Documenting U.Va.’s Future: Interview Transcription
Interviewer/Transcriber: Lindsay Kijewski
Interviewee: Posie Holmes
Interview Date: October 9, 2012
Interview Location: Nau Hall, University of Virginia
LK: Lindsay Kijewski
PH: Posie Holmes
LK: So, I’m Lindsay Kijewski, and I’m here to interview Posie Holmes, so this is:
PH: Posie Holmes, that’s spelled P-O-S-I-E H-O-L-M-E-S.
LK: Yes, and we are recording this oral history as part of a class at UVA, Media Studies 3559: An Oral History of the Ouster and Reinstatement, Documenting UVA’s Future, and it is the evening of October 9th and we are in Nau Hall, the year 2012. So, Posie, thank you for participating in this oral history, we’re just going to find out a little bit about you before we get started. What, how would you describe your affiliation or your role here at The University?
PH: I am an out of state student, from Concord, Massachusetts. I’m a Second Year. I love UVA so much and I am in a sorority, I play Club Soccer, and I’m taking this class on the resignation and reinstatement of Teresa Sullivan, or, President Sullivan.
LK: So, you would describe yourself as a very involved member of the community?
PH: I’m obsessed with it here.
LK: Wonderful. Do you have any, you know, initial, you know, sweeping thoughts about President Sullivan’s ouster and reinstatement that we’d like, that you’d like to put out before we get to the…?
PH: Well, the first thing I’d like to say is actually something that I’ve been thinking about lately as we’ve been preparing to do these interviews, and getting down to the business of why we’re doing it, especially when we were constructing our purpose, is I was actually pretty surprised that there are so few people enrolled in this class. That was something that I’ve been thinking about lately, because when it first popped up on the website when I was picking classes this summer, I thought oh my gosh I have to enroll in this instantly or it is gonna be full and gone and I will never get a chance to look at that again. And then I was surprised that there were, that it wasn’t just overbooked because I felt like, everyone would want to know what is going on and everyone would want to study it. So that was actually my first reaction, was that I was surprised that it was not so popular, and not so widespread or well known. And when I talked to people about this class they say oh that’s cool like how’d you find that or where’d you, they, they hadn’t heard of it before.
PH: So that was actually kind of surprising to me. So that’s my first, like, grand observation.
LK: OK great, alright, well then we’ll go back a little in time, and why don’t you tell me a little bit about the moment that you first learned that, um, about the situation here at UVA with President Sullivan?
PH: I heard by email, and, um, I got the email, and I read it, and I remember being confused, um, and but not as concerned as I am now that I understand it. I just remember thinking alright that’s really weird and having the sort of unsettled feeling but it was more of a feeling of floating in limbo and not really knowing to which emotion to attach yourself, than a strong reaction. My dad went to law school here and so he also received the email from the Board of Visitors and from Rector Dragas and he had a very, very strong reaction.
LK: Oh wow.
PH: And he came home and wanted to talk about it, wanted to hear about it, and I was a little overwhelmed by his reaction because I didn’t realize how important the events were and I didn’t realize that I should have had such a strong reaction, um, and I feel like that’s a feeling that’s been continued throughout this whole process as we begin to learn about the tensions in higher education and all the factors at play, I’m continually struck with this feeling of I didn’t realize it was such a big deal, and I feel like that plays into what I said about there not being as many people in this class, is that I don’t think they realize that it was such a big deal. Um, so that was kind of my first reaction, was, uh, OK, what and then Oh my god what.
LK: Alright, um, was there like a certain moment when you remember switching from confusion to concern?
PH: Um, I remember switching from confusion to concern on the 4th of July, I think, because there was, uh, we went to a barbecue with some of my dad’s fraternity brothers who also went to law school down here, so we’re all sitting around in Lincoln, Massachusetts, in the backyard of Bob Jarlin’s house, talking about Teresa Sullivan, and they all went to law school here, um, well a couple of them went to law school here and a couple people went to business school and they’re bankers, but they all went to school undergrad with my dad, and so they all wanted to talk about it and they all wanted to talk to me about it and it was just really overwhelming. And I was concerned because I realized that I didn’t know what was going on, and I just, there was not enough information, and that’s when I started to realize, like, something not right is going on, because it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t, like, it didn’t matter if the Board of Visitors was in the right or the wrong, like, I’m not looking at it from that type of angle, I was concerned because I couldn’t decide for myself whether they were in the right from the wrong, ‘cause I didn’t have the information or the ability to, so that’s when I was, I think, switched from just like confusion to an actual sense of concern.
LK: Yeah, do you think, um, ‘cause you’ve now mentioned the low enrollment in our class and then also strong reactions from several alumni, do you think that there, why do you think, if you do, there is such a marked difference between, um, the student reactions generally and the alumni reactions?
PH: I think that students and alumni are in very different positions. For the student, they’re more connected to their school in the present, we live here, we’re here every day, this is our lives right now. Um, for an alumni it’s a very large part of who they are, who they become, but I also feel they’re in a, in a, um, a position of liberty almost, that they can, they can do things that we can’t do. When we talk about people closing down their shops so that people can come to the rallies, and become educated, and figure out what’s going on, I don’t have a shop to close down. I can’t make that kind of statement.
PH: I didn’t go to the rallies because I was in Massachusetts, but I mean, I didn’t, I didn’t write a letter in, but my dad did. He emailed back right away and said, what’s going on, you didn’t say anything in this email, like, he was very proactive and I think part of the difference between that might be a perspective, is that I don’t yet see myself as, it’s that, that action didn’t occur to me yet, um, I would say there’s a little bit of the risk involved, in that I do have, like the things that are on my mind right now, are working hard, getting good grades, learning, getting a degree, no, it’s very progressive steps that you have to mark off in order to move on to the next one, it’s like climbing a ladder, you have to hit each rung, versus, when you’re graduated from school already I feel like you have a little bit of more freedom to, you know, go back and say, hey wait, back here that’s not OK, like let’s slow down, let’s spend some time here, let’s think about it, let’s talk about it, and let’s change it, um, but I was so proud of students who did that. Like, I would say, I talked about moving from confusion to concern, but I remember reading the email from the Honor Committee when they emailed out and basically called out the Board of Visitors and said, there hasn’t been a blatant act of lying, cheating, or stealing, but this is not the way we do it at The University and this is not upholding our values of honor and transparency and holding each other accountable, and I almost cried when I read that email, because I was so happy and so full of, like, I was just so proud of my school and the people who go there, and just thought like that’s, that’s amazing, that’s so cool.
LK: Definitely, um, definitely. So, um, we talked a little bit about, um, you know, we’re both in this class, right, in the Media Studies department, um, why personally did you think it was important to enroll in this class?
PH: I, I wanted to know what was going on. I really just wanted to understand it, and I knew that I didn’t, and I had a vague sense that the events of June, of this June were a big deal but I didn’t understand why, and I didn’t fully have a grasp on that so I thought that would be a really, really cool thing to study, and I also just, I mean, in the pure sense of academics thought it would be cool to try something in a department that I’ve never gone to before. So it was partially because of the summer and just partially because it was different.
LK: Definitely, and do you feel any of the risk that we just talked about, um, do you feel like any of that is present in the fact that you’re enrolled in this course, or no?
PH: I feel like, the course being an experimental course is a little bit of a risk but I don’t feel any more risk from this course than I would going to a rally or sending in my face to put on a stake on the lawn, like, I don’t, I don’t see that as a risk, which I think speaks to my mindset in the sort of incremental progress, like you have to check off these things on the list and move forward, it’s that, like, I feel it would be more risky to mess with my grade than to show up at one of these rallies.
PH: Which, I don’t know, what you would do with that piece of information, but like, I get more anxiety from this class being like not totally sure how I’m gonna be graded on these blog posts, like, don’t know how to do an interview, get more anxiety from that uncertainty, than I would from going to a rally and speaking up and I’d feel much more comfortable in that arena, for what it’s worth.
LK: Great, um, so about the, you know, this has obviously been a lengthy process, um, it started, well, concrete things started happening in June but apparently there was a lot of buildup to that, and now we’re in October and having this conversation, and so, where do you think we are in the process of everything that’s happening surrounding this event, and do you think we’re coming close to a conclusion? Do you think we’re just getting started? What are your feelings?
PH: I wouldn’t categorize it in the beginning, middle, and end, I would have put this June as not the beginning or the middle, but I would categorize it as the awakening.
PH: Um, in one of the readings we talked about, there was the phrase and it just stuck with me, um, the author said that he came into consciousness in the ‘50s, and I thought that was such a beautiful elegant way of putting it because, you know, you’re there, this beginning, middle, or end, yes, time is progressing, but I feel like this summer the school and the community came into consciousness and woke up to this issue, and so it’s not the start because the issue’s always been there, it’s not in the middle because we don’t know where the end is, but it’s the beginning of a, of a community consciousness, that there is a greater issue that needs to be discussed, so I would say this summer was the awakening, and right now, I’d say people are in a digestion phase, we’re bringing in information, and we’re doing this course, people are looking at emails and looking at relationships, and looking at structures and digesting and soaking it all in and I feel like the next step would be diagnosis, and looking at what the real issues we have to deal with here, like, hard facts, money coming in, money going out, numbers, students, faculty, how can we best operate a university so that there are enough classes, enough teachers, enough substance but still enough of the intangibles like trust and transparency and community and honor, and all those things, so I feel like, diagnosis and then implementing it and then at the end, of course, we’re going to have to look back, so I would say it’s nowhere near over yet.
PH: But, and I have no idea what over means for this.
PH: Like I don’t know how we would end this, I don’t know if it’s something that would end, I’m pretty sure as long as there is, like, public education this discussion will never be fully closed. So that’s where I’d say, it’s kind of a vague answer, but,
LK: Oh no, it’s good.
PH: But that’s where we are.
LK: Of course. So yeah, um, how have you, how would you say if at all your level of engagement and sort of, um, your, you know, information intake, how would you say that that has changed, um, because of this situation if at all?
PH: Um, well I’m definitely more in touch with The University because in order to find out more information and to use that information, as soon as the first email came out, I then went on Twitter and had to start following like, The Cavalier Daily, and the alumni office, like, those weren’t people that I was already following on Twitter, so I got more in the loop that way, and getting updates through Facebook, so I reached out and that helped me become more involved in The University. I feel like coming back on Grounds and taking this course has continued to increase that, so I would say that this event has made me more involved in The University than I was before.
LK: Great. Um, so, did you take, have you taken, other than in this course, have you taken any other actions to inform yourself about the ouster or rallies you mentioned in discussions, did you attend any of those?
PH: I was up in Massachusetts all summer, so I…
LK: Oh, OK.
PH: I didn’t go to any of them.
LK: How about once you got back to Grounds?
PH: So once I got back to Grounds, I was like, this course is gonna teach me everything I need to know, which, in itself is a very naïve statement because we don’t know everything there is to know, there is no expert on this subject, well I mean there’s experts on this subject but I wouldn’t say there’s one, like, person who has all encompassing knowledge of everything here because it’s still unfolding.
PH: So I would say that, I mean, I wish I could have gone to the rallies. Like, that would have been really cool. And my roommate is from Charlottesville, and so she went to ones that she could when she wasn’t working, and I was like I wanna be there, you know? Because I never felt like there’s been, um, like history happens and you read about it in textbooks, and have you ever had that thought when you’re like uh god someone was there.
PH: Like people were there?
LK: They actually did it.
PH: They actually did it, like they lived out history, and I’ve never lived out history, like I’ve never, you know?
LK: Hopefully this course helps you to…
PH: Yeah, but so it was cool.
LK: Be involved in that process
PH: But I was like why is everyone at the rallies?
LK: That’s great. So, is there a certain memorable moment, um, that you have associated with the events that either brought you, you know, pride or dismay or is there a big ticket moment for you?
PH: My big-ticket moment was the email from the Honor Committee.
LK: Oh OK, the Honor Committee.
PH: I was just thinking like, totally, this is so cool. Like, this is so cool. This is my school and that these are my classmates, and that we have the ability and the frame of mind, and the, I don’t know, like, the, I’m struggling to find the word, but the responsibility and the, like we think that we can do that. We think that we can write to the Board of Visitors and say, excuse me, no, this is not how we operate, like, we are all in this together, and just as we are accountable to you, like, you are accountable to us.
PH: So it’s very interesting when we talk about, you know, single sanction and there’s a debate coming up like this Thursday, I think, on single sanction. If the Board of Visitors had single sanction on their decisions, what, would this count? You know, stuff like that, like that’s a wild thought relatively to have, but you know it could happen, like you could have that thought, like we’ll, you know, are they held accountable for their actions? Is that something that we look into? Like, I don’t know, it’s cray.
LK: That’s a good question. So, Honor Committee. You know, that having been your big moment in the process, um, is part of, you know, this long running tradition of student self governance here at The University and tradition and honor play very deeply into our daily operations. So, how would you say that this event either was, was not, in keeping, on a personal level do you, how do you, see us moving forward from this event to preserve tradition and honor and self governance?
PH: Um, I think that in order to preserve what we have, which I think is really, really special, I think the honor and transparency and accountability that we have at this school are very special and help it be everything that it is today. I don’t think they were necessarily broken or damaged, in a way this summer I think they were tested and I think that they bounced back beautifully.
PH: I think that people rose around these words like honor and trust and used them all the time and it wasn’t like a legal sense, like oh legally you cannot do this, or like have these meetings, like, no. There are values and I think that those values will endure as long as there are people who believe in the system, and I think that this summer was a really, really wonderful example of the student body believing in our system. And I think that they pulled it off really well and it was very effective. Um, so I don’t think that the issues in higher ed, or the issues that we had in governance this summer are necessarily gonna damage honor and integrity, I think that the really, the really place where it gets tricky is in transparency because not knowing automatically gives you a feeling of, that there’s something not right going on.
PH: So I think that like that’s where it’s gonna be where really difficult conversations come in and really important conversations happen, is like, how will this summer affect transparency and decision making? I don’t think it will damage the honor of The University because The University has already proven that that’s not something that we’re gonna allow to happen.
LK: Right. Um, so, as for governance, do you think that the standing system of governance here at the University of Virginia will allow for this transparency that you’re calling for, or do you think that changes need to be made?
PH: Um, so coming in as a total noob, and knowing nothing, and learning some through class, and I feel like there’s still so much more to figure out and learn, so this opinion is like a half baked cookie right now.
LK: That’s fine.
PH: You know, it’s not all, it’s not all there yet.
LK: Sometimes those are the best.
PH: Oh, gooey brownie. So, I would say that there’s definitely a conflict of interests in higher education. And it’s an interesting conflict between needing, like, the goal of a business is profit. In order to survive, a business has to profit and reinvest in itself and survive. But the goal of a university is not profit. So just in the goals there’s a major conflict of how you run it, because we’re not simply like a human product at a corporation that produces, you know, educated people. There’s so much more that goes into it and when you talk about eliminating non-revenue classes like German and the classics, then you start to compromise what it means to get an education, and so I feel like there’s gonna have to be really, really tough, important conversations about how do you govern a school in order to have it produce and operate in a way that is best for everyone involved? Because obviously like, faculty need to be compensated for their amazing work, they need to be paid, like, researchers need the funds to discover things that we never would have thought of before, and, you know, everyone, like, you need to pay someone to come in and clean the classrooms at night. There are obvious administrative business aspects to a school, but their goals are fundamentally different, and so I feel like their governance would also be fundamentally different, because I feel like it’s the governance’s goal to get from the raw input to the final product.
PH: So I feel like yes, there has to be a serious look at the way it’s governed and you can’t just like, say this isn’t successful, let’s push some more of that governance in here, you know?
PH: It’ll be tough, but we can do it!
LK: So then do you think that the, um, actions of the Board of Visitors this past summer, do you think that they were more aligned with the, um, revenue generating side of The University as opposed to the general welfare of The University and the, you know, scope of educational opportunities that are available?
PH: Yeah. Um, when you look at the whole fundamental difference of opinions, I think we read a great article about it, that it really was more of a fundamental difference of leadership styles, and the snap decision making, whether it be right or wrong, is not consistent with the way a university is best operated, because it is a community of so many people and all those people deserve to have a say, so that when one small group or one person makes a decision, it’s really, really hard to take that decision as valid, regardless of whether or not It’s the best decision. So like, I view, whether or not, I mean, I always am gonna reserve the right to change my mind if more information comes to light but, where I’m at right now in my thinking, Teresa, President Sullivan’s, um, resignation, whether or not it was for the best or for the worst, was kind of like a mistrial. It didn’t really matter who was guilty, who was innocent, who was right or wrong, because it was pulled off in such a way it could never stand in our community. It just went against all of our values and all of our principles and therefore could not be treated as valid.
LK: Right. That’s good. Um, so we take a lot of pride here at UVA about our founding by Thomas Jefferson and
LK: Sometimes, you know, deify the man, just a little. So I was wondering your opinion on the actions of the Board of Visitors, and then the student and community response, in keeping with the original Jeffersonian ideals of this university’s founding as a democratic institution of learning, um, do you think that the response was an adequate response in that light?
PH: I actually love that the response kept in that idea because the response was not you’re wrong, the response was not reinstate her now, the response was information please.
PH: The response was we want to know, we want to learn, we want to understand, we want to make well informed opinions, we want to discuss, it was a cry for information, which I think is the most perfect cry that a school can raise, you know?
LK: It is.
PH: It’s students and faculty, and community members saying we want to know more, and I think that there’s nothing that could stand more in keeping with Jefferson’s ideas about creating an institution to foster informed citizens. Go TJ, once again!
LK: So you would say that the Jeffersonian mindset and ideals are still very alive in this community then?
PH: I would say they are, a hundred percent. Alive, well, thriving.
LK: Great. Well then, um, how do you sort of see the um, connection with this university to either a smaller outside community Charlottesville-wise or a larger academic community, um, how do you see our unique standpoint, you know, um, rooted deeply in these ideals, what do you see our roles as students, as University community, what do you think our roles are in making a better future for academia in general or for the Charlottesville community or just for the University community?
PH: Well, we’ve definitely looked at cases in class where other universities have, um, ousted a president before, and it has kind of just happened quietly and people move on, and I feel like as students of the university, faculty, as a community of trust, we’ve already done something pretty big for the greater academic community, in saying it will be much harder for any other university to do that again now that we have put our foot down and said no we want to understand, and then we say this is kind of shady, this isn’t really right, and then reinstated President Sullivan. So I feel like we’ve already stepped up in one role and, um, gone against the flow, and set a new standard, which I think is really, really good for the general, the greater academic community. And I think it’s our role, everybody, to not let the subject drop just because we have President Sullivan back. I feel like it would be a disservice to her and to us and to TJ and, and everything if we just stopped. We have to continue looking and find the source of the problem, and go from there.
LK: Right, great. So how do you see this conversation, um, continuing in a productive way, if you do? I think you do based on your answers so far so, I mean, you’re obviously involved on a personal level being a student in this class, how do you think, you know, I would like you to speak, you know, to the community’s responsibility for continuing the conversation, but also on a more, you know, manageable level, the individual’s. How can students continue to make a difference like you’re doing by being enrolled in this oral history project?
PH: This will sound totally clichéd but the most important thing to do is to speak up, which I think a lot of people did this summer. They spoke up. They spoke on the Lawn, they spoke when they filed the Freedom of Information Act, they spoke up when they emailed out the Board of Visitors, you know, speaking up is definitely an important part because then you’ll find people who share your opinion and you can, your movement will grow. So I think that’s really important, um, and to, to not give up trust. We’ve read some stuff in class that’s made it look pretty bleak, like the outlook, and I feel like, it’s not. Education can continue to be this great thing that we all strive for, and can continue to be accessible, and realistic, and actual. And I think that, education is not gonna just like, crumble and fall away which like, sometimes, it seemed like it would in our discussions. So I feel like our roles are important, and to speak up, to not give up, to continue loving University of Virginia, and to just keep an open and honest mind looking for the truth and information, and looking for the best possible versions of ourselves that we can be.
LK: And, so, then, do you think that the seventeen days in June, do you think that this has had, in general, a positive impact on the individual students and the faculty and community members at The University and on The University as a whole, or do you think that this will be looked on in the future in a negative light?
PH: I think a lot of how it’s viewed will depend on how the media portrays it. I think that what with the way information went out so much over Facebook and over Twitter and over emails and articles and when we looked at the articles there was not a lot of facts, not a lot of solid information, and not many varying viewpoints. A lot of them, you know, victimized President Sullivan and turned Rector Dragas into this image of this big bad wolf, but I feel like she had valid concerns, like there are things that we seriously need to work on.
PH: Um, so I feel like, a lot of how it’s portrayed will be how the media shows it. I think it should be seen though as a learning experience and I think we’ve done a really good job capitalizing that, on that, it’s a learning experience and it’s an opportunity to catapult these issues into the forefronts of people’s minds. So I feel like it’ll continue to be seen as sort of this blight on, on a wonderful history, on a wonderful university’s history, but I don’t think that’s the case. Like, you know? I don’t think that this is a terrible, terrible thing, I think it was a great rallying point and I think when all is said and done, in some point in the future, probably far, far away people will look back on it and say ah, that was like the turning point, or that was when it all got started, what a great thing that happened.
LK: So you think great things are in store for us?
PH: Oh yeah. We’re all gonna be fine. Maybe it’s just the optimist in me.
LK: Well that’s a good thing to have. Alright, well, any last thoughts, any closing statements?
PH: Go Hoos.
LK: Go Hoos.
LK: That’s wonderful. Well thank you so much for your participation.
PH: Oh and thank you for your participation, which hopefully isn’t going to be condensed into two minutes forever.
LK: I’m sure it’ll be fine. So, that’s our interview with Posie Holmes.