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In Defense of Academics, Comparisons at VCU


I enjoyed a number of things reported in the article “Ram Roads” (Cover Story, Oct. 27), but as a distinguished researcher and journalist once said, “You need to dig below the surface.”

I have been part of the Virginia Commonwealth University institutional community for 57 years. I am a graduate of its forerunner, the Richmond Professional Institute, a faculty member on both campuses for more than 30 years, and have worked for nearly every president of the university except Michael Rao. Since retiring 15 years ago, I have continued to contribute to many of its sundry programs, the most recent as a member of the Friends of the VCU Libraries. I have witnessed this institution up close for more than a half century. It is true that Peter Galuszka got right much of the community-level politics and the surge of our building long-needed infrastructure, but he totally missed what else was happening there at the same time. As a consequence, his article and especially the headlines play right into the prejudice many locals have about academic standards at VCU.

Moreover, his comparison of this institution, having been modestly supported at a university level for only 42 years with the 200-year-old University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the 170-year-old Duke University, both choking on affluence, is as analytically unfair as it is in promoting prejudice about VCU.

If Galuszka had seen what I have seen, gone to our classes, laboratories, studios, theaters, music halls, libraries, professional training practice sites, saw our faculty in action and talked to our students; if he had seen our faculty's curriculum vitae, read and seen accounts of their work known nationwide and around the world; and if he had examined the countless first-class achievements reported in our alumni and other university publications; if he had gone to Northern Virginia and asked folks there what they think of VCU academics; and finally if he would have asked our colleagues in other institutions across the country what they thought of what we have been doing here for the last 20 years — he would have found no justification for saying that our “academic reputation sagged” during the 20-year surge of our bricks-and-mortar projects.

So I plead with Galuzska (and others) to take his own advice and “dig below the surface” of the myth promulgated about the university by so many uninformed people in our community — and come to know what I know.
Edward H. Peeples
Associate Professor Emeritus

“Ram Roads” is plagued with poorly supported allegations and blatantly unfair comparisons. As stated in the article, President Michael Rao's annual starting salary is $488,500 with a $275,000 one-time signing bonus, typical of a position at this level. Why would Rao's total first-year compensation, which includes typical one-time payments of substantial proportion, be compared to the regular annual compensation of his peers? This is a classic case of apples vs. oranges.
The underlying agenda is further evidenced by the author's hawking on an unsupported issue of Rao being slow with leadership and hiring. This allegation is backed up by “some people,” “one knowledgeable source,” and the use of the term “apparently.” The message from the one credible and named source on this topic, Panny Rhoades, states “that's not true.”

Galuszka asserts that Rao “seems to be hampered,” again with no supporting facts, by the turnover of the board. As for the appointment of the new board members, the author notes “some of them big political contributors to Republican Gov. Robert F. McDonnell.” On any given board you will likely find some big political contributors to Republican and Democratic politicians. The point of this statement is completely lost.

Pointing out that Rao has no presence on any corporate boards and noting that Trani had two again is a blatant unfair comparison. Rao is new to the university, new to his position of leadership and new to Richmond. What would one expect in this comparison? Galuszka's understanding about corporate governance is misguided. This is supported by the statement, “While Rao has made no indication of planning to join corporate boards.” You don't plan to join a board, nor do you just join a board.

The article commences with another statement about Rao's “slow start” and “outsized salary,” further advancing my feelings that the unfair comparisons and poorly supported claims in this piece are meant to intentionally portray VCU and Rao in an undesirable manner. If the central claims had some solid backing and there was at least a small degree of balance in the various comparisons, this article may have been a worthwhile read.
M. Batta

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