Note: Audio not available
Oral History Interview Transcript
October 11, 2012
Sunny L Taylor, Interviewer
Rachel Boag, Interviewee
Taylor: Hi. This is Sunny Taylor and I'm sitting here with Rachel. Would you spell your name for me, Rachel?
Boag: Its Boag, B-O-A-G.
Taylor: And how do you spell your first name?
Boag: Rachel, R-A-C-H-E-L.
Taylor: Great. And we are about to do an oral history interview. It is October 11, 2012 and we are in Clemons Library room 203. We are doing this as a part of the class Documenting the History and Future, actually, of the University of Virginia. I want to just get you to tell me first, Rachel, a little bit about yourself. How did you come to be here at U.Va.?
Boag: Well, I'm a transfer student from Lord Fairfax Community College in Middletown
00:51 Virginia. I did the science plan there and I transferred in. I didn’t do an articulated admissions agreement. So I just applied. I brought in enough courses from high school and so on that I was able to declare my chemistry major when I came here, and I’m doing a BA in chemistry. I’m currently a fourth year. I transferred in last Fall.
Taylor: Out of curiosity, did you apply to other schools?
BOAG: I did. I did. I applied to JMU, GMU. I applied, let’s see where else? I did apply to Tech. I applied I think to Longwood.
TAYLOR: What made you choose U.Va.?
BOAG: It was my top school to pick. That’s where I wanted to go and also they were . . . they were really good about accommodating my food allergies.
BOAG: Which were, they’re severe enough to require, like, you know, I have to do my groceries. I can’t have a meal plan. So they were very accommodating about that and they were the stand out school for that. So . . .
TAYLOR: Well, excellent! (laughter)
TAYLOR: So we’re here to talk about the events of this summer, the resignation and reinstatement of President Sullivan. Tell me can you remember where you were, what you were doing when you first heard about this?
BOAG: Well I was at home over the summer. I live in Northern Virginia, in the rural part. So that’s not Loudon County, but west of the mountains that divide the . . . it’s west of the Blue Ridge. But I was at home. I was just checking my email and I saw the email from Helen Dragas. And I was surprised because I didn’t think that there was, you know, there wasn’t really a lot of lead in to . . . a lead in or a lot of background that I knew about that was prominent at the University while I had been there.
BOAG: I had, you know, I had been there the one year – the two semesters – and I didn’t hear about anything like, you know, there’s going to be a change in leadership. There wasn’t a lot of warning. So I was pretty surprised by that. But I was at home, so, and I wasn’t in Charlottesville, so I didn’t really know what was going on. I looked around through some other information and that started coming out more in the coming weeks as different articles came out and more emails came out.
TAYLOR: How did you follow the events of the summer from your home?
BOAG: I used mostly the media articles, Washington Post, the online versions. Some things came in our . . . I think there were a couple of things that eventually came in our . . . the local paper, The Winchester Star.
BOAG: But it was mostly the online journals, articles.
TAYLOR: What did you think of that media coverage? Were you getting, you know, the kind of information that you wanted?
BOAG: I was surprised at how extensive it was. They were actually going into some depth about some underlying causes that I wasn’t aware of and they were bringing up a lot of things that I wasn’t really thinking about. Things like online education . . .
BOAG . . . the privatization of education, that sort of thing, that I wasn’t really aware of as just sort of a casual student. I was a science major, I’m not . . . I am a science major, so . . . over that year I wasn’t really learning a lot about policy or education policy or anything like that.
TAYLOR: So was that the first time you heard the name Helen Dragas?
BOAG: Yes. Well, I mean, the first time I’d ever thought about it as, you know, this is someone. It’s not just a name at the bottom of an email, an info email, the kind that, you know, you get every once in a while about . . . like status updates or . . .
TAYLOR: General administrative things.
BOAG: Right. Right. You know. I may have seen her . . . I don’t remember seeing her name as a prominent name before that.
TAYLOR: Did you . . . what was your gut reaction?
BOAG: I was surprised. I was, kind of like, well, I wasn’t expecting that! What’s going on?
TAYLOR: Uh-huh. And did you . . . did you kind of imagine what might be at the root of it? Did you have any kinds of ideas?
BOAG: I felt like I didn’t know enough. Just because it was . . . I felt like I’m . . . they’re talking about a lot of people I didn’t know at all. I, you know, I hadn’t heard of the name really, Helen Dragas, before. I didn’t know who Peter Kiernan was. I didn’t know who Mark Kington was. I didn’t know who these people were at all. So not knowing that I felt like I couldn’t really make a judgment as to what might be going on. And I didn’t know enough about the administrative aspect of running a big school like this.
TAYLOR: Uh-huh. So were you able to participate in any way, in any of the rallies, that type of thing?
BOAG: (5:40) I didn’t actually do that. I considered it, but I didn’t. Mainly what I did was discuss with my family, which was a great . . . they were a great sounding board for different things. My parents of course are from a different generation and they had a different view. And my brother is in high school now and he had some interesting questions, too. Basic things like, you know, what is the Board of Visitors and what does it do? And I found I couldn’t answer. Like Uh, uh . . .
BOAG: I’ve gone to the school for a year and I don’t actually know the answer to that.
BOAG: So those were the sorts of questions that made me think, well, I need to learn more.
TAYLOR: So why did you take this class?
BOAG: (6:38) I took the class in part to learn more about what was going on. There was mentioned a focus on learning a bit more about higher education policy, learning a bit more things that . . . the big factors, things that might have underlied or underlayed this event. And what exactly the event included. There’s been some mention of it extended far from back beyond June.
BOAG: And of course the aftermath is continuing. We’re still having panels. We’re still having roundtables. There’s still a lot of discussion.
TAYLOR: So what have you learned? Do you have any takeaways or changes in your thinking because of being in the class?
BOAG: I’d say that I’m much more aware of oral history at least, and the (laughs) . . . the value of oral history as a learning tool and as a tool for preserving perspectives, especially with the digital media we have now that can preserve things for a long time. But in reference to this event, the . . . I’d say I’m definitely more aware of the role that some really big factors play in, you know, something that you might not think about as affecting your life . . .
BOAG: Like, you know, the private education trends. The internet learning trend I’d been exposed to because of the community college I go to. There are online classes. They’re, you know, they’re very convenient. You . . . there’s . . . I think computers, um, and some other . . . like information science . . .
BOAG . . . . I think, is the department that does it usually within community college. But, things like that I was aware of already. But other things like I said, the privatization, corporatization, I hadn’t heard of that before. So I’m definitely more aware of that, and some of the other things, the ideas that we’ve been exposed to in class like neoliberalism. That big article we read, that Professor Heinecke was talking about.
TAYLOR: Yeah. That was fascinating stuff.
TAYLOR: So, um, what do you think makes the University of Virginia different, um, in their reaction to having, you know, the President asked to resign? Because as we learned in class there were other, there have been other schools that have encountered the same thing but with a different result.
BOAG: Right. And I think it would be really interesting if eventually someone made some sort of a case study on all those school that did that and compared the U.Va. response. That would be really cool to see that. But, I haven’t . . . I haven’t seen any yet. So, from what I remember in class, I think that it has to do with . . . a little bit with the size of U.Va. I think there was a school in Texas that was a bit larger than we are, that it had to do with that. And also I think it has to do with the culture here revolving around the student-run and the very active student . . . the idea of the active student in government, in governance at U.Va. That’s the UJC, the honor table . . . . the honor panel, Honor Committee, there we go. And also there’s the third group . . . students involved in government.
BOAG: (10:00) And around here the students, we run the buses, we drive the buses. We do a lot of things that other . . . in other places that level of student engagement isn’t present. So I would say that, yeah, that’s . . . that’s something that’s maybe encouraged the level of student response that came here. The positive connection between Charlottesville and . . . the City of Charlottesville and U.Va -- that positive relationship that U.Va. and Charlottesville have both cooperated on, I think also played a role because there were a lot of community members who came to those rallies. And there were a lot of community members who were standing on the Lawn.
TAYLOR: Did that surprise you?
BOAG: I don’t know. I’ve heard of colleges where there’s an adversarial relationship between the town and the college and I think that at a college like that you might not get community members standing outside the admin building, or whatever, protesting something like this. They might be more distant, indifferent about it.
TAYLOR: What are your feelings about the outcome?
BOAG: I’m interested to see how it’s going to turn out. I . . . it was unexpected. I didn’t think we would have President Sullivan reinstated. Didn’t think that was going to happen. Once I heard about the reinstatement – resignation – sorry. I was like, oh, alright, power change. Here we go. I didn’t think it would reverse.
TAYLOR: Okay. Were you still in Northern Virginia . . .
TAYLOR: . . . when the reinstatement happened as well?
TAYLOR: Do you remember what your reaction was when you got that email?
BOAG: I was definitely surprised again. (Laughs). Yes, definitely. It . . . like I said, I didn’t think that . . . my perception was that no matter how much demonstrating was going on, that a power change is a power change. It’s an administrative level thing and they’re not going to reverse it because a bunch of people stood on the Lawn and yelled. But, you know, it looks like something made them reverse it. Whether it was everyone standing on the Lawn and yelling, I don’t know.
TAYLOR: So do you have any views you want to share about university governance and how that whole thing played out?
BOAG: I think it’s a good thing that students are involved at that level. That level of responsibility gives students a lot of opportunity, gives us a lot of chances to not only affect what happens here, but to understand that what we do really does affect what happens here and that level of responsibility carries over into what we do next. After we graduate we’re going to have jobs and we are going to produce products, we are going to affect things, make decisions that affect people and this is sort of training for that.
TAYLOR: Were there any moments that you were . . . felt particularly proud or particularly disappointed in your university?
BOAG: I was proud that there were rallies. That there were enough people that actually cared about it . . . about something that was happening here in the administration to actually come out there and stand on the lawn and, you know, show their faces and put up signs. Not just anonymous posts on articles, or anything like that, it’s people really putting themselves out there and saying “this is what I believe in.” Regardless of what they were saying, I think that’s admirable.
TAYLOR: Is there anything you wish had been done differently – you would have like to have seen done differently?
BOAG: On my end, I kind of wish I had gone to a rally. (Laughs). I just . . . I didn’t really perceive the size of the rallies and the impact they would have. I think if I . . . in retrospect I think if I had a better idea of what was going on I would have come down. I’m not on Facebook, which is probably part of the reason why I wasn’t quite aware, but as I understand the Facebook was really pretty influential with organizing the rallies and getting the word out. So I heard about the rallies pretty much after they happened. So, . . .
TAYLOR: And how about any ideas or views on the implications for higher education in general?
BOAG: Well, I think it might take someone with a little more specific knowledge of how policy and that sort of thing to make any sort of accurate prediction. But I think it’s really interesting to see how these different factors may have played out here. And it’s bringing up a lot of interesting topics like internet learning, or internet education, internet-based classes. Here how the Honor System will play into internet based education . . . how internet-based education and the Honor System will interact. They’re saying they had some problems with Semester at Sea having a lot of honor violations because people weren’t . . . there were people from other institutions who weren’t aware of the Honor Code. And then of course if you have an online course with a thousand people or more then how do you make that apply, and how do you make that apply remotely? That’s an interesting question. I’m interested to see how that gets answered by people with more specific knowledge than I’ve got.
TAYLOR: Yes, the Rector had a fairly long list of concerns. Were there any in particular, other than the internet that stood out for you, or that you kind of said “oh, yeah, I can see that.” What was your reaction to that list?
BOAG: Well, I don’t have the list in front of me.
BOAG: But I remember that a . . . something that did come up. The way I think that . . . this was later some sort of point of contention about whether this was actually a grievance, or actually something that was on the table as a problem, was the cutting of the German and classics departments. Other schools have eliminated smaller . . . smaller things. I think recently a school eliminated the journalism department at their university. I feel like even if the . . . even if it’s small, I don’t know if losing that knowledge really helps. I don’t know if you eliminate the program and you eliminate . . . you eliminate something more than just an underperforming program. Whether or not a huge number of people are flocking to that discipline it doesn’t mean it’s not necessarily valuable. Things like the classics, in particular, and German of course, is another language that its . . . in science its huge. To know German is a very good thing in science. And I know people who have taken German, but . . . because they’re science majors. It’s a language and it’s a major language. It doesn’t seem like . . . it doesn’t seem like that’s a useless program to me.
TAYLOR: We talked a little bit in class about courses, you know, being viewed from a profitability . . .
TAYLOR: . . . standpoint. What’s your thinking on that? Do you think we should consider classes based on how much money they bring in?
BOAG: I don’t. I don’t think that’s how it should be run. I understand that there are concerns. I mean, we’re talking about that in class. There are concerns about being able to pay for classes. And that there’s a point where you have to consider what’s . . . what are people actually taking and what aren’t they taking? But I feel like mainstream departments like German aren’t . . . shouldn’t be on the table for that. That’s a large and useful program. It seems . . . well, okay, I don’t have data on that. But (laughs) it seems like it’s . . . by large I don’t mean, I guess, numbers. Just it’s . . . it seems like as a language it’s important. I don’t see scrapping a language for profitability.
TAYLOR: (19:15) And how about governance? That was another thing that we learned about, was just exactly how our Board of Visitors is appointed. Do you have any thoughts or feelings on that process?
BOAG: I think it was interesting to learn about it. I didn’t know that they were . . . the Board of Visitors was appointed by the Governor. I definitely didn’t know that. So I don’t know if that’s the best way to go about it or not. I think it’s a good thing that we have the advising positions now. I understand there’s a conflict of interest concern with having faculty on the Board of Visitors, but I do wonder if a faculty advising member might not be a bad idea. Simply because the faculty response was in such marked . . . it had such a marked difference compared to the BoV decision. I feel like they . . . if they had had the input of faculty things might have turned out differently.
TAYLOR: Simply circumvented the whole thing?
BOAG: I don’t know. I don’t know. But, the faculty senate had a unanimous statement afterward. It seems to me like if even, you know, if that sense of consensus was there before . . . before the decision was made, then things might have taken a different turn.
TAYLOR: Do you think that this event impacted the reputation of the school, and in what way?
BOAG: It might have. I mean, that’s something interesting. I know the psychology department’s doing a study of the First Years and their reaction to . . . well, I’m not sure what exactly their survey asks, but they’re doing a survey on the First Years this semester in conjunction with these events. So it would be interesting to see the results of that. And also, if there was ever a survey, a wider potential graduating high schoolers, that would be interesting to see. I think a high-profile crisis is going to have an impact. And I don’t think in this case it’s necessarily been a totally positive impact because whenever there is conflict or trouble, there’s always that perception that maybe . . . maybe going somewhere more peaceful is a better idea. But I think also on the flip side of that there is also that activism side of it that might actually attract people. That idea that the student body is invested enough in the school to get out there and say this is what we think. And that after all those rallies happened, what they were asking for happened. I think that perception might be a positive thing for the University.
TAYLOR: It was pretty powerful.
TAYLOR: (22:30) Overall, do you think we are better off of worse off as a university community as a result of these events?
BOAG: I’m really glad that all these panels are happening. I’m really glad that this isn’t being, I hate to say it, but . . . swept under the rug. That we’re looking at this saying, something happened here. We have to study it. We have to . . . it’s a very, I don’t know, academical way to look at it.
TAYLOR: Your scientific mind.
BOAG: (Laughter). It’s you know, it’s . . . something happened here. We don’t totally understand it, and we have to look at it. We have to find out what happened and how we’re going to move on from here. I think that’s a really healthy . . . that’s a really healthy way to approach it. Seems like it’s . . . yeah, I’m glad
TAYLOR: That catch phrase of, what was it, difference in . . . .
BOAG: “philosophical difference of opinion”
TAYLOR: There you go. I think we’re all wondering what exactly was that philosophical difference of opinion, because education has been changing a lot over the last fifty years, let’s say. What do you think the goal of the University should be? I mean, we have colleges, and liberal arts, but then we have this research component, and obviously very difficult to blend. What are your thoughts on purpose behind the University of Virginia?
BOAG: (24:00) I think blending the research and the liberal arts is actually . . . it’s working pretty well. A lot of . . . I mean this is from the chemistry angle of it, but a lot of chemistry majors and a lot of students that are taking chemistry courses also work in the labs. And they get valuable experience in training for jobs in research. So that’s . . . that actually works pretty well. That’s sort of a combination . . . and they can do that for credit, or I believe there’s also programs that do that for pay. So, in any case, you’ll always get valuable experience that way. I admire that, it’s a blend of . . . it’s combining that goal of research and instruction. Whether that’s traditional liberal arts instruction, I don’t have a definition for that but . . .
TAYLOR: Well are there any other doors that you’d like to open, or things that you want to talk about as far as want this event meant to you?
BOAG: I’m just . . . I’m kind of glad it happened while I was here. If it was going to happen, I’m glad it happened while I was here. Cause it’s a valuable opportunity to be able to look at the way the University works. If this hadn’t happened, I would still not really be aware of how my university actually works, governance wise. I wouldn’t know what the BoV was necessarily, that sort of thing. So as an awareness raiser, I’m glad it happened. I’m glad it happened while I was here.
TAYLOR: If it had happened while you were considering schools to go to and hadn’t yet made your decision, would it have changed your decision in any way?
BOAG: I don’t know. It would kind of depend on where I was at the moment. If we had adjusted things and I had been in community college still, I might have thought “well, I’m going to apply to some other schools in case, you know, things get worse.” But I think that U.Va.’s reputation, their long-standing reputation for academic quality and, I don’t know, I don’t know how to put it, but the small feel . . . it’s not an enormous school of fifty thousand people . . . it’s I want to say ten thousand students, around there?
BOAG: Fourteen thousand. It’s a relatively small school as fairly large schools go, right? So I don’t know. I think that combination would definitely have still drawn me here and if I had gotten the same answer about the accommodation for my food allergies, then yes,
BOAG: . . . then yes, I think so.
TAYLOR: Okay! Well, on that note, unless there is anything you’d like to add, we’ll close the interview.
BOAG: All right. I think I’m good. Thank you.
TAYLOR: Thank you very much for your time, Rachel.
BOAG: Thank you, too.