Why Did UVa Cancel Classes Only This Time?

Karin Agness

1/19/2009 12:00:01 AM - Karin Agness

On Jan. 20, 2005, George Bush was sworn in as president of the United States. On Jan. 20, 2009, Barack Obama will be sworn in as the 44th president of the United States. The University of Virginia decided to suspend classes on only one of these important days. Can you guess which one?

Arthur Garson Jr., the executive vice president and provost of UVa, announced by e-mail that classes will be suspended on Jan. 20, 2009 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., in honor of the inauguration of Barack Obama. In 2005, while I was an undergraduate at UVa, classes carried on as usual for George Bush's Inauguration Day.

UVa also will be opening the doors of the basketball arena for live coverage of the swearing-in ceremony. In his e-mail to the UVa community, Garson explains, "The coming together of a nation at the same time every four years for presidential inaugurations -- as dictated by the Constitution for noon on Jan. 20 -- is an educational moment that binds us as a nation and a people." His e-mail continues: "In order to allow our students, as well as other members of our community, to participate in this exercise in democracy, the University will suspend classes between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2009."

Based on the actions of the UVa administration, George Bush's Inauguration Day was somehow not "an educational moment" or an "exercise in democracy." This explanation is suspect. Furthermore, neither Garson's e-mail nor the official press release announcement that the suspension of class on Inauguration Day is a new policy that will be implemented well into the future regardless of whether a Republican or Democrat is elected.

Explaining the liberal bias on college campuses can be challenging because it is often a combination of overt and covert action and inaction. The suspension of classes for the inauguration of Barack Obama -- but not for George Bush -- gives a clear example of this bias.

One might try to dismiss this suspension of classes as the deci sion of one administrator. However, this was not the decision of one man and he is not the only one defending it.

In response to further student inquiries, Carol Wood, the assistant vice president for public affairs at UVa, wrote: "As you know, the interest among young people across the nation -- regardless of their party -- was unprecedented during the recent presidential campaign. Our own students here at the University were equally as engaged and they have expressed a desire to participate in some way in Inauguration Day. Given the number of important issues facing our country and the world, students told us they wanted to hear live -- with their friends -- what President-elect Obama would have to say in his Inaugural address."

Wood celebrates the 2008 election and the youth participation in it although youth voter turnout was not as high as anticipated. Oddly, she highlights the "unprecedented" participation of young people in this election, while ignoring the fact that the main way students participated was through technology -- the same technology which will make Barack Obama's Inauguration Day speech available to students 24 hours a day.

From my experience of four years of college and almost three years of law school at UVa, I do not recall classes ever being suspended for a planned political event. For example, despite student petitions, classes carried on as normal during Election Day last year.

On Jan. 20, I plan to attend the classes for which I am paying, regardless of how college administrators weigh my interest in classes against my interest in hearing Barack Obama's speech live. I also plan to watch some of the Inauguration Day activities, but I will do so on my own time.