W. Taylor Revely IV, president of Longwood University, posts a shrew op-ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch today. I say “shrewd” because the op-ed takes the form of an open letter to Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, which is seeking a site for a second headquarters employing 50,000 people and paying average salaries in the six figures, but it delivers a powerful subliminal message to the older, literate segment of the population that reads newspaper editorials.
The overt message to Bezos, who likely will never see the op-ed, is this: Invest in Virginia because we have “the best assortment of public and private colleges in the country — in fact, on the planet.” The subliminal message can be read in the headline that accompanied the column: “Higher ed makes Va. the best choice for HQ2.” In other words, higher-ed supports economic development. I don’t know if the op-ed was a formal part of the P.R. roll out by GROWTH4VA, which is pushing for higher ed-friendly budgetary and legislative reforms in the 2018 General Assembly session, but it delivers the same bottom-line message.
Reveley’s argument can be broken into two parts. First, Virginia has the best system of higher ed anywhere:
Consider the latest US News & World-Report college rankings. The commonwealth is home to two of the top six public universities nationally (W&M and the University of Virginia), and the only state besides California with two public universities among the top 35 overall. Among the top nine public regional institutions in the South, four are in Virginia. … Virginia’s public universities rank among the nation’s leaders in retention and graduation rates.
Also, Revely argues, the state’s decentralized higher-ed system provides a broader of educational settings than other higher-ed systems, giving students a wider assortment of environments from which to choose and thrive.
The second part of the op-ed focuses on the value of a liberal arts education, which his university, Longwood, provides. Virginia’s colleges are especially strong in the liberal arts, Revely contends, and Amazon needs a steady supply of employees with strong backgrounds in the liberal arts and sciences — not narrowly trained technicians, “but people with imagination, who can think critically, solve problems, work with and understand diverse groups, and effectively communicate.”
“So, Jeff, please consider Virginia,” Revely concludes in his op-ed. But to his broader audience, the message ostensibly addressed to Bezos appears buried in the column: “Virginia’s strong higher education landscape, with broad bipartisan support, is a key reason why in an age of great division, our state’s political culture remains remarkably civil, and the state itself is arguably the best-run in the nation.”
Thus, subtly, while avoiding self-serving and off-putting rhetoric, Revely appeals to Virginians’ better angels of bipartisanship, civility and aspirations for a stronger economy. By inviting readers to make the link themselves between higher-ed and economic development, he shapes the rhetorical battlefield for the higher-ed debate to come.
I will discuss the Virginia-has-the-best-public-system-of-higher-ed meme in the next post, and address the connections between higher-ed and economic development in future blog posts.There are currently no comments highlighted.