McDonnell Bolsters UVa Board, Keeps Dragas

Governor Bob McDonnell has put his stamp on the University of Virginia Board of Visitors, reappointing its lightning-rod Rector Helen Dragas, replacing five old board members and appointing two “senior advisors.”

“Cognizant of the need for varied and wide-ranging voices, I have appointed competent professionals to the board who come from the fields of academia, business, law and technology, and who can, while bringing different backgrounds and philosophies to the table, work well together in finding common ground and forging a shared path for Mr. Jefferson’s University,” McDonnell said in a prepared statement.

Newcomers include Linwood Rose, former president of James Madison University; Edward Miller, dean of the School of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University; and Victoria Harper, CFO of Gannett Company. Senior advisors whose role will be “to provide the board with wise counsel on an array of matters and to assist the university in solving strategic and communications challenges,” include William H. Goodwin, a Darden School graduate and the most successful entrepreneur in Richmond, as well as Leonard W. Sandridge, the university’s highly respected CFO before retiring last  year.

By any objective measure, the newcomers represent an impressive addition to the board. There are no light weights.  And they aren’t all big Republican donors.

Regarding the controversial Dragas, McDonnell said, “Ms. Dragas’s serious critique of the challenges facing the university is a voice that must be heard, and can help, in ensuring UVa remains one of the world’s foremost institutions of higher learning.”

Just as I was disappointed to see the lack of transparency and communication surrounding the request for the resignation of the first female president of UVa, I am also concerned that the first female rector seemed to become the sole target of recent criticism. While there is no doubt that the board made several mistakes in its actions, which it has publicly admitted, this is not a time for recrimination. It’s a time for reconciliation. I have been heartened by recent statements made by president [Teresa] Sullivan, the Board of Visitors and by the faculty senate chair about their ability to work with the rector.

Yesterday I opined that, given the animosity she had engendered, Dragas probably would have to go. I questioned whether McDonnell had the guts to reappoint her. But I do agree with the governor’s s decision to keep her. As I wrote when the controversy first began, “Dragas gets it.” Higher education in America is facing an existential crisis. The university needs strong leaders and a bold vision. McDonnell has assembled a powerful team to lead the university forward.

– JAB

6 Responses to McDonnell Bolsters UVa Board, Keeps Dragas

  1. This looks to be a powerful injection of highly capable and knowledgeable people onto the BoV. These are serious people for a serious job. Now with Dr. Sullivan reinstated and the BoV “Armed for Bear,” the University has taken a giant step forward toward meeting its challenges. Thank you Governor.

  2. When I see a concise and measurable 10 point plan (or equivalent) approved unanimously by the BOV and accepted by Sullivan as her marching orders, I’ll buy into the decision.

    Until then, Sullivan can probably continue her “incremental” approach to change and Dragan and the BOV will continue their behind the scenes scheming.

    Given the emails that Dragan sent out – and that Sullivan saw, why would any believe that any relationship other than a poisonous one is present?

    Would anyone think that Sullivan would deal with Dragas without wondering when the hammer was coming from behind the back again?

    Dragas must have some powerful connections to 1. actually want to retain the job and 2. actually have the “juice” to get the gov to stand behind her.

    I do not have high hopes here. It will take some leaps of faith for Sullivan to step back into the lions den and trust.

  3. Other than Dragas, the governor made some very strong appointments. If Dragas were new to the scene, she might be a defensible choice, although the sophmoric shallowness of her emails makes me doubt that she’s anything but a rich mediocrity. With the baggage she carries, she can only be an impediment. If she cared about the U she would retire from the field and let someone who will not provoke immediate and passionate opposition carry the torch.

  4. agree. No matter how “correct” she was in her concerns, the way she went about it was so divisive and underhanded as to render her ineffective as a change agent.

    The fact that she (and McDonnell) do not see this – concerns me. She’s much like a a skunk at a picnic now.

    She gave it a good shot. But if she really cared about the REASONS why she did what she did – if she really believes that UVA is endangered without changes, – she’d want to support a change environment that had a good chance to succeed. Apparently, she believes that she can still play that role.

  5. Re: Ms. Dragas – She appears to have dominated past board who appeared unable to moderate some of her views and actions that, in hindsight, needed to be checked altogether, or leavened by more seasoned viewpoints and experience. That dominance is far less likely with this board. Plus, now chastized, she likely has learned from the experience, as has Dr. sullivan. Given the new additions of wisdom and strenght to the board and dr. Sullivan and Newly appointed Consultants, plus fact that Cat Is Out Of Bag, there is good reason to expect constructive engagement and serious progress.

  6. Today’s WaPo : “U-Va. upheaval: 18 days of leadership crisis” is a good read.

    Dragas comes across as a self-avowed loose cannon. She cooks up the 10 point plan as the de facto statement of why Sullivan had to go – a list that Sullivan had never seen much less been given when she was hired as her marching orders.

    I mean this is downright comical. I’m short of saying Dragas is dishonorable but not by much. This is a character issue IMHO.

    This is like have an assassin fail at the mission then get a Kum Ba Yah “do over”, shake hands with the intended victim… and let bygones be bygones.

    How can Sullivan think that Dragas is anything but a barracuda that she should never turn her back on?

    I’d give a pretty penny to hear Sullivans real opinion of Dragas.

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