You have been placed on the frontline of a global power struggle. It’s between a bunch of rich people who are used to having their own way and YOU.
Pharma researchers have seen this crap played out for the last 20 years. For us, it was one merger and acquisition after another. Some bright young thing from Wharton gets it into his head that putting two pharmas together would be funner than leaving them alone. It’s all about “synergy” or “strategic reinforcement of core competencies” or “paradigm shifts”. So, a merger is forced on the labs and for the next two years, no one knows what the f&*( is going on, no work gets done and the best people leave while the local management wave their dicks at one another. Then come the consultants who walk into a dysfunctional post merger landscape and say, “It’s dysfunctional”. No shit, sherlock. How about leaving us alone for awhile until things settle down? Nope, the reengineering will go forward. And with each iteration of restructuring, power gets more centralized. This is a very interesting phenomenon because the consultants and executives at TownHall meetings *say* they want to promote decision making at a local level but the truth is that everyone is so scared to death of losing their jobs that they don’t dare challenge a decision made by anyone higher up. Yes men (and it’s ALWAYS men) get promoted. Good managers and smart people go away. It happens so often that it must be deliberate.
It has occurred to me that sometime during the late 90’s, we labrats should have picked up our ehrlenmeyer flasks and walked out in a massive protest. We should have raised hell, although it is even hard for me to envision what that might look like. We should have gotten their attention and drawn a line in the sand and organized a professional organization with licensing and employment standards. We should have made it very clear that we were not going to be pushed around anymore because it was destroying research and research is what we live for.
We didn’t. Instead, we let the business people run research into the ground and fire off memos in bizspeak and plunder the research budget and continue to cater to the executives in the corner offices at the expense of the geeks in the labs. This country will be paying for that for generations to come.
UVA is now engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that university founded by T.J. himself and dedicated to the proposition of respect and reverence for the liberal arts can long endure. I’m here to tell you that if Helen Dragas hasn’t been forced to resign yet you are losing. It doesn’t matter at this point if Teresa Sullivan is coming back. She may be a great administrator but this fight is not about her anymore. It is about how your future is being compromised by the usurpation of your university by a bunch of rich people who think that their success in business makes them smarter and more equal than you are. If you let UVA go under without a fight, similar power struggles will happen at other schools. And they too will go down like dominos. Before you know it, you will be run by a corporate president who will look after the shareholders’ needs. There will be a marketing department who will design your curriculum based on what’s hot this year. Your faculty will have to compete for their jobs and will spend (even) more time undermining each other at your expense. And the cost of everything will go up. It will go into some fund that will be used to increase the value of the endowment or take risks in Malaysia on some upcoming business initiative.
You have got to scare the Board of Visitors, the governor and all of the alumni of UVA. You’ve got to be bold, dramatic and push the envelope (without destroying any property or injuring people of course). The interim president should be expected to ask you to calm down, that your actions will only lead to more disruption and damage to the university’s reputation.
This is a lie and should be disregarded. The more you fight for the university and the ouster of the interfering rich donors, the better off your university will be. Maybe it will be poorer but you don’t know that for sure yet. You need to challenge the conventional wisdom that says that business people know how to manage best.
Continue to demand the ouster of Dragas and anyone else who helped her. Do not let up until you get what you want. Do not be dragged into negotiations. They are merely a stalling tactic meant to deprive you of momentum and force. Set up some barricades, camp out on the commons, and if you don’t get what you want, dematriculate. Yep, just withdraw from your courses, get your money back and tell the university you won’t reenroll until your demands are met.
What is happening to you now is something the research industry, the Democratic party, the public unions and just about every other sector of society has had to put up with in the past 2 decades. It is the gradual creep of authoritarianism promoted by people who have power and expect that you will just go along with anything they demand. They think that you have been trained to be complacent and yielding. Well, they’ve had so much success everywhere else, why wouldn’t they think that? Now it’s your turn. Learn from the rest of us and don’t make it easy for them. Make this a battle they never want to engage again.
Here’s a video of last night’s action at UVA: