'Strangely silent'? Republican lawmakers weigh in on UVA crisis
Nearly two weeks after UVA Rector Helen Dragas' June 10 announcement that President Teresa Sullivan resigned because of "philosophical differences," local Republican delegates have issued statements, both calling for the reinstatement of Sullivan, on June 22, the same day that Governor Bob McDonnell tells the Board of Visitors to shape up or ship out.
In a letter to the BOV, McDonnell writes, "But let me be absolutely clear: I want final action by the Board on Tuesday. If you fail to do so, I will ask for the resignation of the entire Board on Wednesday. Regardless of your decision, I expect you to make a clear, detailed and unified statement on the future leadership of the University."
Delegate Steve Landes says in a release, "I am exploring possible legislation for the 2013 General Assembly Session which will address the training of university boards of visitors in the specific areas of transparency as well as review their governance policies.”
In a June 21 letter to Dragas, Landes writes, "[I]t is my opinion that your actions, without any thought of transparency or even a consensus of the full Board, have severely damaged the University thereby hurting students, faculty, and alumni."
He goes on to say he's been inundated by hundreds of emails from furious constituents. "In fact, I cannot think of even one contact in support of the Board’s actions," he says.
Double 'Hoo Delegate Rob Bell also has heard from constituents, no surprise, he says, given that this is a college town and the University of Virginia is the largest employer– and amount of media attention.
"The size of the headlines is the type you usually see at the end of a major war," he says.
Bell released his own letter to the Board of Visitors: "To rectify this untenable situation, I respectfully request that you reinstate Teresa Sullivan to the Presidency. Going forward, if your board still believes she should be replaced, you should conduct the appropriate transparent public meetings where the matter can be fully discussed and addressed."
With local Dems House Minority Leader David Toscano and State Senator Creigh Deeds meeting with Dragas and now-resigned vice rector Mark Kington last week, some have suggested the Republican reticence has made the controversy a partisan issue.
"I don't think so," says Bell. "Are people saying that?"
Toscano, who issued his first statement June 14 and then another June 18 with an even stronger demand urging both Dragas and Kington to resign, alleges his Republican colleagues in the General Assembly have been "strangely silent."
In calling for Dragas to resign, Toscano says that's not a criticism of Governor Bob McDonnell, whom others have urged to step in. Toscano notes that Dragas was appointed by a Democrat, former governor Tim Kaine.
He also muses over Dragas' resistance to resignation, calling it "indicative of her misunderstanding of the situation. Her June 21 statement was still explaining her actions while ignoring widespread calls for her to leave. "For her to still say the decision was right but the process was botched doesn't make any sense at this point," says Toscano.
Delegate Joe Morrissey has called for an investigation into the ouster of Sullivan, but Toscano says that if Sullivan is restored to her job, he doubts the investigation will go very far. "It may disclose some links we aren't aware of," he acknowledges.
Like Landes, Toscano says there are issues to discuss on the future governance of the board after a very small number of people launched the current firestorm.
"Under the Code of Virginia, the General Assembly is supposed to exercise control over the Board of Visitors," says Toscano. "We've ceded that to the governor, whose appointments are based on political patronage. We've had some fine people serve, but the General Assembly generally rubberstamps 'em."
Toscano wonders whether there should be some change to the Code to put people on the BOV who have experience in universities. Many universities have boards that are elected by alumni, he says.
"I've been thinking whether alums should have some say," he says, particularly since the university only gets 8 to 10 percent of its operating budget from the state and is so dependent on donations to make up the difference.
In the past two weeks, multiple groups have said they have no confidence in the Board of Visitors, and multiple people have called for Dragas to resign. Governor McDonnell, who has maintained a hands-off policy toward the BOV, appears to have had enough with the state's flagship university in disarray.
"I would probably call on the members of the Board of Visitors and tell 'em to get their act straight," says State Senator Deeds, who sought the governorship now held by McDonnell. "I would exercise quiet leadership."
Deeds, too, is dubious about what a legislative investigation would do at this point. "The press has done a good job of uncovering the bodies," he says.
"This is people power at this point," he says. "The faculty, the alums, the students continue to keep the pressure on."This story is a part of the The ousting of a president special.