College Guide


August 13, 2012 11:00 AM Again With the Lady Gaga Courses

By Daniel Luzer

Of the many criticisms University of Virginia governing board leader Helen Dragas offered UVA administration before her decision to fire UVA president Teresa Sullivan (the board, after facing extensive protests from students and faculty, eventually reinstated Sullivan) one had to do with a UVA course focused on the singer Lady Gaga.

According to an article by Jenna Johnson in the Washington Post:

On Dec. 9, governing board leader Helen E. Dragas sent an e-mail to Sullivan and Provost John Simon with the subject line: “tough headline.” All that was in the message was a link to a blog post by The Heritage Foundation headlined, “The Lady Gaga-fication of Higher Ed.” (The piece questioned why four top-tier universities — “Four!” — offered courses revolving around pop icon Lady Gaga. U-Va. was singled out.)

The course, taught by a UVA graduate student, was a writing class called “GaGa for Gaga: Sex, Gender, and Identity,” and explored how the musician “pushed social boundaries in her work.” After academics sent the board member information about the course she responded that while she understood the “framework and the core purpose of the course” she believed the title of the course “probably aren’t’ helping us justify funding requests from taxpayers, parents, and legislators.”

I have actually made fun of a Lady Gaga-based sociology course offered by the University of South Carolina before, but this level of involvement strikes me as pretty meddlesome.

Dragas wrote in a follow up email that:

Opinions will, of course, vary on curricular content and direction, but there must be some internal arbiter of what is appropriate. I don’t purport to know what that is but it is clear to me that others do (at least purport to know) and that those people can influence our future. We should be mindful of that in my opinion.

Isn’t the “framework and the core purpose of the course” the fundamental reason for its existence? And isn’t the internal arbiter the provost? There was no problem there.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer


  • Jane on August 13, 2012 11:46 AM:

    I do think Gaga is worthy of deep study, but not as an entire course.

  • Rick B on August 13, 2012 12:10 PM:

    I seriously doubt the course in limited to Gaga. If you offer a non-required course there is the problem of getting people to sign up, so a provocative title helps. My bet is that this course is using the Gaga reference as a hook to get people to take a much more general course.

    If it were a doctoral seminar it would not need a hook in the title. In either case it should be a course studying the changes in the media that Gaga represents. Those changes will soon be seen in changes in our society and need more study.

    This is the "proxmirazation" of political interference in academic study. Proxmire never bothered with the substance of the courses or studies he gave Golden Fleece awards to. One was to an economist who taught pigeons to peck out the utility curves as the ratio of food and water were changed. Sound weird? Utility curves are basic to macroeconomic theory and were thought to be total mental fictions. This study proved for the very first time over a century after they were developed that utility curves have real-life effects. That's basic science. Think Proxmire cared? Of course not. It was drive-by political malpractice.