by James A. Bacon
The Virginian-Pilot has identified material in Freedom of Information Act documents released to members of the General Assembly that seem to support the version offered by former University of Virginia Rector Helen Dragas of a closed session held June 10 by the board.
While the board justified the closed meeting on the grounds of discussing confidential personnel issues, which is allowed by law, Dragas maintains that the board dealt with substantive policy issues relating to a controversial $2.3 billion Strategic Investment Fund that should have been discussed in an open forum.
Here’s what the Pilot has to say:
The June 6 email from an assistant vice president at the University of Virginia to two other administrators seems clear.
In a summary of what was expected to happen at the June Board of Visitors meeting a few days later, it said the rector would give a report:
“EXECUTIVE SESSION: [Rector] Bill Goodwin to give overview on Strategic Investment Fund.”
Board members received similar information in an email a few days earlier: “In preparation for the discussion in Executive Session on June 10, please review the attached background materials on the Strategic Investment Fund.”
The Pilot article doesn’t mention it, but those background materials included a list of more than 50 projects, proposing the expenditure of $128 million over five years and submitted for funding by the Strategic Investment Fund, and a list of guiding principles for selecting projects. Dragas has said that the closed session, consistent with the distribution of those two documents, provided an overview of how the projects would be evaluated and funds granted, and timetables for the first awards.
The University has insisted that it did not break the law. A university spokesman provided the Pilot a narrative of the closed session, which the newspaper summarized as follows:
The materials circulated about the fund ahead of time were to provide board members background for the “confidential discussion of personnel issues.”
It continues: “During the personnel discussion, some Board members asked questions about the Fund that deviated from the designated personnel topic.”
At that point, university counsel Roscoe Roberts “called the deviation to the Rector’s attention” and Rector Goodwin “ended the discussion and moved on to another personnel matter.”
Bacon’s bottom line. The question that naturally arises is this: If the Board of Visitors intended to discuss “confidential personnel issues” only in the executive session, (a) why did the administration say in an internal communication that Goodwin would “give overview on Strategic Investment Fund” in that session, and (b) why did the administration distribute to board members a list of proposed projects and funding guidelines ahead of time?
For those inclined to digging deeper into UVa’s Strategic Investment Fund, here are 837 pages of documents released in response to the General Assembly’s Freedom of Information Act query.