Who Decides? UVA and Transparency in Higher Ed
The Virginia Senate approved the reappointment of an embattled University of Virginia administrator last week, raising questions of authority and accountability at the institution.
This week, the Republican-controlled Virginia Senate approved with a vote of 29-9 the confirmation of an embattled rector's reappointment to her post at the University of Virginia, raising questions
Helen Dragas, the rector of UVA's Board of Visitors, came to national attention last summer after she engineered a plot to have the University's President, Teresa Sullivan, ousted from her post. Subsequent outrage from students, faculty, and alumni prompted the Board of Visitors to give her back the job.
But the university community remembered the episode. A petition asking the Virginia state Senate to block Dragas' confirmation to another term has gathered almost 2,400 signatures.
Not only did UVA's student government pass a resolution condemning Dragas' reappointment, but a poll indicates that 88 percent of students in the College of Arts and Sciences, the largest school in the University, were opposed to her keeping the job. Dragas is expected to receive the approval from the Virginia House needed to keep her position.
Laura Goldblatt, a UVA graduate student who leads the organization Hoos University, noted that this Dragas' actions were part of a larger trend.
"Public universities across the country are under assault," she wrote in an email to Campus Progress, pointing to the American Association of Universities President Hunter Rawlings' figure that 13 university Presidents had recently left their jobs under questionable circumstances.
"Though similar coups have occurred elsewhere, the Board's actions this summer were singular in the extent of their opacity," she wrote.
Some on campus are hopeful that the incident will lead to tighter cooperation on issues of university governance.
"I believe that the university community will demand greater transparency," wrote faculty member Melissa Thomas-Hunt, in an email message. "[Students, faculty and alumni] have the potential to have an incredible impact on decision making. To do so they must collectively assert themselves. This takes great effort and coordination but can be accomplished."
While Dragas may remain, the students of UVA have expressed their resolve to fight for greater transparency and more control over their educational institutions. "We also learned, though," Goldblatt said, "that politicians, political appointees, and administrators are not willingly going to give up power: we have to demand it from them."
Samuel Carrigan is a reporter at Campus Progress.