Annie Gladchuk Learning Portfolio Final Reflective Essay
W. Heinecke and J. Alexander
December 13, 2012
Learning Portfolio: Reflection
After my first year of college, I returned to my small hometown of Frederick, Maryland, only to become shocked by how different a person I felt I had become since leaving high school. I hadn’t realized it happening, but throughout the course of that first year on my own, my diet had changed from french fries to side salads, my social life had changed from sitting in my friends’ parents’ basements to sipping beers on the corner with my peers, and my academic interests had changed from getting good grades to finding my true passion in a certain major. Sitting down to write this paper, I’ve had a very similar epiphany; I’ve never really acknowledged how much work I’ve completed for this class before, but over the pages and pages of transcriptions and analyses, I can physically see how much I have learned. In my early-October interview with my classmate Ross Youell, I described my connection with Teresa Sullivan as:
“honestly I kind of felt [a] connection with her [just because] I came in, she came in the same year, uhm, and that kind of means something to me for some reason, I honestly don’t even really know why, [… but that for me] is the kind of thing where if somebody asked me, I would say, I would defend her.”1
I remember stating this, and I even remember why I felt this way; at the time, I truly did not have any connection to Sullivan other than through us both entering the UVa community around the same time. Although I feel that this absence of a deeper connection with our administration still exists for a large part of the student body, this course has given Sullivan, the Board of Visitors, and UVa’s governance in general a much higher significance in my book. I now feel that I’ve gained enough knowledge to have a meaningful opinion on the administration’s role in the UVa community, an opinion that I will delineate throughout the course of this reflection.
Before I discuss the influence my classmates’ interviews had on the development of my thinking, I must reflect on my own interview. For my interviewee, I chose Michael McGarry, a fourth year student studying Commerce, who is well-known among students for dressing up as Thomas Jefferson at every home football game. After hearing the impressive names my classmates planned on interviewing, like the leader of the student Honor Committee and the chairman of the Faculty Senate, I felt like something was missing. In this group of UVa VIPs, who surely all had much to say about their involvement with the resignation and reinstatement, we were missing the voice of those thousands of general student body members who did not necessarily have a huge role in the summer’s events. There had to be more students like me out there, students who love anything and everything orange and blue, yet who didn’t feel adequately caught-up on the whole Sullivan debacle. I didn’t want to interview any obvious expert on governance in public education institutions; I wanted a more, for lack of a better word, “average” interviewee, someone who represented the students who were drawn to UVa for the lighting of the lawn and the painting of beta bridge, for the list of 100 things to do before final exercises, and for that famous wahoo spirit. I found the student I was looking for in Michael McGarry, the UVa fan who dances in full Thomas Jefferson garb right next to the field after every Cavalier touchdown.
After finding Michael through a brief Facebook search, I was able to email him and set up a time and a place for the interview. Rachel and I got a little worried when our scheduled time of 5:30 came and went with no sign of my interviewee, but he showed up just a couple minutes after we were expecting him. McGarry seemed pleasant and shy when he walked in, and I thought he seemed somewhat nervous about what kind of questions we were going to ask him. After shuffling around with my introduction to him, setting up the Marantz recorder, and getting the release form out of the way, I broke the ice by cracking a joke and we all eased into our seats from there, a bit more relaxed and ready to start the interview.
Before I discuss the meaning of McGarry’s answers, I’ll reflect on how I was able to use the interviewing skills we learned in class, as well as what I learned from my mistakes in interviewing Ross, to most effectively interview Michael. I was pleased to hear in the recording that I pretty successfully reached my previously set goal of not saying “um” too much and not making too much background noise (mhm, ok, yeah) while my interviewee was talking. Although, if I had a dime for every “you know,” that was said in this interview, I would be, you know, rich2. I’ll keep working on that one.
Another issue I had in my interview with Ross is that I often included my own opinions; for example, I transitioned from one question to the next with, “yeah, I think you’re at a huge advantage, being a first year,”3 which made me appear biased, like I was clearly leading the interview in a certain direction. With Michael, I think my efforts to move through the questions without giving too much of my input were successful. This time, I remembered to acknowledge the fact that the stories being told were not mine, but the interviewee’s, and I, in general, spoke far less than I did when I interviewed Ross. In my blogs from the beginning of this class, I frequently listed one of my goals as becoming a better interviewer, and after comparing the two interviews I gave, I am proud to say I see a clear improvement.
Now, onto the meatier topics. McGarry’s general comments were as I had expected; he told me from the beginning that he loved UVa for its tradition, as both of his parents and his older brother spent four years here, so it meant a lot to his family’s morale and spirit. No matter what the question, McGarry kept referring back to this idea of the UVa spirit and tradition, reinforcing to me each time that these are, to him, the most important aspects of our school.
As much as he loves this place though, and as much as it means to him, I caught the vibe from his interview that as a representative of the average student body, McGarry had not invested too much time or energy into the Sullivan saga. Although he was in Charlottesville taking classes at the time of the resignation and reinstatement, his interview suggests that the events were sort of forcing themselves into his life with more energy than he was using to pursue them. When I asked him about going to any rallies or protests, he agreed that he had wanted to be involved in the activities, and said,
“So, you wanted to be a part of it, and even, you know, from the start, you know, there were always the rumors, and there was always the talk, especially around Charlottesville, around other students that were there, you know, people are always talking about it, so, it was, you were always sort of engaged, you know, actively in it, whether or not you wanted to while you were here.”2
To me, this seems like he may have walked by the picketers on the lawn on his way home from class, acknowledged the events, and continued on home. He never gave me any specific details of his involvement in any rally or other type of protest, which leads me to believe that he did not take an extremely active part in any of them. This provides a great example of C. Wright Mills’s concept of the Sociological Imaginiation. Mills states, “in this Age of Fact, information often dominates [our] attention and overwhelms [our] capacities to assimilate it.”4 I felt, in my interview with McGarry, that he certainly felt overwhelmed with the amount of information thrown around during those 17 days in June; as he said, “whether or not you wanted,” the crisis was omnipresent to students and community members in Charlottesville at that time. Again, his lack of details in recalling the events proves to me that the chaotic whirlwind of rumors and unsolved mysteries surrounding the Sullivan events most likely hindered his ability to make sense of it all. To further this thought, McGarry later told me that most of the students in his Comm School course didn’t show much, if any, interest in the situation, even though the professors would talk about it regularly.
Some might find this conclusion disheartening; however, I think it’s a necessary standpoint for us to have in our collection of interviews. As we’ve talked about so much in class, there’s so much that goes on behind the scenes in our administration that most students have no idea about. Although a clear form of “activism” would be researching this behind the scenes activity and staying up to date on exactly who’s in charge, exactly who’s calling the shots regarding our education. BUT, as McGarry touched on, so many of the students who go here are so focused on and consumed in their studies; it’s hard to find time between church meetings, studying for your next exam, working, and dressing up like Thomas Jefferson to worry about keeping tabs on the people and organizations that govern us. Is it a worthy cause? Yes, I certainly think so. However, we cannot expect every already-overachieving student to also be an expert on the Jeffersonian ideals and higher education.
In fact, most of us aren’t at all. I could tell by the thoughtful look on his face that McGarry was trying to give me good, developed answers, but then at the last second he would, again, always refer back to how everything tied in with his love for the UVa tradition and pride. When I asked Michael what his values, as a student, were in our Jeffersonian, public higher education institution, he answered,
“Again, growing up with a, it’s just, hearing the stories, and, you know, seeing the passion and love that, you know, my parents and their friends have for the university, and just, their fond memories of it; I’ve just grown to appreciate what it’s been and, like, what’s made it to what it is now. And again, you know, the Jeffersonian aspect, it just, it’s kind of a sense of pride to, you know, be a part of what he’s worked on.”2
It seemed like he didn’t want to say anything too detailed about the structure of our administration, or any specific policies, or even the events of the summer in fear of saying something incorrect, and I don’t blame him. I feel completely uncomfortable when I’m expected to speak about something I don’t know very much about, and in this case, I don’t think the student is at fault for being uninformed. From our lecture on neoliberalism and defining a public university, I recall agreeing as a class that there should be an open connection with the administration and the students and the rest of the community5. This means that we shouldn’t have to do crazy research and piece together clues from different news articles to figure out how our school is run. McGarry’s answers indicate to me that students like him, who are involved in so much on grounds in addition to being dedicated to their schoolwork, students that I would consider to be the average student body, are putting more trust into our governing system than it deserves. We all love UVa because of its tradition of excellence, and we expect that when we come here and give our time and money to this school instead of to any other school, that excellence continues, no questions asked.
Now, in contrast to the student perspective I received from my interview with Michael, the optimism and level-headedness George Cohen presented us with upon visiting our class really resonated with me. Cohen seemed so relaxed when talking about the crisis, and like I valued Michael McGarry’s lack of knowledge about our administration as a learning lesson, Cohen seemed to value the events of the summer as an urge to better the UVa community and other college communities like us. In his interview with Greg, Cohen stated,
“The main lesson, I think, is Terry Sullivan’s own lesson, and one of the reasons I think she was so popular here was that she had this really strong belief that, you know, if you were going to make changes, you have to build from the bottom up, you have to get people to accept, you know, the process […and…] hopefully you’ll be able to live with the results. […] If we’re going to have change – and, you know, I don’t think we’re opposed to change – but if we’re going to have change, it should be done in that way. And so I think that’s a lesson also that can be carried to other places.”6
I appreciated how honest Cohen was with our class; he didn’t try to make up excuses for what happened, and if he didn’t know the answer to one of our questions, he had no problem saying he didn’t know. As chairman of the Faculty Senate, he exemplified, I thought, transparency with this honesty.
I also obviously appreciated his optimism toward the future in discussing the effects of the Sullivan saga. As William Tierney writes in Governance and The Public Good, “the question is not if higher education will change as a result of these demands, but how colleges and universities will confront the need for change.”7 I find this concept so important for the same reasons Cohen does; we seem to agree that change is inevitable with each passing day, and our university community must, in order to prevent future crises like this one, adapt to those changes. Regarding his optimism in the necessity of changing along with the rest of society, Cohen values “building from the bottom up.” With a list of plans to improve various administrative policies, he explained to us how this crisis brought to light many issues that might not have been recognized without such a big blowout.
In conclusion, thanks to the resources garnered up throughout the course of this class, I now feel able to take on an educated standpoint regarding the Teresa Sullivan resignation and reinstatement. I don’t believe, as I previously did, that this is a question of who is at fault. In the beginning, I thought the biggest question to be answered was what factors led me to support Sullivan over any other player in the situation. Now I see, in comparison to the much larger issues with our public university and its administration this crisis revealed, the “whodunit” must take a back seat. The bottom line is that although no one really knows, even months later, exactly why President Sullivan was fired, all UVa community members can now see that there are changes that need to be made. The general student body needs to somehow become better connected with the “higher ups” that are making decisions that affect them, and those higher ups need to somehow create a better internal method of communication so they can work more proactively. I fully credit this class with giving me an authentic understanding of the Sullivan saga, as well as the state of our university community in general, and I will close this reflection how I opened it; after a long semester and countless hours of training, preparation, and execution of gathering this information, I can successfully stand back and piece everything together to create a satisfying conclusion. What a way to learn.
My partner, Rachel Boag, offered me many suggestions for this paper, such as further developing my analysis of my interviewee’s transcript. She also kept me in the loop when I had to miss our last class, and I am so grateful I had her to let me know what was going on. I’d also like to give credit to each of my other classmates and professors for giving me the ideas I needed to structure this paper. I really mean it when I say that my goals for this course were realized right under my nose; I didn’t analyze the topics of our discussions in the broader context each week, which I think helped me in the end. I was able to take everything we’ve talked about, everything we’ve learned, and all the oral history we’ve gathered and create my own educated opinion of it all. For that I thank each and every individual participant in this course.
1 Gladchuk, Ann M. “Primary Interview: Annie Gladchuk.” Personal interview. Oct. 2012.
2 McGarry, Michael. “Secondary Interview: Michael McGarry.” Personal interview. 2 Nov. 2012.
3 Youell, Ross. “Primary Interview: Ross Youell.” Personal interview. Oct. 2012.
4 Mills, C Wright. The Sociological Imagination. N.p.: Oxford UP, n.d. Print.
5 Heinecke, Walt, John Alexander, and MDST 3559 Participants. “Class Discussion.” Jefferson and Public Education Issues in Public Higher Education: Governance, Finance, Technology, Faculty. Nau Hall, Charlottesville. 19 Sept. 2012. Lecture.
6 Cohen, George. “Secondary Interview: George Cohen. ” Personal interview. 14 Nov. 2012.
7 Tierney, William G. Governance and the Public Good. Albany, NY: State University of New York, 2006. Print.