A student hunger strike aimed at pushing UVA to adopt a living wage for employees and contracted workers attracted national attention in February, but failed to bring about the change activists were seeking. (Photo by John Robinson)
UVA made headlines around the country more than once in the past year —and the spotlight wasn’t always welcome. Here’s a look back at 2011-2012 in headlines.
Filling in faculty gaps
UVA President Teresa Sullivan has pushed the importance of expanding the University’s faculty since her arrival in 2010, and in October, the College of Arts & Sciences announced a major commitment to that effort: the hiring of 200 new faculty hires over the next 6 to 8 years, starting with 10 new professors funded by a $2.9 million Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant. It’s an ambitious goal in an era of shrinking state support, but Sullivan has continued to emphasize the importance of recruiting more top-notch educators to UVA. Faculty will see an end to an extended raise freeze soon, with up to a 3 percent bonus at the end of this year and a 2 percent raise next year—though Sullivan said that’s part of an “aspirational” budget that may not come to pass.
“We’re asking a lot of loyalty from that faculty member to stay here when they’re leaving money on the table,” Sullivan said in an interview in March. “So that’s certainly a risk.”
Meanwhile, a recent report from the American Association of University Professors ranks UVA at number 82 in the country for college faculty salaries.
Murder trial mayhem
In February, reporters from news outlets across the country descended on UVA and Charlottesville to cover the murder trial of former UVA student George Huguely, arrested in 2010 in the off-campus beating death of his then-girlfriend, Yeardley Love, just before the two star lacrosse players were set to graduate.
The trial was closely watched here and nationwide, as defense attorneys tried to make the case that Love, whose on-again, off-again relationship with the hard-partying, heavy-drinking Huguely had seen violent moments before, was asphyxiated to death in her bed after an altercation with Huguely, but that his blows didn’t definitively kill her.
Ultimately, the jury didn’t buy it. They found Huguely guilty of second-degree murder, recommending 26 years in prison. He’s been in jail since, awaiting a sentencing date that’s been pushed to August 30, but the saga has continued. Love’s mother Sharon Love has filed wrongful death claims against Huguely, his coaches, the UVA athletic director, and the University itself. Meanwhile, a group of media companies that petitioned for access to trial documents kept from the public have won a small victory, and have been offered two-day access to some of the evidence used to convict Huguely here in Circuit Court today and tomorrow.
Shortly after the trial wrapped up in February, UVA news went national again, on yet another issue administrators would probably rather not highlight: a student-led hunger strike over the University’s failure to pay some workers a living wage.
Students have been battling the UVA administration on the topic since the 1980s, demanding that the University offer its employees and contracted workers wages that support basic needs, like food and housing. Here, living wage supporters put that number at $13 an hour. Some UVA employees make $10.65 an hour, while other contracted workers make as little as $7.25.
In February, UVA’s Living Wage Campaign informed the school administration that they were set to take action to bring national attention to the wage issue, and when the response fell short of their demands, a dozen students publicly kicked off the fast. While 14 more joined in over the days that followed, only two stuck with it until March 1, when they declared the fast over.
The University had refused to budge, though CFO Michael Strine promised to review University policies on hiring contracted workers. The hunger strikers declared a partial victory, though, pointing out that their efforts gained national media attention.
“If nothing else, we’ve absolutely raised the issue of employee treatment at a university that has historically seen incredibly little student activism,” UVA grad student David Flood told a C-VILLE reporter.
Loss of a landmark
The shuttering of a beloved breakfast joint might not make major waves outside Charlottesville, but the closing of The Tavern just before Christmas certainly had an impact on the legions of hungover students who have long flocked to the Emmett Street eatery.
Manager Shelley Gordon said steady rent increases instituted by owner Clara Belle Wheeler pushed him out; Wheeler said the restaurant, built in 1954, needed a major overhaul. Gordon’s lease on the landmark was up at the end of last year, and he and Wheeler couldn’t agree on an extension. So patrons crowded the place for final goodbyes in December, and the Tavern closed its doors December 24.
While the 4 percent increase in undergraduate tuition announced by UVA’s Board of Visitors in April wasn’t exactly welcome, the hike—far higher for some graduate programs, and made even more onerous by rising fees—was the lowest since the 2001-2002 school year.
Total cost of tuition, fees, and room and board for in-state undergrads is up to $25,000, and adds up to $51,600 for those coming in from out of state. An engineering graduate degree costs 7.2 percent more in state, while a public policy master’s will be 11.8 percent more expensive. A significant spike in lab fees will also hit some students square in the wallet next year.—C-VILLE writers