I am just catching up with the mess at the University of Virginia. For those who haven’t heard, good summaries and commentaries can be found here, here, and here. The short story: the University’s Board of Visitors fired the University President, Teresa Sullivan, after just two years in office. A string of emails between the Board and Sullivan reveal that she was under pressure to dismantle disciplines that “couldn’t sustain themselves financially, such as obscure academic departments in classics and German.”
The conflation of academic value and financial solvency is deeply troubling, especially at such a wealthy institution (UVA’s $5 billion endowment is the largest of any public university in the United States). Humanities programs rarely sustain themselves financially. They always rely upon other, more profitable disciplines to survive. Moreover, the humanities have historically been regarded as instrinsically valuable. They do not need to meet any other conditions or criteria to justify their existence. Without them, you no longer have a university.