Governor Bob McDonnell soon will reveal his appointments to replace three members of the University of Virginia Board of Visitors, including Rector Helen Dragas. The sad truth is that, despite the BoV’s recent vote of support for her, Dragas is damaged goods. She rushed through the forced resignation of President Teresa Sullivan without respect for proper procedure, and her credibility with the university community has plunged to zero. McDonnell really has no choice but to replace her.
While Dragas must go, McDonnell needs to replace her with someone who shares her views about the urgent need for reform at UVa. Despite the protestations of many that there is nothing wrong with Mr. Jefferson’s university that incremental change won’t solve, higher education nationally has reached a tipping point caused by soaring costs, unaffordable tuition & fees, and the evolution of online education to the point where it has the potential to disrupt the centuries-old higher ed model. We could very well see a collapse as steep and rapid as the one experienced by the newspaper industry.
McDonnell’s selections will send a message not only to the University of Virginia community but universities across the commonwealth. The fact is, with its elite, public-ivy brand, UVa is better positioned to survive the online onslaught better than most others. Respectable but middle-tier institutions like Virginia Commonwealth University, George Mason University and Old Dominion University are far more vulnerable.
Not only does the governor need to think carefully about his UVa appointments, he should insist that appointments to the board of every state college and university share the belief that higher ed can no longer afford to do Business As Usual. The Dragas fracas has crystallized the issues at stake. Now McDonnell must act.