NO matter what the University of Virginia’s governing board decides today, when it is scheduled to determine the fate of the university’s ousted president, Teresa A. Sullivan, the intense interest in the case shows how much anxiety surrounds the future of higher education — especially the question of whether university leaders are moving too slowly to position their schools for a rapidly changing world (as some of Ms. Sullivan’s critics have suggested of her).
There is good reason for the anxiety. Setting aside the specifics of the Virginia drama, university leaders desperately need to transform how colleges do business. Higher education must make up for the mistakes it made in what I call the industry’s “lost decade,” from 1999 to 2009. Those years saw a surge in students pursuing higher education, driven partly by the colleges, which advertised heavily and created enticing new academic programs, services and fancy facilities.