Helen Dragas, former member of the University of Virginia Board of Trustees, has made an extraordinary charge in a Washington Post op-ed published yesterday.
At our June meeting, administrators revealed their coffers include a $2.3 billion pot of reserves, surpluses and earnings that for years has been hidden in plain sight, loosely labeled as necessary to support operations. Now, through financial maneuvering, this treasury has been liberated expressly to support strategic initiatives that will enhance the university’s reputation. As administrators requested a series of board actions to facilitate that change, members were not apprised of the large sum at stake. Only later did we learn that these moves had created a $2.3 billion slush fund.
Privately referred to as “unfound money” (that is, unfound by legislators, the press, and — as a result — the general public), this astounding sum could run the entire University Academic Division for a year and a half. … A conservative estimate of its annual earnings potential — $100 million — could be used to cut the tuition of all in-state undergraduates by 70 percent.
Dragas, a former rector and an outspoken critic of the university’s priorities, credits current Rector William H. Goodwin with “tenaciously pressing administrators” for transparency about the accumulation. The revelation of what she describes as a “multi-billion-dollar slush fund for pet projects” comes as the university continues to aggressively raise tuitions for in-state and out-of-state students, putting a quality education increasingly out of reach for middle-class students too rich to qualify for student financial aid and too poor to pay the ever-escalating bills.
The abbreviated format of the op-ed did not give Dragas the space to detail how the “found money” was hidden and how the administration liberated it. But if Virginia’s newspapers have any gumption at all, they will get to the bottom of what could be a major scandal. Dragas has handed them the story on a silver platter.
Update: The Richmond Times-Dispatch has followed up with an article noting Dragas’s “slush fund” criticism and including a response from University spokesman Anthony P. de Bruyn: The funds in question, he said, support the Cornerstone Plan, enabling “strategic investments in our faculty, academic programs, clinical enterprise, research infrastructure and physical space needs that will continue to benefit future generations of students while also minimizing tuition increases.” For the coming academic year, he added, U.Va.’s tuition increase of 1.5 percent for continuing in-state undergraduate students is the lowest of all public institutions in the state.
Let us see if the T-D digs any deeper than “he-said, she said” coverage.
Update: Rector William H. Goodwin has issued a statement: “The monies have always been included in the University’s audited financial statements. … I have asked the University administration to provide details over the next few days regarding our work to date on this matter.”
Click here to read the full statement.
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