The University of Virginia - Wired

Generally, I just keep my mouth shut. Okay, that’s an outright lie. I’ve never been known for keeping my mouth shut, to the detriment of my foot which calls that particular orifice a second home.

But totally out of character for me, I sat back and watched, inactive alumni that I am, and listened as the brouhaha of the past weeks unfolded like a film noire mystery: President ousted by unknown forces – all very suspect and seen only through thin Venetian blind shadows - then known forces revealed, then the villagers rose up and the coup was a success and President Sullivan was re-instated. Cool. Live. On air, and cyber space.

But there still remains an unresolved issue – that of whether to offer on-line classes or not at the University of Virginia. And as if I had received a call to action, I found that I had another definite opinion on something. Hell yea, UVA should offer on-line classes, but that’s just such a small slice of what my alma mater, from which I have always felt removed, should be offering.

When you look at the amount of money that is annually donated to The University, and you look at the amount of income from tuition, and you look at the current debt crisis of former students drowning under student loans, er, why are our own alumni struggling? Why? (

Every week I receive an e-mail from one UVA source or another asking that I contribute – give to the Capital Campaign, Alumni for Justice, Rhetoric Majors Anonymous, BA in BS Blah-Blah… Why isn’t The University working to deserve its capital letters, doing something truly worthy of The University – like taking some of that donor money to create perpetual growth for free tuition for all students??? On grounds? On-line? Globally?

I’m not being totally altruistic in this goal. I have young adult progeny who are at that point in their lives at which we drive over hill and dale looking at colleges. They’re smart, savvy kids who are also looking at the financial considerations. We have homeschooled/unschooled for many years now, and they recognize the benefits of pursing their own interests, which makes them pretty worldly when looking at the benefits of a lock-step curriculum compared to internships, real-world experience, and their own entrepreneurial goals. And so far, it’s just not adding up as a wise choice.

So it’s easy for me to sit back at my desk and wax philosophically about how to spend other donors’ money. (I still have not donated and I will not donate until I see some positive impact of my potential donations toward humanity. My paltry donation seems inconsequential when held up against the net assets of the University in 2010-2011 of $909 million. Rather, that’s the INCREASE in existing assets.) In creating free access for all students, (besides the obvious benefits to humanity,) you create a massive supply of donors! Yes! People who are so grateful for the free education they have received, who have been welcomed, with open arms, to share in the dream of higher education, who will contribute to society, who feel connected to this institution for all it has given them, that when those envelopes, (and cyber envelopes,) arrive with a check box for pledges, they, er, check… the box… and give.

I would give to that cause. Heck, I might even pull that dusty diploma out from behind the hidden second row of Harlequin romance novels on my office bookshelf… and frame it. Yes. I would check THAT box.

Annette Couch-Jareb
A&S-’95, rhetoric
Writing as Sofie Couch, she is “raising a pa’r-a-normal young adults… and writing in the same genre.”


  1. You raise some interesting points. I know a lot of people who are equally frustrated with higher education.

    I think most universities are shifting toward offering some courses online, though some classes lend themselves better to online learning than others. (E.g., it's easier to offer art appreciation or creative writing online than it is to offer a hands-on lab course in science or engineering.) My husband and I have both taken online courses to supplement our in-classroom coursework and were generally pleased with the results. I disagree that these courses should be free, however, because it still costs the university money to offer them. As a writer, I can't afford to give my books away (well, some of them, but not all). I'd like to be paid for my time and think instructors/professors deserve the same.

    I would also point out that just because we don't pursue coursework at a university doesn't mean we don't benefit from institutions of higher ed. If the engineers who design and maintain our roads and bridges, the doctors who diagnose and treat our illnesses and injuries, the veterinarians who care for our pets, and the entrepreneurs who push the envelope of technology attend these universities, then we benefit indirectly from the education they received. We also benefit directly from much of the research that comes out of universities--this includes everything from technology (such as GPS) to food safety to medical research.

    As a disclaimer, I work in higher education, so I am predisposed to be a "rah-rah" cheerleader for universities, but I mean it sincerely. I do understand your frustrations, especially with increasing costs; and I'm glad to hear your opinion because there are many of us who believe such conversations and debates are essential to improving and maintaining not only higher education but our nation as well. :)

  2. Hi Denise and thanks for your response!

    All great points! But alas, I am an evil genius and have thought of a means around the whole money issue. (Mwa ha ha.)It's a sort of "build it and they will come" attitude, only in this case, it's more, "give it and they will contribute." By building your student body, you create a generation of folks who feel a connection to The University - the warm squishy effect - and they in turn contribute for continued support of their alma mater - sort of like Public Radio. A professor isn't paid based on enrollment, (although perhaps they should be, but I'll save that debate for another blog, another day. :) A professor is paid based on merit and time in the seat.

    (BTW, MIT is already offering a smattering of courses on-line for free - in exchange for which, a student can potentially receive a certificate of accomplishment. And I bet you've already heard of Khan Academy. We homeschool/unschool around this chicken ranch, so if there's a free source for education out there, you can bet my kids have found it. So really, UVA is behind the times on this point.)

    I foresee a time when authors CAN make a living giving their books away for free. (I'm a dad-gum revolutionary idealist, I know.) Great gravy! I was about to provide you with a link to my post about "Taking Over the World (of publishing) and Other Mad Pursuits", but it seems to have disappeared! Obviously, some other evil genius wishing to take over the world of publishing has run away with my evil plan. Oh well. It was free. Basically, the notion was to provide books for free through a distribution site, whereby advertisers pay writers a penny per page read. A fraction of that penny goes to the maintenance of the site, but the author can then follow a democratic business model, and receive pay based upon reader participation. It would also provide amazing feedback on things such as, when a reader stopped reading, true "best seller" ratings, etc. I could foresee education operating in a similar fashion with donor money going predominately to those who are contributing the lion's share of the product - professors. (Good news for you!)

    Okay, I'll hush, but certainly welcome, (relish, salivate for,) rebuttal and evil genius plans B, C, or D! You're a good egg to have put up with my ramblings thus far.

    1. Thanks for the reply, Sofie. I've heard good things about MIT's online courses, and the Khan Academy is a pretty amazing venture--I've only recently learned about it. I suspect because universities are also engines of research and innovation, we'll see a hybrid model in which students are encouraged to combine traditional in-classroom coursework with online classes. That seems to be the standard many are moving toward already. And with the decline in state support for universities, more and more colleges are relying on alumni donors for support.

      If you find a link for your post "Taking over the World of Publishing..." I'd love to read it!


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