GENRE: Drama, Social
Jonathan Walden — idealistic and high-minded — is a long shot to become president of Midwest University until a shrewd deal gets him the post at the proverbial liberal arts/research school where football, status, allowing donors to have their way and taking any action to protect the brand is the norm.
Few other times in its 200-year history has Midwest University (“The U.”) faced such a long list of grievances that expose many of its least appealing features and hypocrisies. In the heat of intense public criticism provoked by a mishandling of a rape case, a lawsuit by minority students regarding unfair admission policies, donors who seemingly get whatever they want and an athletic program playing fast and loose with the rules, the board of regents has voted narrowly to hire a new president – an alumnus with a brilliant record as a scholar, administrator and progressive thinker.
Soon after becoming president of Midwest University, Jonathan Walden learns the many ways “The U.” isn’t ready, willing or capable of changing. Indeed, “The U.” is a cesspool of self-interest where the dominant ethos is doing whatever it takes to get ahead, and where status transcends academic achievement.
In the early days, Jonathan learns of the many promises made by his predecessor, a charismatic less-than forthright aggrandizer brought to “The U.” to attract donors and create the wealthiest endowment for a university in the world. Slowly, the political minefield of navigating “The U.” – much more than a university and closer to a behemoth corporation – becomes startlingly apparent.
Through a series of inquires and setbacks, Jonathan learns the power of “The U.” is found in the alignment of special interest groups, including wealthy alumni, notable faculty, the legendary football coach, and a range of corporate and individual investors betting on turning research into profits.
Determined to transform “The U.” into pure environment of higher learning, academic integrity and a model for social justice, Jonathan seeks to rebuild the university culture from the grassroots. In his journey to make personal connections with donors, faculty, staff and students, he comes face-to-face with the cut-throat politics of wealthy donors, self-centered professors, staffers caught in a passive mindset, and students who live most days on the edge, pushing boundaries and wallowing in the excesses of despair, newfound freedom, drugs and sex while fixated on the latest gossip and postings in the social media world.
“The U.” is more than an in-depth look at the inherent contradictions of a major university and the precarious values of higher education; it’s a barometer of the state of American ideals.