottom line is they hire and fire the president. The other thing they do is they're responsible to see that the organization they serve is on track, it's on mission. Whatever is the mission, if the mission is a free clinic that offers health services in the inner city of Charlottesville, then the board is to be sure that this organization is not having a tutoring program at St. Anne's Belfield because that's off track, it's off mission. So the board has those two responsibilities. They're big ones, but it's limited. So when people would say, "Well, the board shouldn't have done this," from my perspective, that's a different question than what does a board have the authority to do? The board had the authority, the question was, "Was it a wise decision?" And from my perspective, it was not a wise decision, and it was not implemented in what I would consider good board governance principles.

 

Susan: Did you.. .Before, during, and even after this whole incident, had you ever had much personal interaction with anyone serving on this board? Or did you know them well?

 

Professor Elzinga: No. I didn't know any... I've known some people who've been on the board over the years, but I don't think I knew anyone on this board well. It turns out some people on the board were former students of mine. I was not aware that Helen Dragas was a former student of mine --

 

Susan: Oh wow.

 

Professor Elzinga: -- until she announced this when she talked about the role of my talk on the Lawn in re-instituting Terry Sullivan. She mentioned that Mr. Elzinga had given this talk, and she was a former student of his. I had... I mean, this is because the class is so large, it might be hard for you to understand how could she be in my class, but she sat in the chem auditorium. All of the kinda public press about Helen Dragas was about her being a Darden grad. Over and over again. Darden grad, Darden grad, MBA. And I really frankly was not aware that she was a college grad 'cause I don't think that was ever mentioned, at least much in the press or I didn't see it. And I wasn't aware that beyond that, on a more granular level, that she had been in ECON 201.

 

Susan: Wow. Did she ever personally talk to you about..?

 

Professor Elzinga: Oh, I got a very warm letter from her since, as.. in her role as rector. I'm probably the only person that has a very warm letter from both Terry Sullivan and Helen Dragas about this whole matter.

 

Susan: What did each of them say? If... vaguely, just a thank you, sort of?

 

Professor Elzinga: Well.. Thanking me for the role that I played and the manner in which I addressed the issue. They were both grateful for that.

 

Susan: Understandably so. Well, also.. Did you.. You mentioned earlier that you've had really good experiences, at least from afar, with Teresa Sullivan. What were -- and I heard about them vaguely on the Lawn in the speech that you gave at the rally. Could you talk a little bit about what you knew of her personally and as president of this school?

 

Professor Elzinga: Sure. My first meeting with the president was at an alumni event in Los Angeles where I was invited to speak and she was invited to speak. I don't think we had ever met personally before. I'd seen pictures of her and read about her and so on. But that's the first time we sort of co-labored together, where I gave a talk and she gave a talk and we had a chance to visit a little bit. And um.. I was very taken by her talk. It's like, she said the right things, but it was really delivered in a winsome manner. It's like she meant it. It's not like, "I'm the president, and I'm supposed to say nice things about UVA because you're alumni of this organization and that's my job." But she just seemed to be pleased to be there, to be flourishing in this environment. And as I mentioned, there was a time at this event when somebody said, "Let's sing the Good Ole Song!" It wasn't on the agenda, and everybody starts singing it. And I was struck that she knew the words.

 

Susan: Awh.

 

Professor Elzinga: And she'd only been onboard for a short time, but she had.. somebody... she had the prescience to say, or to learn, "Oh yeah, you need to know this song if you're gonna hang around UVA." Um.. I had lunch with her one time, at Carr's Hill, and that was a very, not only pleasurable time, but I was just taken by her conversation, her interest in the University in the broadest sense of the term. I've seen her address the faculty, seemed to be very responsive to faculty concerns.

 

And one incident in particular, and I know.. I'm an economist. I know that you can't just pick one un-random event and say, "Well, this describes the whole person." But there are times when one event tells you a lot about a person. And that was when Tommy Gilliam died. And Tommy was a student that I knew fairly well, first-year kid. And I knew his family. I had taught his.. two uncles, and I had taught his sister -- I'm sorry, his aunt. And I knew his grandparents. And so I knew the family pretty well, and it was pretty tough on me and a lot of kids when he died. And Tommy happened to attend the same church that I attended. The memorial service was at his church, at this church. And lots of kids... Tommy was a first-year boy, so a lot of kids who wanted to go would not be able to get there 'cause it's a couple miles away. And under Terry Sullivan's administration, University buses were permitted to take first-year kids... And there were hundreds of them. Two or three hundred kids to Trinity Presbyterian Church to attend the service.

 

Now you might think, "Well, what's the big deal about that?" But the big deal is: this is the University of Virginia, where some people in the administration interpret the separation of church and state, the sort of Jeffersonian dogma of the wall of separation between church and state is so severe that you couldn't use University resources to send UVA students to a worship service. And while this was a memorial service, it was in a church building. And I could imagine administrators saying, "Oh no, we couldn't do that, we couldn't do that." And I can imagine Terry Sullivan, with her sense of compassion and wisdom both saying, "Look. This is one of our kids. He died. He died on Grounds. There's a bunch of kids that are hurting. They wanna go to a worship - a memorial service - in his honor. By all means, get them there." And that happened, and it almost moved me to tears and I saw buses pulling out. 'Cause I never thought I would see that. In all of my years at UVA, I never thought I would see something like that, and it happened on her watch. And it may have been somebody totally different that said, "That'd okay." And the president shouldn't have to be deciding whether buses are used during that. But nonetheless, whoever she has in... working for her, were people who thought, "Well, with Terry Sullivan as president, it's okay to do this." So that impressed me.

 

Another thing that struck me is when she was terminated, I was taken by the fact that it was not just faculty like myself who had had personal contact with her who were disappointed and surprised, but that um.. Secretaries, people who could not conceivably, at least I think, were likely to have had any contact with her, were disappointed. Were upset. That somehow she had set a tone in her administration that worked its way down to people who were down in the lower echelons of the university, just doing the dog work that keeps the place going. It's important work, but they're not in the provost office, they don't mingle socially with the president, they don't go to Los Angeles and give a talk with her, that sort of thing that I had the opportunity to do. And they were concerned and disappointed. I thought, "Wow. That's really quite remarkable." She hadn't been here that long, and this very important constituency within the University, the people who keep the buildings going, who keep the food service going, and process the paperwork -- that they thought, "Something's wrong here." And that.. That got my attention as well. It's one of the reasons that I wanted to pursue the matter a little bit more was I saw that the constituency was not just people like myself who sort of had a personal angle knowing her, watching her in action.

 

Susan: Well, on that note.. Um, how.. What were some of the things that you did to maybe go beyond the normal level of involvement? I know you spoke at the rally, I was actually there. But was that one of your main ways of like... getting involved with this?

 

Professor Elzinga: In some sense, that was... I was gonna say, the only way, I think it was the main way -- I had a little bit of email communication with Terry Sullivan in getting my support for her and that I was praying for her through all of this. And this was back when I did not think that she would be reinstated or didn't know if that wouldn't happen. Certainly, nobody could've... would've placed a big bet that that would happen. Boards usually don't change their mind on things like this. And.. But the main thing that I did was speak at the so-called "Rally on the Lawn." In fact, to just put a fairly long footnote on that... I'm a fairly conservative guy by disposition, and I'm not the sort of person who likes to get up and speak before a big crowd. I know I teach economics to a big crowd --

 

Susan: [almost a whisper] That's different.

 

Professor Elzinga: But something called a rally just doesn't fit my style. And I think originally when I was invited, it was called a demonstration, and I said no to that just because the connotation for me and this, you have to remember my age. I'm back in Vietnam-era guy when demonstrations got violent and rowdy... Were just too emotional for me. There was not a rational discussion of issues, but it was more, "Let's go do something crazy," or something that I would've thought bordered on violent or something I didn't wanna be associated with. So the people who invited me, as I sort of recall, originally called it a demonstration, and I was not enthused about that term. In other words, I didn't jump at the chance to speak at the Lawn. This was not something I was looking to do or hoping to be invited to do. I was a reluctant participant. But when they called it a rally, that made it more congenial for me just in terms of the style of what was supposed to happen. 'Cuase I didn't think it would leave to a lot of ranting and raving or violence or anything like that.

 

As I recall, there were three objectives. One was to have Terry Sullivan reinstated, one was to have a faculty member of the University put on the Board of Trustees, and the fourth [third] was the resignation of Helen Dragas. And I was fairly candid in saying I did not support the second and the third. That is, I don't believe a UVA faculty member should be on the Board of Visitors. I think that would be inappropriate. I think there should.. It'd be wise to have faculty members on the Board and a faculty member that might be really super would be someone like Mandy Pallais who is a UVA grad, former student of mine, and teaches at Harvard. Okay, so she knows UVA, loves UVA, is a faculty member, but they're at another school, so they're not trying to angle something for the faculty here, taking a faculty perspective. That, I would support. But the goal, I think, was to get a faculty member here on the Board, and I said, "I'm really not in favor of that." And I did not have an opinion that Helen Dragas should be fired. I didn't know. I didn't know the situation well enough. It just seemed odd that I would go up and give a talk and say, "She should be terminated." I didn't know enough details about her. I didn't know she'd been a student of mine. But I did support the reinstatement of Terry Sullivan. I said I would speak to that, so that's all I spoke to.

 

And whoever was inviting me - I forget her name now - I'm embarrassed, as I should remember her name for the record, but I don't. At any rate, I said, "Yeah," I'll be willing to speak. I needed to be one of the early speakers because I was leaving for Europe, so I was heading off to France shortly thereafter. So I made that clear. I really didn't know that Terry Sullivan had been reinstated or that Helen Dragas had mentioned my name in the reinstatement proceedings until much later because I had limited email contact for a while when I was in France. I was on a boat on the Sienne River and screwed up my email access and couldn't learn until later that this had happened. So it was good news, but um.. I was out of the loop for a while.

 

Susan: Um.. Can you talk about -- because I was really interested in a lot of what you had to say at the rally. Even being there, I just.. I don't know, I loved it because it was so different from what a lot of people were saying in that you weren't accusatory of Helen Dragas. You were....fair, I thought. And so I was just wondering if you could speak to what inspired those remarks a little bit more, and what they actually were, for the record.

 

Professor Elzinga: Sure. Yeah.. So my objective was to try and speak to the issue of Terry Sullivan's reinstatement, and I had nothing really directly to say about Helen Dragas or the issue of faculty representation on the Board. I think people expected me to look at this as a matter of board government.. governance. Malfeasance, almost. I tried to make it clear that I thought the Board had made a mistake and why I thought that was the case based on my experience with Terry Sullivan, some of the things that we've talked about in this interview.

 

But my lens for this was not principles of board governance. My lens was the lens that I try to use to govern my own life, and that's the lens of scripture – a Christian, a biblical perspective – on how we're supposed to live. And so, looking at this through a biblical lens, one of the most important concepts in the Bible of the Old Testament and the New Testament is that of atonement. That someone can make a mistake, and they can atone for that mistake. They can, in biblical language, remedy the situation, and I thought the Board had made a mistake. But we live in a world not of.. Doesn't have to be malice and name-calling, it can be one of atonement. The Board can atone for its error. I didn't use the word "sin" but its error and reinstate Terry Sullivan.

 

But there was another side of the coin that also needed to be considered through a biblical lens and that's that of forgiveness. That this whole process of what, in theological terms, we think of as reconciliation that the whole Christian Gospel is God reconciling humans to Himself, that here it was a matter of reconciling the Board to Terry Sullivan. And for that to happen, it was not just the Board atoning for its errors and reinstating her, it would be a matter of Terry Sullivan being able to forgive the Board.

 

And so.. I tried to stress that the biblical perspective on forgiveness is: "This is not easy. This is not something you can flick your fingers and do." Everybody who knows that, who's been wronged by somebody else... Now, the scriptural burden is on you to forgive, and this can be very, very hard. And the bigger the grievance against you, maybe the harder it is to forgive. And that the whole thing would only work if Terry Sullivan was the kind of person who could forgive, and I tried to hint that this was her responsibility if she's reinstated. This would be very difficulty, the Bible makes that clear. But I thought she was the kind of person who could do this. A lot of people couldn't. A lot of people really wanna almost harbor the wound, it becomes part of their identity. The wrong that's been done against them becomes who they are, and they almost nurture it. And the Bible comes along and says, "Oh, yeah, that's the normal way. That's the easy way." 'Cause you can feel justified than rather go on and forgive, how difficult that is. So that was, to my mind, the hard thing for the Board was to admit they'd made a mistake. And I wasn't sure they could do that because most boards don't. Most of us don't -- it is incredibly hard to admit that we screwed up. Our first reaction is, "Well, somebody else is really at fault," and that's the human reaction. Forgiveness is really hard to do. So it was a tough situation. I thought the only way you could really look at it, realistically, was not through principles of board governance but through biblical principles, how we're supposed to live. So that was the theme I took.

 

But I, frankly, have been surprised at the reaction people had 'cause this is not Wheaton College, this is not a Christian school. This is not a school that looks at the world through the lens of redemption, and atonement, and forgiveness. This is a school that looks at the world through the lens of success, accomplishment, achievement, credentials, "I'm better than the other person," and "I've succeeded over this person's accomplishments." But several people have told me that they were standing with people who were hardcore...secular people who... didn't give a rip about religion in their own personal lives and in some cases wanted Helen Dragas's head on a pike. That was what they went there hoping to have, sort of spoken to. And they didn't get it from my talk of course. But somehow, it resonated with people. It resonated with people it shouldn't have clicked with. I mean, it wasn't what they wanted to hear, but... I just believe by God's grace, I mean, I'll put it on the record, I just think God somehow was working at the University to... somehow, it was His pleasure to try to work this out in a redemptive, reconciliatory way. And even people who didn't want that somehow had their hearts softened and thought, "Maybe we should do that.. Maybe we should do that."

 

And I had... I've had several people tell me that they were standing with people who thought they would hate my remarks or really dislike them. Or it wasn't what they were looking for at the rally, and they got something very different. Instead of being upset, they accepted it. I don't know why, other than to attribute it to God's grace.

 

Susan: Well.. Um, it sounded like in general - at least your talk - was really well-received by most people.

 

Professor Elzinga: I got lots of response from not just here.. People who... I didn't even know they cared about UVA. I mean, people at other universities were following this and sent me warm notes. I got no criticism, that was the other thing.

 

Susan: Wow, that's great!

 

Professor Elzinga: I'm at UVA, I'm talking about redemption, and atonement, and forgiveness, you know, at Mr. Jefferson's University. And nobody criticized me! I'm sure there were critics, people who didn't like the talk. But if there were, I never heard from them. Everything I got was positive. Even one former student from years ago, back in the.. 1971.. sent me a case of wine.

 

Sarah, Professor Elzinga, and Susan all three laugh*

 

Professor Elzinga: It was kinda funny because I'm a t-totaler. Uh.. And uh.. But he sent me a case of wine, and I.. I don't know anything about wine. Well.. I know something about wine.

 

Sarah, Professor Elzinga, and Susan all three laugh*

 

Professor Elzinga: But I really don't know a lot about wine as a consumer. But I wrote a colleague of mine, an economist at Princeton, who's a great authority on wine and the wine industry. And I mentioned the wine that this guy had sent me as a gift for giving this talk. And the person at Princeton is Professor Orley Ashenfelter, and he wrote me an email back. And he said, "You should either consume that wine very soon, or - if you're gonna keep it at home - increase the insurance value of your home." 'Cause he said it is very... It is a very nice gift. And this is from a guy who is so fussy about the quality of wine that he's legendary in our profession for going to a restaurant and bringing his own wine with him because they will probably not have wine that satisfies his taste.

 

Sarah, Professor Elzinga, and Susan all three laugh*

 

Susan: Wow. Yeah.. Well, I guess that guy really liked everything that you had to say! Made a good investment in it! Um.. So were you... How surprised were you by the attention that your talk as well as this rally and even the overall.. "The 17 Days in June".. how impressed were you by the attention that this received on a national scale.

 

Professor Elzinga: Very surprised.

 

Susan: Did you not ever foresee that really?

 

Professor Elzinga: No. I didn't know that many people would care who was the President of the University of Virginia or how she was fired, if she was fired, or why. I'm.. I'm still surprised. I mean, one of the boards that I'm on is a board that has a ministry here at UVA. There's a chapter of InterVarsity Christian fellowship, and I serve on the board of intervarsity and the national board. And we recently had a board meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and a guy who.. I was at a committee meeting of the board, and there was a guy who runs a foundation, Cornerstone Trust Foundation in Grand Rapids. And he said, "I heard about your talk that you gave at the University of Virginia." He has no connection to UVA! I mean, he knows me, but that's about it. Never been a student here, probably never been to Charlottesville, lives in the Midwest. And he said, "I heard about that talk," he said, "I want.. just wanna thank you for that and I want you to send it to the other board members." And then two or three other board members - Rudy Hernandez, a board member. He's an accountant at San Antonio. He said, "I would really like to see your talk. So today, Kaitlyn is putting together an email to send out a digital copy of my talk to all the board members because several of them asked to see it. Not one of them has gone to - went to UVA. Probably most of them never been to Charlottesville. It is an odd.. I mean, this is the kind of thing you guys may have to sort out through your history project, as to what makes this an event that was somehow more than just UVA and who's gonna be the president here. I don't really understand it myself.

 

Susan: Well, um.. What were.. So after this rally, what did you expect to happen at UVA? Because you said earlier, you had no... No one really could've foreseen that President Sullivan would come back, that she would be reinstated. So what did you... What were some of the things going on in your head after this?

 

Professor Elzinga: Well, from what I had heard about Helen Dragas's remarks at whatever it was, a press conference or whatever went on on that Monday after I was in France. And then based on my letter, the letter that I received from her is that there was this desire to have reconciliation and to move on. And as you know from my remarks on the Lawn, what I said is what we don't need, are lawsuits and commissions and things because these just tend to keep the issue going in some way. They develop a constituency of their own. "I'm on this committee to investigate and so I need to find fault with this person or that person." And the hope that I had is that somehow, by God's grace, we would have reconciliation, we would have forgiveness, and we would move on. Not that I'm so naive as to think that everybody forgets that it happened. I'm not naive about that, but I do believe that there are many times in human relations when you can set aside differences and go forward, together, and say, "Okay. We're not gonna dwell on the past." People have to do that in marriages, they have to do it with parents and children, and otherwise families would always be fractured if everybody was just always living on past grievances. And it's part the mark of, I think, what the scriptures call us to, is to be able to forgive and move forward. And it seems like that's largely what's happened. There's still people who say, "Well, Helen Dragas should lose her job." And this, that, and the other thing. And I don't hear anybody saying, they may be out there, but I don't hear anybody saying, "Terry Sullivan should've still been fired." I just don't hear that. I do hear that Helen Dragas talk, that she shouldn't be here. And occasionally I hear things about "we need to have a faculty member on the Board of Visitors."

 

I wish I could get across to people that the issue is not.. The issue is faculty views on the Board, and those do not have to be transmitted by a UVA faculty member. In my own sense, I serve on the board of Hope College, and I'm a professor. And one of the reasons I've valuable to that board is I bring a professor's perspective. Professor Zuidema from University of Michigan Medical School serves on the board. Very distinguished professor of surgery. Serves on the Hope College Board. he brings a faculty member's perspective, but he's not on the payroll at the college. So when we speak and we say, "Well, we think the faculty ought to...We oughtta think about doing this." Nobody thinks, "Well, he's sitting there really just trying to pad his payroll or help his friends or whatever" 'cause we're not there. We represent a faculty perspective. To me, that's the wise way to have faculty perspective on the board is that professorial role, but not by somebody who is on the UVA payroll. I haven't been able to get people.. You know, nobody's asking me, but I haven't been able to get that across, that I'm not opposed to a faculty perspective on the board. I just don't think it should be from me or one of my colleagues.

 

Susan: Well, um.. You sort of touched on this a couple of strands of thought ago, but what... how do you think is the best way for UVA to move forward after this? In our class, we talk a lot about how it seems like students maybe aren't as involved with this story as they could be, and it's almost as though we've forgotten that this happened? So what should we do, what lessons should we take away from this? And how should we convey them to move forward?

 

Professor Elzinga: Well... That's a complicated question in the sense that in some ways, I'm glad that we're not, to use Tristam Shandy's expression, "winding and unwinding the same rope." This is useful to record the events for historical purposes, but I'm glad we're not part of the commission that's sent out to find fault and point fingers and so on.

 

I suspect that part of this healing process will also involve the Board. I hope it would involve the Board adopting policies that would prevent major decisions from being made in the future without full-board participation. I mean, part of the... And I don't mean this as a cheap shot, it just seems so obvious is that if the Board is gonna do something major, they need to meet face-to-face and talk about it. It isn't run through caucuses on the phone.

 

**Secretary knocks on Elzinga's door to remind him of an upcoming meeting

 

Professor Elzinga: I'm gonna have to finish up soon.

 

Susan: Okay.

 

Professor Elzinga: But I think that's probably obvious to the Board now, that they need to put their own house in order. I think that another fundamental question is how the board is appointed. We know that the Board is appointed by the governor [of Virginia]. And the question behind the question is, "What is the criteria that the governor uses in selecting Board membership?" Board membership, for something like... I'll say it -- not for any organization, or at least for most organizations -- should not be seen as an honor. And probably for some people, board membership is considered a credential. "I'm a member of the Board of Visitors at UVA, and I'm a big shot." Um.. What you really want are people who care passionately about the University and who will really participate in its governance. So a person who just resigned -- Mr. Kirk, I think is his name. I read just a news account, I've never met the person, but I read a news account, and the numbers may be wrong, but of 11 past Board meetings, he missed nine of them. Well, to go back to my board membership on InterVarsity Christian fellowship, if you plan to miss a board meeting, you have to get permission from the president. That means you have to notify the president in advance and say, "I don't think I can attend the January board meeting, and the reason is I'm having surgery" or "My daughter's getting married" or something like that. And then, at the meeting itself, roll is taken, and the chair of the board will announce that Ken Elzinga is absent today because he's having surgery. And so, everybody knows that you're not there, you've notified them in advance, and your reason better by something more serious than "''Cause he didn't feel like showing up" or "Something came up at the university at the last-minute, and he decided to do that instead." Now, I don't know about Mr. Kirk, maybe he had 9 reasons in a row or something like that or children were all getting married. But it's odd that he would miss so many meetings. It shows that this probably is not a high, high priority for him. And we need people on the Board for whom this is a high priority.

 

Number one, it's not just an honor, a credential, something on your résumé. And I don't know if the governor is always sensitive to that. I don't mean Republican versus Democrat. Any governor has an incentive structure in place where he or she really knows how to pick the best Board members. But I think that's a starter, and it may be that the Board needs to communicate to the governor, "These are the kind of people we're looking for. We're not just looking for people who want a credential or an honor. We want people who will really be here and if we're gonna make a major decision, are committed enough to say, 'We need to get together to do this. We can all go to Charlottesville or go to New York or whatever and talk this out.'"

 

On the boards in which I serve, and this is a strong word, but I use it, it is inconceivable to me that we would ever make a major decision like this without having not only a meeting, but probably two meetings. In the case of firing a president, the meetings would involve the president, where we would look at personnel.  This is what it's come to, and in order to not make it go the final route, this is what needs to be done to remedy the situation.

 

Susan: Um, well I know that you're on kinda a time crunch, but I have two more quick questions.

 

Professor Elzinga: Okay. I'll try not to ramble and respond.

 

Susan: Oh, no! It's okay, I love it! You're not rambling at all, this is all really useful. So this is a broad question. You can make this narrow as you see fit, but how do you think that the state should fund a school like UVA? Because I know that was, in the aftermath of reading about what made the Board of Visitors.. or whoever on the Board of Visitors think about getting rid of Teresa Sullivan, a lot of it had to do with financial concerns about what programs should stay here, how money should be spent at the school. So what are some of your thoughts on the ways that maybe we could prevent that situation from occurring again. With state funding.

 

Professor Elzinga: Yeah... I have, I'm sure, a minority view here at UVA with regard to state funding, but I believe the University would be a stronger university if it had no funding from the state of Virginia. There are exceptions, but when you look generally at the landscape of colleges and universities in the United States, the great ones are privately funded. They're not dependent upon the state. They have the freedom to do what they want on pricing, on hiring, on buying resources, everything from when they buy toner, they don't have to do it the way the state does it. They buy toner in what they think is the most efficient way for the institution. So even within the University, the two colleges that are most separate from state funding would be Darden and the Law School. And you look at the overall portfolio of colleges in the University, they're two of the strongest in terms of national reputations. So I would like to see a day - I never will because the state will probably never give up title to the University - but I would like to see a day when the University is both de jure and de facto private. I think ultimately would be a much stronger university if that were to happen.

 

Susan: Well, for the sake of time, I guess I'll just get to my last question, which is kinda "you take it away," but is there anything during this interview that you might have wanted to elaborate on or just something you wanna say as final remarks if I didn't ask you a particular question?

 

Professor Elzinga: No. I don't mean this to sound obsequious, but I thought you asked very great questions. They covered the landscape. I think the only thing that I would add is I just think it's really cool that you're doing this because this was such a huge deal in higher education. I mean, the subject of New York Times stories, the Washington Post covered this thing almost every day. Um.. I'm not a reader of the Times or the Post, but I'm aware of the coverage that they gave to it. I know just from my own travels how, whether I'm giving a talk at another university or consulting in New York, people would ask about this. It was a huge deal in reasons that I don't fully understand. So it's very important that we have in-house, kind of a track record of what went on so people can learn from that.

 

Susan: Well, thank you!

 

Sarah: Can I follow up on your last response? Really quickly?

 

Professor Elzinga: Sure. Of course you can!

 

Sarah: So you think the University should be privately funded completely? Or it would be a stronger university?

 

Professor Elzinga: By... Let me put it differently: Not privately funded. I mean we would still be eligible to get a scientist in the chemistry department to apply for the National Science Foundation Grant to study something. So we would be a "private university" in the sense that Stanford is a private university, Princeton is a private university. There is no government organization that controls the university the way we still have control from Richmond over little things like how we buy toner to major things to how we price our tuition. Or where students have to come from.

 

Sarah: Do you think that would change the mission of the University if it was a private university?

 

Professor Elzinga: I think it would be a stronger university in terms of the type of students we attract. I think it would be a stronger university in terms of the research.

 

Sarah: Thank you. Sorry.

 

Susan: No, I wanted to ask, too, but I didn't wanna take too much time, but I'm glad you said that, so.. I think that's a wrap then.

 

Professor Elzinga: Okay. Good. Well, great. So how many interviews...