Dragas on Board: The Rector who wouldn't go

Fear, distrust, sadness, anger. Welcome back to the University of Virginia.

If you spent the summer on a desert island with no internet, you are in for a surprise. This isn't the same UVA you left at the end of last semester, and the storm didn't stop raging with the June 26 reinstatement of President Teresa Sullivan.

"We are still in the middle of a crisis," visiting UVA Economics Professor Ed Burton recently told listeners on a local radio show. "I think most students that I've communicated with– and I've communicated with literally hundreds– think the general feeling of the students is sadness. It's, 'wow– what's happened here?'"

"That this isn't the University I thought I knew?" asked WINA interviewer Rick Daniels. "That's right," answered Burton.

And so, dear Charlottesville escapees, you might ask, what caused this crisis you so blissfully bypassed on your summer adventures, and why does it continue?

All roads lead to Rector Helen Dragas.

"Right or wrong," says graduate student Suzie McCarthy, "she's become the face of the move to oust President Sullivan."

"A visible template"

With most of the principals speaking blandly about moving forward, emails released this summer via Freedom of Information requests provide color. One can witness Dragas' concern about a class inviting students to write about Lady Gaga. And one can imagine– after getting hundreds of emails demanding her resignation– why Dragas asked her hand-picked public relations firm to jot up a statement in case she resigned. And one can sympathize when, in one email, she gets called "Rectum Dragas."

However, the messages that provide the most insight into her thinking and plotting are the ones released almost immediately thanks to a promptly-penned and narrowly-tailored request by the Cavalier Daily.

"As you said today, Darden is a near and visible template for much of what we seek."–Mark Kington to Helen Dragas at 9:51pm on Sunday, June 10.

That was then board member and Vice-Rector Kington reassuring the Rector just a few hours after the two stood on the steps of Madison Hall, the president's office, to tell reporters that the executive committee of the Board was about to accept Sullivan's resignation due to a "philosophical difference." Dragas gave the reporters less than three minutes. Kington never spoke.

Kington and Dragas each earned a business degree from UVA's Darden School. And there's plenty about Darden to impress, from the school's high national rankings to the esteem in which Dean Bob Bruner is held by his peers. Most salient in a state that pays a lower percentage of college costs with each successive year, however, is the fact that Darden takes nothing from the state.

In recent years, while most UVA professors toiled under a four-year salary freeze, Darden profs got pay raises. The school achieved record fund-raising, created in-demand programs in executive education, and raised its regular tuition to about $50,000 with students clamoring to get in. At the end of each year, the school not only doesn't wave a tin cup in the direction of the General Assembly but instead hands over a voluntary "tax," a payment of 10 percent of its budget, currently about $4 million, to UVA. Darden, as a businessperson might say, has "out-performed" the market.

But if Dragas and Kington extolled Darden's virtues, the feeling was not quite mutual, particularly regarding their method, which, by all accounts, was a series of serial meetings, one-on-one encounters in which one would convince another board member that there was consensus to remove the president.

"This is not what we teach at Darden," declared Dean Bruner on a blog post that blasted the ouster and noted that he helped craft a letter from practically all the deans calling for reinstatement.

"Virtually all of the communications I have received from Darden’s alums have been strongly supportive of Terry Sullivan’s reinstatement– the same for Darden’s faculty and staff," Bruner wrote. "We have called continually for open dialogue among parties and transparency about decisions."

Bruner's post won over 1,600 Facebook likes.

But not everyone felt that way. In May, billionaire Board member Randal Kirk urged Dragas to move forward.

"Well, your leadership is certainly already paying off," Kirk told Dragas. "The time in which we could be deferential toward an administration that is mostly bent on the preservation of the status quo is at an end."

"I think," he continued, "that if  the board realized that it really is their job to figure out what the University is (and is not) and who the University’’s client is, we would be off to a very fine start. The BS tolerance I have seen so far is really quite amazing, however. Sustainability science. Please!"

Without explaining what's wrong with sustainability science, he closed with this: "One of our nannies has two degrees from the University, by the way."

“Thanks for your encouragement," Dragas responded. "I expect to be bullet ridden by Sunday."

Business sense?

So who is the University's client? Calls and emails to Kirk went unreturned.

However, if the client is the student, then UVA appears to be succeeding. At their mid-August retreat in Richmond, Board members were informed by Admissions Dean Greg Roberts that applications have essentially doubled over the past decade– from 14,868 to to 28,260– and that the average SAT has leapt from 1322 to 1351. And just a few days before that meeting, Forbes, a business magazine, named UVA the best public university in America.

Austin Ligon, the founder and former CEO of CarMax, penned an op-ed for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, crediting President Sullivan for the vision he saw in her as a member of the search committee that chose her. Helen Dragas was one of Ligon's fellow members on the search committee, but she decided she made a mistake. The continuing question is why.

In the final days leading up to the ouster, Dragas emailed most if not all Board members a graduation speech about moving quickly to correct mistakes– i.e. the hiring of the wrong president. However, it was an op-ed about the need to quickly embrace online education that caused her to email her cohort Kington with the notorious subject line: "why we can't afford to wait."

The article noted that online education currently has "no revenue stream and no business plan to sustain it."

Overwhelming consensus?

“I am assuming that Friday’s discussion will lead to meeting with the board on Monday,” wrote Board member MacDonald Caputo on the eve of the fateful June 8 meeting where Dragas and Kington delivered the blow to the president.

"We may be headed toward a meeting next Friday instead of Monday," replied Dragas, "but I’ll know more once I work out a couple of pieces that are still moving.”

As it turned out, there was no board meeting, as President Sullivan agreed to resign to spare herself and the university the anguish of a vote. Dragas and Kington recruited the sole Charlottesville member of the Board's executive committee, Hunter Craig, to create the quorum needed that Sunday afternoon, June 10, to accept the president's resignation.

Dragas has made statements that "overwhelming consensus" and "general consensus" on the Board proceeded to the ouster, but she has not provided evidence to support that, and a deadlock in the infamous overnight BOV meeting, along with other information the Hook has gathered, tends to undercut that assertion.

The Board's own rules are clear about removing UVA's leader: a two-thirds majority– at least 11 members– is needed to oust the president. Knowledgeable sources say, however, that the Board deadlocked 8-8 on reinstating Sullivan during that infamous marathon meeting that ended around 2:30am on June 19, the meeting that resulted only in naming an interim president, a move that plunged the campus deeper into outrage.

Had Board member Mark Kington– one of the two architects of the purge– resigned just a few hours sooner than he did that day, an 8-7 majority might have spared Board member and Rector Helen Dragas the ignominy of digging in deeper. But dig she did on June 21 when she released a belated defense of her actions. Laying out a list of 10 challenges facing the university, Dragas defended the ouster as "the right thing, the wrong way" and suggested that a UVA under Sullivan "will continue to drift in yesterday."

Some colleagues, however, would push Dragas in a different direction. In defiance of her wishes, three board members– fed up with the Rector's methods– had already contacted the Board secretary that afternoon to demand another meeting, a reinstatement meeting.

"I was not clever enough at the time," said then-Board member Heywood Fralin, one of the pro-Sullivan camp, in explaining his failure to take a full board vote. Fellow Board member Vince Mastracco, although in the delicate position of serving as law partner to Dragas' husband, would later tell a newspaper how he similarly blundered when Dragas called him in early June to win his vote.

"I'm complicit," Mastracco told the Virginian-Pilot. "If this is the consensus of the group," he says he told Dragas, "I'm not going to stand in the way."

As Mastracco told the Virginian-Pilot, the Board never conducted a meeting to discuss Sullivan's performance as president– even though the full board held a two-day meeting in Charlottesville just 17 days before the ouster.

"This is a classic case of sacrificing process for expediency," he told the Pilot.

Did it meet business standards?

As controversy revved up, key university leaders were caught off guard.

"It seems odd to hire someone age 60, give them a five year contract, and then terminate them after two years for failing to have a long term plan," said the leader of UVA's capital campaign, Richmond-based lawyer Gordon Rainey, in an email to Dragas on June 11. "Be prepared to explain that this is not a snap judgment but a conclusion that has been reached deliberatively by the board over a significant period of time."

Dean of the undergraduate McIntire School of Commerce Carl Zeithaml, who was selected as interim president but quickly withdrew, echoed similar concerns when conferring by email with a pair of wealthy UVA alumni donors.

"I know for a fact that [Sullivan] was told originally not to undertake another strategic planning effort," writes Zeithaml in a June 14 email to James Todd, one of the DC area's biggest developers, and to Jeffrey Walker, chair of UVA's Council of Foundations, "so the whole rationale that she didn't do a long range plan part doesn't make sense unless the BOV: a) suddenly changed their mind, or b) is just using it as an excuse to fire her. "

"I am not sure if [Sullivan] just ever had enough personality and presence for many people," adds Zeithaml.

"Still very confused as to what the BOV was so unhappy with Terry about," writes Walker. "I think the BOV should be fired. Amazing that UVA has two great business schools, but it runs its business so poorly."

"There is a corporate governance problem!" responds Zeithaml. "They have little or no idea what goes on in the schools. On top of it, there is essentially no oversight of the BOV and little accountability except for what the public can muster."

"I imagine change is close to impossible politically at the BOV," responds Todd. "It is one of the Gov's best rewards to the faithful."

Zeithaml, responding to questions about these early emails, still condemns the ouster and admits that the reasons Dragas put forward for the decision still don't make sense to him. He also points out that his comments were made before he had seen Sullivan's infamous May 3 academic strategy memo, which wasn't released to the public until June 22. More about that in a bit.

After claiming that he was as upset to see UVA's first female rector pilloried as he was to see UVA's first female president sacked, Governor Bob McDonnell nominated Dragas to a second four-year Board term on June 29. Unless the General Assembly rejects this nomination in January, her rectorship ends next June.

So why did Dragas do it?

On August 8, in a strongly-worded letter, a group of 14 prominent University of Virginia alumni urged the Board of Visitors to finally come clean with the reasoning behind their actions and noted the crisis is not over.

"It will not end until the Board acknowledges publicly that UVA suffered a significant failure of corporate governance; and it will not end until Board members finally explain candidly, to satisfy common sense, what really motivated them to act so precipitously."

The group took particular note of a recent open letter from resigning faculty member William Wulf, the alleged incongruity of Rector Helen Dragas' public statements on UVA's perceived and actual technology offerings, and the fact that President Sullivan’s May 3 "crucial 12-page strategic memorandum" was not shared with the full board when it met in Charlottesville later that month but only with the Rector and then-Vice-Rector Mark Kington.

"The question remains," say the alums, "whether this was a tactical complement to the Rector’s isolation of Board members through serial contacts."

Alumni aren't the only ones demanding answers. The Faculty Senate called for a rigorous self-examination during the Board Retreat, which occurred August 14-16 in Richmond. Instead, the only major governance proposal (made by Richmond business magnate Bill Goodwin) would extend each Rector's term from two to three years.

Meanwhile, two national investigations are underway: one from the American Association of University Professors and another from UVA's accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Even after reinstating the president, Helen Dragas further enraged some members of the community by winning a unanimous vote of confidence from her fellow board members, and by an apology which may have seemed directed less to the action than the manner. "I sincerely apologize for the way this was presented," she said, "and you deserved better."

One thing she has yet to address is the role of Paul Tudor Jones. A billionaire hedge fund manager and the lead donor for the local basketball arena, Jones was given advance knowledge of Sullivan's ouster and lauded Dragas' move in an op/ed as one that would have "elated" the first rector, Thomas Jefferson. Jones has declined to return multiple phone calls, and Dragas has declined to discuss her contacts with the power-wielding financier. Governor McDonnell has taken a $100,000 campaign contribution from Jones.

More recently, when this reporter asked Dragas via email for evidence that she didn't lie about the "overwhelming consensus," the Rector was silent. Asked in person if she were still thinking about resigning, Dragas replied in the negative.

As it turns out, the University that forces all students to sign and then follow an Honor Code so strict that it expels anyone found in violation mandates no such rule for its Board.

"The Rector needs to be completely open about what she did," says Suzie McCarthy, the graduate student who organized the 15,000+ member United4Honor Facebook page that led to a 2,000-person rally on the Lawn two days before reinstatement. "The Rector basically needs an attitude adjustment."

This story is a part of the President Sullivan retakes the reins special.



And yet, she is still smiling, while you all froth and spew.

She can just keep smiling until someone finally kicks her butt back to Va Beach.

Won't be me. I will just have to live vicariously. Okay with me. :-) Hey, I can smile too because I don't have to keep looking over my shoulder.

Someone will eventually slay the dragon. Too much bad karma for her to escape.

@jimi...thankfully both parties who are the targets of these feedback comments have the sense to be civil in public. I suspect that Ms. Dragas does not value the sort of "support" you offer. Being cruel does not make you smart or clever.

get a grip... you didnt have to be on a desert island to miss this, you just had to be anywhere but in a town that thinks the sun orbits around it and its mildness.
looks like reality and a little outside influence threatened to hurt some feelings and break up the cushy soft foam pit the university crowd thrive on.
its a shame that this has reinforced the systemic attitude in this town that group crying sessions and tantrums will convince the big bad man to give us our candy because at the end of the day we cant hack it outside the soft group think club that insulates charlottesville.

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In what must be a prime example of "examining one's belly button", the University will offer a course for credit on the matter of The Board vs. The President. I can only say that if my child was using my money for this, I would be even more infuriated with the University, and the educational credentials even more suspect.

Dragas is like Todd Akin, except that Missouri voters will have a say in the Todd Akin fiasco. UVA faculty has no say with regard to Dragas, just like the voters in Missouri have no say with regard to Akin running.

In order to restore any trust in the UVA BoV - there must be faculty representation and voting rights. And, remove Dragas from the BoV.

The only way out for both situations is legal remedy. Hello General Assembly of Virginia. Are you awake?

This demonstrates how utterly disturbing the BoV process is at UVA.

Take head Governor McDonnell, as you lambast your own party; yet, retain Dictator Dragas on the Board of Visitors at UVA.

Epic failure!

Please NO PR spin from Dragas' hired firm, Hill & Knowlton.

@Haha....it was national news, dude. Maybe you were on a desert island. Plus, you're just being a little peevish.

@hypocrisy alert...this should be taught. And it will be at other schools as well, for a long time. Guess you'll have to check the course listings at all the school your child applies to.

There is much to learn about what happened this summer...and its not just about Charlottesville or UVA...its about the state of higher education, about the influence of money on our schools, about the conflict between academia and the business world....obviously, some people don't give a crap. Which is fine. Its a free country. But why even comment?

More importantly, why are all the people who banded together to force Sullivan's reinstatement not pressing for Dragas' resignation? A normal person, like Kington maybe, would have quietly put their tale between their legs and left. But not Helen. There she is. Who does this university belong too anyway, people? The Paul Tudor Jones', Peter Kiernans, and Helen Dragas of the world….or the people of Virginia?

Dragas has no credibility. Dragas is a McDonnell plant. Dragas only cares about her political aspirations (Lt. Governor). This is about allowing Governor McDonnell to rule OVER women. Nothing new. Governor McDonnell wants women 'serving' who protect his positions and extreme ideals.

McDonnell was not selected by Romney as a running mate because of his failures in attracting women and minority voters. That's all.

Dr. Sullivan is a methodical woman who wants the very best for UVA, and not under the thumb of the Governor nor that of Rector Dragas.

Team Sullivan!

@ Reading from California - Excellent statement: "Team Sullivan!"

My thoughts: Remove Dragas. Recall McDonnell.

Enough said.

@Buzzman - We ARE banding together to force Dragas' resignation!

Helen Dragas' emails will be leaked shortly. The emails prove that Governor McDonnell pressed her for President Sullivan's resignation or Dragas would not have any political future.

I have zero confidence or trust in the current BOV and until Dragas resigns, my support for UVA concerts, athletics or fundraising events will be ignored. When the money stops flowing into UVA, SOMEBODY will pay attention and DO SOMETHING.

I know you won't miss my hard earned money or the body of one, but it sure as hell makes me feel GREAT!

"It's a little like wrestling a gorilla. You don't quit when you're tired. You quit when the gorilla is tired."
— Robert Strauss

I have often thought that Dragas was doing the Govs bidding. But then what does McDonnell care about Sullivan?

Just saw the article about Dragas questioning the value of a course at UVA on Lady Gaga. No need to wonder why undergraduates are coming out widely exposed and worldly yet unemployable.

Dragas approved of the "Contemplative Sciences" building, donated by JONES' because of profits for the Jones' own struggling yoga studios. If the Jones' want to use the UVA brand for exploiting their business, then the UVA needs an 80% take. Otherwise, get out UVA. This is not a good business decision UVA - My statistics are based upon Darden School Business School Model; not the Jones' and not Dragas. What is going on here at UVA?

Dragas must resign due to her lack of leadership. She has no integrity and attempted to use her one vote to persuade the entire board into her way of thinking. See the June 2012 fiasco.

Helen Dragas is the Todd Akin to UVA.

Do all the new students know about Helen Dragas? Do the new UVA students understand that the Faculty and Students in June, 2012 protested Helen Dragas' cloaked approach to taking down their President? Do the students understand that Helen Dragas is the only one standing after the ill-fated attempt at firing Dr. Sullivan.

Dr. Sulllivan is who assisted in making this University great with the backing of the previous tenured President John Casteen. Dr. Casteen has sided and supported with Dr. Sullivan; NOT Dragas.

My daughter has lots of questions, and she may transfer mid-term if the Dragas woman doesn't resign.

@hypocrisy alert - "Just saw" indeed. If you were to actually READ that article, you would know that it was not a course "on Lady Gaga," but a course on argumentative essay writing. Gaga, as Provost Simon explained to Dragas, was used as a “theme to establish an engaging framework for critical analysis." He continues:

"While not a conventional choice for a topic, the various offerings try to present a wide range of themes. One of the reasons for a range of topics is to engage students in writing about topics that interest them. I suspect this particular topic was also chosen because Lady Gaga performed in JPJ in September 2010 … I think we would all agree that learning to write well, frame and present and defend an argument, and expand their writing to engage complex issues are skills that will serve our students well."


Maybe a course of this sort could teach you how to engage with and actually understand these articles that you "see."

Simple issue... no matter what their reasons or justifications, the BOV is in charge. The president and all university employees answer to them. Period. If the Board is not satisfied with the President's work or believes the University needs to go in another direction for whatever reason then case closed. The breakdown in corporate governance is that such a decision could be reversed. Honestly at this point the Governor should remove both the Rector and the President.

I am surprised no media outlet has focused on the similarities between the behavior of some BOV members and their allies, and so-called “activist shareholders,” who invest heavily in a public company with the hope of forcing a management change. The ostensible goal is to boost shareholder value, although in practical terms the activist shareholder is only interested in enriching herself.

Whether Dragas & the Darden mafia are McDonnell lapdogs, or they are connected through backroom deals to online education companies – or something else altogether – really doesn’t matter as much as the attitude and mentality that breeds this sort of behavior.

Darden indoctrinates students with this sort of thug mentality – as though money and hubris are all you need in this life. Character, integrity and a code of ethics are no less important, although Dragas and her stooges appear to have been truant from those classes.

If you give to UVa, yes, it is an investment of sorts, but it is principally an act of philanthropy. Only the arrogant give millions out of the “goodness of their hearts,” then demand power and authority over the institution that is the beneficiary of their largesse. That is not philanthropy. It is an act of the wealthy infiltrating domains over which they have no understanding and no aptitude for consensus-building. The result, as we have seen, is chaos. They are just buying their way in to play in the sandbox, with no real understanding of what you do with the sand.

Yes, the analogy of spoiled children is apt. Dragas, Kiernan, et. Al., need a spanking and then need to go home without their supper – or their keys to the Rotunda.

They are a bunch of noxious brats who now need a diaper change after being startled by what they have done, but mostly for being recognized for what they are. And that's that.

Let's organize now for Helen Dragas's return to UVa next month for the first Board meeting since Sullivan was ousted and reinstated.

I believe if the students join forces with all those who rallied to reinstate Sullivan we can convince Ms. Dragas that for love of UVa she needs to resign, so that President Sullivan and the Faculty can work unencumbered by one they cannot trust.

In a nutshell, the University of Virginia is a public institution and UVA Rector Dragas and the BOV acted inappropriately, in secrecy and misled President Sullivan.
The public deserves better from their appointed BOV and it starts with UVA’s HONOR CODE.

Once our students become inspired, they’ll catch up with all the communities that have been here, all summer, dealing with this mess. I have confidence that when the students return and discover that Rector Dragas attempted to outster President Sullivan, in SECRECY and BEHIND THEIR BACKS, they will know what to do and how to do it. Our students are clever, bright, articulate, creative, and they darn well know how to organize!

Dragas, prepare your parachute, you have not seen ANYTHING yet!

I "see" that I must have touched a nerve. Just trying to bring a bit of perspective to this article and the direction that perhaps Ms. Dragas was coming from. I think to question what courses are being provided at the U is important. Particularly after being singled out by the Washington Post as offering this class - one of the four universities in the US that I understand had a class based on , or at least whose subject matter is Gaga. Creative writing - important ? yes, of course. Write about what interests you in your life as a 18 yr old. Cool. Learn something about history ? Just a thought and might be a suggestion I would have as a subject matter that actually could have beneficial outcome on more that one level. Don't want to be called a name, but I can express an opinion too, without demeaning anyone, and suggesting that I did not READ. I indeed did. Trying to look at the LARGER picture here and what I believe to be part of the ROOT of the issues between The U, the Board, the "client", the student and the paying public.

"I imagine change is close to impossible politically at the BOV," responds Todd. "It is one of the Gov's best rewards to the faithful."

Well, there's your problem....As long as this remains true, nothing changes. Its the heart of the problem.

I would like to address one very specific issue, and I ask you all to consider what I say here. Can we make that pact?

I want to talk a little about the so-called Lady Gaga controversy. It has been explained many times, but many people seem unable to understand the reality.

I spent much of my twenties teaching freshman composition, what this course was. Happily, those days are behind me. The course was not about Lady Gaga. It was about adjectives, adverbs, compound sentences, organization, fragments, comma splices, plagiarism, research skills, the importance of revision, drafting, persuasive, analytical, and personal modes of writing. And more, probably.

The material is essential: to be a successful college student, and professional, you must be able to write well. That's what this course is about. Every freshman at every university is required to take it. That should tell you how important it is.

Yet the material can be tedious. It's true. Writing is hard work. For student and professor alike. Imagine sitting down to a stack of 100-150 poorly written freshman composition papers. Imagine that each paper might take you up to two hours to grade it. Imagine you are required to do this five to six times a semester.

That's a 1000-2000 hours of work outside of class.

Keep in mind that most students share the same problems, so you are marking the same things over and over again.

Ultimately, this so-called controversy is based on a course title. A method of dressing up material that isn't always fun. When you say you are upset about this course, what you really are saying is you are upset that students receive consistent, in-depth, face-to-face training in becoming a better writer, skills they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.

Throughout this controversy we have seen Ms. Dragas make snap judgments about administration and faculty policy, as if she knew better. We now know she knew very little, and her arrogance is dangerous for the future of UVa.

I suppose -or at least, I hope- that the more we learn about HOW things happened, the closer we may come to learning WHY things happened. But, we are not there yet. If the principal mechanism was the oddly described "series of serial meetings," then a special and hidden agenda may be at the root of it all. Get each person to agree individually to a proposition as long as everyone else goes along with it. Of course, by the time you talk to the last few people, then everyone seems to have come along. This kind of Machiavellian nonsense is the same approach used in high school cliques and should be beneath the dignity, if not the collective wisdom, of the board.

We might also pardonably surmise that, in fact, the idea of dismissing Sullivan was never an active subject of discussion on the board until it had been accomplished. Had it been so, their reaction to what actually happened might have been very different. And probably, had Sullivan been so bad that faculty and students were wildly protesting her, everyone would have carried Helen and the board on their shoulders. But that's not the way it came down, and not the background.

Which leaves us with the reasonable conclusion that something ELSE was the prime mover. The question still is, WHAT?

Actually, your post is more an indictment of our educational system than anything else. There is no reason on earth that an 18-year-old college freshman with twelve years of school under his belt should not be able to write well (or they should not be in college...more evidence that we are admitting too many people to colleges).

Not sure why it would take up to two hours to grade each 500-word composition; if it takes that long for each one, I could grade them "F" within half an hour.

All that being said, I am not sure why a professor in a top university would aquiesce to recent pop (or poop?) culture and allow a paper be written on Lady Gaga. I would have told the student(s): "Let's write the paper on the Lincoln-Douglass debates, who you think won and why." In other words, get the students to build up a little intellectual lactic acid. The Gaga thing is basically a variation on: "What did I do this summer?" with a more strenuous grammar standard.

R.I.P.: Walter Weir

I would think the students and alumni would be appalled by the process and even
more appalling is that given all they now know about Helen Dragas they continue to support her as their leader. I find this especially concerning .

Helen Dragas misled the Board of Visitors. She cheated by passing off a statement written by Hill & Knowlton as her own work. There is huge money for someone in online education at UVA. But alas! someone might want to review this Wired Magazine article on epic hacking at an Apple store, which indicates that computer users adopt trancelike robotic facial expressions even in a fun environment
The most important elements of education are not simply a matter of learning bits of information;-- if that were true, then a good set of flash cards would suffice. Rather, the most important elements of education relate to the transfer of intellectual curiosity, intellectual competence, humanity and other attributes of the "well-educated mind." The most important elements of education are "transferred" from professors to students in a kind of intense patterning that utilizes the mirror neurons. That is why lectures and seminars are so important in education -- and will continue to remain paramount in the process of gaining an education. If UVA would just adopt an online approach -- UVA might be actually able to give "degrees" to students who have rarely or never actually appeared on the campus. What would those degrees be worth? But nevertheless, some elements of "online" education are worth pursuing -- submission of papers via email, online checking for plagiarism in written work including written exams, online research, digitizing all books in the UVA library that are not already online at Hathi in full view and making them available to anyone who enjoys UVA library borrowing privileges, including the digitized text of all theses and dissertations, on-line posting of syllabi for all courses; and making many selected lectures available as part of the UVA Library's archives, available to anyone with UVA Library borrowing privileges.
Clearly, there is a lot that could be done RIGHT.
But conversely, there is a lot that could go WRONG.
But first and foremost,


First, because Dragas violated the Honor Code by claiming Hill & Knowlton's work as her own; and
Second, because Dragas so viciously and duplicitously "engineered" Terry Sullivan's resignation by actually lying to her fellow Board of Visitors members; and
Third, because she has lost the confidence of UVA's Deans, most members of the UVA faculty, and most of the UVA students; and
Fourth, because she cannot repair the damage she has done, nor sweep it under the table and hope (a) that we won't notice or (b) that we'll somehow manage to agree that the travesty she arranged is something that we should all -- somehow! -- agree to overlook.
My advice is: get Helen Dragas off the Board of Visitors. And replace her with someone who has demonstrated a strong and incorruptible sense of honor in his or her personal life. Replacing her with Terry Sullivan and letting Ms. Sullivan be both President of the University and the Rector of the Board of Visitors would be ideal. Sullivan has style, class, intelligence, and a clear sense of right and wrong. She would be able to lead the University out of the cess pit into which Ms. Dragas plunged it. Or find the next Edgar Shannon -- may he rest in peace.

Actually, I didn't know that--from the side--Helen looks a lot like Ronnie Wood.

R.I.P.: Brian Jones


Is that your screen name? I think that's kind of awesome. Points for that.

You do raise an important point: many, many 18 year olds come to college with extremely poor writing skills. Instructors often feel like they are called on to teach in one semester what the state failed to adequately teach in high school, middle school, elementary school. Hence the amount of time it can take. And many students do fail and must repeat the course. Often enough, it's a maturity issue as well: they grow up very quickly after experiencing failure.

Again, I think you still just don't get it when you suggest that you'd have them write about the Lincoln-Douglas debates: it isn't a history course. It is a *writing* course. They are there to learn more about writing. Plain and simple. That way, when they are in their history courses and are asked to write about, say, the Lincoln-Douglas debates, they'll be able to do so.

Because they practiced.

Can someone explain why the BOV DIDN'T accept Ms. Dragas apparent offer to resign? The "world" seems to be clear that she needed to. The word on the street seems to be that at the retreat she offered to -- but she's still there. Why would the other members NOT accept the resignation and let this whole thing die down and go away? What prevents them from doing this? Is it psychological? Was she just pretending and really bullying them with the offer? Everyone keeps says she needs to go -- the BOV can make it happen but they didn't/aren't. Maybe we need to be thinking about their reasons for not considering the good of the University and encouraging her departure

The power of the feminine. I wonder if these powerful men are under her spell . We certainly see this in her email exchanges with Strine and Kington who worshipped her - why ?
Perhaps Professor Thompson could help answer this ?

Until we hear from Professor Thomson concerning why the wealthy men on the BOV can't get rid of their leader, Dragas, this may provide some insight :

" Why is it so difficult for men who are being controlled by narcissistic, borderline, histrionic and other abusive women to end the relationship? What keeps them tethered to these abusive personalities ...."


You mean they're all just hoping to get ... paid?

@ Hypocrisy Alert -- thanks very much for pointing out how inane, insidious and counter-productive Ms. Dragas complaining about the content of a course -- or worse, the focus of a particular essay assignment -- is a good example of how micro-managing by small-minded people will subvert the intellectual standards of the University. The most important standard we wish to maintain is academic and intellectual freedom. I've taught Freshman Comp, and don't see a problem with assigning an essay about Lady Gaga; however, it might better have been posed as a "compare and contrast" type of essay. Research indicates that most negative comments on student essays are internalized in a way that makes it more difficult to write the next essay. Ms. Dragas evidently wants to replace academic and intellectual freedom with a Jacobin's dream -- the Reign of Terror. We should all be very, very frightened of what Ms. Dragas will do next. She has the brains of a twit, and the morals of a hamster.

According to Sullivan's interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education, Dragas' told Dr. Sullivan she had "15 of 16 Board votes." But, then told Dr. Sullivan she was "not to call anyone or discuss Dragas' actions with anyone but Dr. Sullivan's family and perhaps an attorney." All this secrecy over "philosophical differences?" I can't find a more shining example of fraud, abuse of power, and breach of fiduciary duty that this hubris. Please find in any BoV manual, Code of Virginia or any other source that gives Rector Dragas such unilateral and unbridled power? When will she be held accountable for bringing UVA [her words] to a "near death experience?" Unethical behavior doesn't stop once it gets exposed, they just get much better at covering it up. Remember Peter Kiernan's email..."Helen swore me to secrecy...about this project [to oust Sullivan]" Enough is enough.

@Edith Curry -- thank you for this opinion re Helen Dragas: I can't find a more shining example of fraud, abuse of power, and breach of fiduciary duty that this hubris.
But you forgot plagiarism -- falsely claiming the work of Hill & Knowlton as her own. Maybe Ms. Dragas has been taking too much Ambien? Lunesta? I mean, how else would Helen Dragas get to sleep at night?

For moral and intellectual reasons, Mrs. Dragas should go--just a manner of how and when. More important for the long run, the appointment process should be reformed, so that merit, not big money and politics, is the basis for selection.

Nah ND, women  bullies instill fear sometimes but usually not the turn to mush worship response. My guess is fear of the power behind her support is at play. Remember Peter Kiernan's statement:
  "As you might expect, the decisions involving my modest role in all of this have not been entirely mine to make. As many of you know no major decision of this kind can be made at Virginia without the support and assent of the Governor. I am not sure what my future role in this process will be. Those are the facts."-Peter D. Kiernan.
"All elected officials, and those who help finance elections in the expectation that certain promises will be kept — and everyone who... Until the court clarifies what constitutes quid pro quo political corruption, Americans engage in politics at their peril because prosecutors have dangerous discretion."-George Will
The plan now appears to be, stick together and hope this thing dies down and goes away. Appears Kiernan felt he pretty much had no choice. The thinking was Dragas takes some bullets for a few days and things don't get too out of control before the transition and excitement of the new Prez Condi takes over the headlines. Plans did not go as expected. There was a plan. Promises were made. I am so proud Dr. Sullivan is our President. Adversity does provide the opportunity to show who you are.

Condi was tapped to be the new Prez? really?
"Spirit in Adversity" - my family's motto.

Geeze this Gaga thing has a life of its own. or is it 'it's" own ? If only I had better college teachers.
PoPoPoPoker face. Regarding the writing of A composition -I believe it was a course , not just a composition assignment, and I was lead to believe that Gaga was in the name of the course. Dragas had EVERY right to raise this question, as it was featured in the Washington Post which I believe is widely circulated beyond Charlottesville. Micro management ? or oversight? In this case trying to understand why or how, or IF this is causing the U to be the butt of late night TV jokes. I agree that the explanation of the course - which she got from the U. was very convincing. - but I too ask, as a 20 something might say today "Gaga? , really?,,,,,,really?

Siding with my freshman daughter at UVA: I believe the Gaga Course draws college student's attention because they find her relevant. I am all for it, particularly if the course produces results.

I don't care what Dragas says.

Dragas is not relevant to us.

Dragas is wrong and most kid's (middle income) don't screen our adult children's choices. If Lady Gaga can assist in furthering my adult "child's" education then go for it UVA.

Dragas cannot force her ideals upon my daughter (not with my UVA college dollars). Get rid of Dragas before we pull out of UVA. We are tired of Dragas' opinions and shallowness. My family expects far better.

I am so tired of pretending. Let it be known to the UVA faculty that we are exhausted. Get rid of Dragas. Our dollars are spent more wisely elsewhere. Our daughter does not have a choice. We do. Get on with removing this Rector person. As a family, we have no faith in her.

Thank you

@hypocrisy al -- or is it 'it's" own ?

"its" means "belongs to it" (a possessive pronoun, like "your" or "hers" or "our")
"it's" ALWAYS means "it is" -- it's a contraction.
It's mine.
It's yours.
Its attributes are confusing for many people.
Got it?

Again, the one fact that many fail to understand/accept is that the course was not about Gaga.

It was about writing, featuring intensive feedback on basic and essential skills. The Gaga angle was meant to be attractive to students who might be interested in things like sociology, journalism, gender studies, music, etc. A required course could then speak to their interests and aspirations.

I'm very happy to no longer be teaching freshman comp. - though rewarding, it was difficult. But I'm bothered by drive-by commentators who blithely dismiss the dedication and hard work of students and teachers alike just because they think somethings sounds silly.

Lady Gaga may be pop fluff of little lasting worth (I agree with you, actually), but the skills learned in that class will be remembered a lot longer than her music. That was the point all along.

The Gaga angle sounded like a good course to me, with lots of interesting angles on gender politics and other sociological topics. Including the disdain of Lady G ... by people who probably haven't read Breanne Fahs' book published by the State University of New York Press (available at Alderman): Performing Sex: The Making and Unmaking of Women's Erotic Lives, which carefully examines the notion that "women in the United States today are more sexually liberated than ever before." Anyone who hasn't read this "carefully nuanced study" -- but wants a clear look at 'the facts" -- and certainly any man blessed with a daughter, wife or girlfriend -- might do well to buy a copy. First year students find it easier to write on topics that interest them, partly because most of them are as yet still rather ill-educated or at least not very well-read. The Kindle version is only around $16.00, not much more than lunch for two at the Riverside (without much beer).

"It's" was a joke! And yes some of us do understand the course was not about Gaga. Just saying the same results with a different subject focus- might be a bit drier but could expose students to something else , and perhaps even learn something worthwhile without even realizing it. There are plenty of salacious events that actually occured in world history- that might be titalating enough to appeal to 19 year olds.
Regarding the teacher who has to actually read and grade papers-
Me thinks thou dost protest too much. Few of us are fortunate to have the security of having a job for life. Some things come with the territory, as they say in Texas.

@Hypocrisy Alert

Hi: I don't do that anymore, but please understand I wasn't complaining. The people who teach these courses often are adjunct instructors, and so receive no benefits, at a third of the pay, without tenure. They do it because they believe it's worthwhile: that commitment to teaching was inspiring and thus I took issue with people taking potshots at hardworking teachers dedicated to helping young people. That's what it comes down to. Much as we should support the troops, as the saying goes, we should support teachers, doctors, nurses, and others who endeavor to make the world a better place for others before themselves.

That said, I've made my point. I completely agree with every bit of criticism the BOV has received, and hope for more.

Thanks, y'all.

As for me, I'd make them all start off reading Kinglake's History of the Invasion -- at least they'd learn something about a narrative description. The most effective way to learn a writing style is to copy it out by hand, with a pen or pencil until you can do a fair imitation of it yourself. You have to learn the school figures before you can do a triple axel with a lutz attached at the end. The alternative, leaving the students to try to write using only the models they've absorbed "from the air" simply doesn't work as well as asking them to spend substantial time copying passages and then writing imitations of that style focused on a different subject. Most students who do the exercises quickly learn they can feel a difference in their own writing immediately.

@Christian Gehman

Not a bad point: imitation can be really important.

To paraphrase John Dean's warning to Richard Nixon, Ms. Dragas is a cancer on the Univesrsity. It seems to many of us shocked alums that she has not only violated the honor code, but is surviving for the reason Bill Clinton admitted his performance of his infamous scandal: "I did it for the worst reason: because I could." Until Dragas develops concern for anything beyond her own blind ego, she will not resign and we will all suffer. Apparently she does not care. Even her PR firm cannot change that ... or hide that reality.