Shared Text: The Several Wizarding World Allusions Made During the University of Virginia’s Summer Leadership Crisis

Not all Harry Potter comparisons by higher education critics take nine years to appear in print. (See the preceding article by Elizabeth Baird Hardy for one that did.)

Like a lot of professors in Virginia, I followed with intense interest the Board of Visitor’s unexpected June 10th dismissal of University of Virginia (UVa) President Teresa Sullivan, and the sixteen days of protests by faculty, students and alums. The debacle ended with Dr. Sullivan’s reinstatement on June 26th. The Chronicle of Higher Education, happily a bit quicker on the draw with this story, has a detailed summary of the events here.

Allusions to our favorite Shared Text were quickly popping up all over social media: Twitter, Facebook, and commentary on online news article by people following the story. Rector Helen Dragas was compared to virtually every bad guy in the series, from Lucius Malfoy to Lord Voldemort to Dolores Umbridge. I also spotted at least one Hunger Games illusion, wherein it was suggested that Dragas and Sullivan fight it out in the Arena to settle their dispute.

Most of the Harry Potter allusions popped up in tweets or in comments on news articles, hard to document with URLs. But combining the #UVA hashtag with the key words brings quite a few up from the Twitter archives. A few sample Tweets:

  • Don’t open the doors, @HelenDragas! That’s how the Dementors get in! #WhatTheBOVisDoing: Sabotage. #UVA.
  • Do I go too far in saying dragas is Lucius malfoy trying to get rid of dumbledore in chamber of secrets? In the French ed Draco= drago, FYI
  • @wpjenna I mistakenly referred to Dragas as Draco (as in Malfoy)#FreudianSlip
  • “@sassEG: I’m still waiting for the Weasleys to run Umbridge—I mean Dragas—out of the castle. Er, Rotunda. #uva, #BOV,#mischiefmanaged.”
  • Love this: Don’t be surprised when Helen #Dragas names Dolores Umbridge the next President of #UVA

But here is one editorial that put a Harry Potter comparison front and center,
as did these two alums who posted a video to YouTube.

So, is there a wand in that umbrella handle?

One of the iconic images of the event was the purple umbrella, held high above the crowd of supporters, that sheltered President Sullivan from a light rain that was falling the afternoon of June 18th, when she marched, amid cheers, across UVA’s historic lawn to address the Board during what would be a near-all-night meeting. I’m sure I was not the only one who hoped her umbrella, like Hagrid’s, held the fragments of her broken wand and would be able to conjure a little magic.

So, is all well? Hard to say. While Dumbledore (Sullivan) is back at Hogwarts (UVA), Virginia Governor McDonnell played a bit of a Minister Scrimgeour role and re-appointed Dragas to another term as Rector, in a move reminiscent of Umbridge keeping her job at the Ministry of Magic, even after her actions in Order of the Phoenix. And we all know how well that turned out.

But, the story is still unfolding, as many continue to call for increased transparency and other reforms in the Board of Visitors. Short of a Time-Turner, we have no way of knowing whether UVA will ultimately follow the “strategic dynamism” path favored by Dragas or Sullivan’s “incremental change,” or which will produce the better outcome for Mr. Jefferson’s Academical Villiage. Perhaps the best test will come in 20-30 years, if someone decides to survey the children of today’s students that enroll in their parents’ alma mater, and count the number named “Teresa” versus “Helen.”

But one point cannot be denied: People who followed this story care deeply about higher education in Virginia and elsewhere. The overwhelming majority of people commenting and tweeting were supporters of Sullivan and the tried-and-true traditions of the ivory tower, including the study of liberal arts disciplines like classics and German. And those people know Harry Potter, and know him well.

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