More Questions about UVa Board’s Closed Session

Email from Megan K. Lowe, who works in the office of Patrick D. Hogan, executive vice president and COO of UVa, to Hogan.

Email from Megan K. Lowe, who works in the office of Patrick D. Hogan, executive vice president and COO of UVa, to Hogan four days before the Board of Visitors meeting.

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.

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37 responses to “More Questions about UVa Board’s Closed Session

  1. Caught with the hand in the cookie jar.

  2. I don’t buy the UVA version either but the game they’re playing is pretty rampant with such bodies now days… not to excuse it…the General Assembly is aware of it and apparently “ok” with it and many such bodies evade open discussions in this manner.

    but what UVA is specifically doing is still not clear to me in terms of what funds they are using. I’ve read conflicting info in the media as to whether they were using State funds intended solely for operational purposes or not.

    If they were/are using state funds and those funds are not restricted from being used the way they are using them – then it’s on the General Assembly and one must wonder if this practice is going on with other higher ed and their state money also.

    Why does the GA allow this abuse in the first place?

    Finally – if Dragas and company want state money to be used to specifically provide lower cost tuition – then – again – don’t expect UVA or any other institution to do it – unless the GA puts such requirements on State money – like they do with a lot of other money they appropriate.

    without real action by the General Assembly on these issues – all this amounts to is a silly “show shaming” of UVA – who will continue to defend their actions until and unless real teeth are put into legislation – and not only for UVA – for all taxpayer-supported higher Ed in Va.

    I don’t want to see college made “more affordable” for the middle class , by the way , until I see ANY and ALL low income students who are academically qualified – also able to get a 4yr degree in Virginia.

    We need to make this not just about UVA and not just about the middle class – but about equitable access to higher Ed for ALL Virginia kids.

    • Larry, you keep deflecting to the issue to the General Assembly. The General Assembly can’t state its desire if the General Assembly doesn’t know what’s going on. In a refreshingly non-partisan effort, members of both parties are both trying to find out. In the meantime, I would prefer that the legislature NOT pass legislation until all the facts are clearly established.

      • Jim – UVA is using (abusing) a provision of the FOIA Law – that has been abused by others before by other bodies in Virginia including local school boards and BOS.

        Go ahead and have your “investigation” but at the end of the day – if it turns out that yes they DID shade the line – like others before them – it’s not going to meet the threshold to “charge” them because Virginia does not prosecute violations of FOIA – and perhaps this is a good time to get Megan Rhyne to do a guest blog and tell us why that is.

        UVA would never had done what it did if the law actually had teeth in it.. and real consequences for violating it.

        The GA folks who are “investigating” KNOW THIS – yet they are playing along with the political theatre…and mark my words as to how this ends… and who among the legislators does nothing other than pontificate from on high – for their constituents.

        So Dragas has thrown a stink bomb … good… now let’s find out who is actually going to do something beyond agreeing that there is a stink.

    • Larry, I too see a role for the GA. It could hold a hearing to investigate.

      But you also seem to be arguing that the Executive or an agency of the state is free to ignore a law or twist it well beyond its clear meaning unless the Legislature passes an additional law on the same subject. Our legal system just doesn’t work that way. The Executive and all agencies, including localities, must follow the laws. And if they don’t understand the law, they can either request an attorney general’s opinion or file suit in Circuit Court for a declaratory ruling.

      And if the Governor, a university, county or city doesn’t like the law – e.g., the so-called Kings Dominion law – the remedy is to lobby the GA for a change in the applicable statute.

      There’s a presumption under state law that all meetings and all parts of a meeting are open to the public unless the entity can show the law clearly permits an executive session. The burden needs to be on the UVA board to show it was authorized to close part of the meeting.

  3. Clarifying the facts is a “catch-22” — you cannot judge whether the strategic investment fund discussion was truly relevant to the personnel issue being raised unless you know the identity and nature of the personnel issue.

    But why might it not be?

    • exactly. How do you KNOW and more important – WHO is going to “know” who can actually lodge sanctions against the UVA folks who played that game?

      Virginia legislators are well aware of the futility of this… they’re just playing it for posturing … I’m give my mea culpa when I see Chap Petersen and company actually submit legislation…

  4. re: ” you cannot judge whether the strategic investment fund discussion was truly relevant to the personnel issue being raised unless you know the identity and nature of the personnel issue.”

    well apparently UVA has made the argument that the IDENTITY of those who were involved with how to spend the fund – were the reason why it could not be discussed in open forum.

    who are you going to ‘charge’ for this? Perhaps Dragas should go to the local prosecutor and demand charges, eh?


    I still think – no matter how this part turns out – that the “affordability” issue is going to be lost in the fog…..because NOW this is about how UVA has abused FOIA….

  5. When Gov McDonnell faced off with the same Board of Vultures over their half-assed handling of the Dragas – Sullivan affair he told them that they had to resolve the matter or he would dismiss them all. Something tells me the present governor lacks the cojones for that kind of action.

    “Let me be absolutely clear: I want final action by the board on Tuesday,’’ he wrote. “If you fail to do so, I will ask for the resignation of the entire board on Wednesday. Regardless of your decision, I expect you to make a clear, detailed and unified statement on the future leadership of the university.”

    • By the way, the Governor completely overstepped in 2012, and has no ability to dismiss a member of any university Visitor; his sole power is to appoint. He could urge resignation. But the GA which can call up these Visitors for meetings, accountability, which is what’s going into motion here.

      • Let me write that again:
        By the way, the Governor completely overstepped in 2012, and has no ability to dismiss a member of any university Board of Visitors; his sole power is to appoint. He could urge resignation. But the GA can summon Visitors for meetings, for hearings, try to obtain some accountability, which is what is going into motion here. Any day now I expect to start hearing from other Visitors who have probably engaged their own counsel to see if they were in error in certifying the closed meeting.

  6. I sent this email, have called and left messages. Not one response, except someone who apologized for answering the phone and blew me off at Dr/Del. Stolle’s office. When these things happen below, and MD’s on the legislature and those on the health boards do nothing, don’t respond, do you think the GA or the Executive Office care about the UVA issue?


    ——– Forwarded Message ——–
    Subject: Tenn. Pill Mill Doc practicing in Va. FOIA – is this correct – your bill
    Date: Sun, 24 Jul 2016 22:52:29 -0400
    From: Vic Nicholls
    To: Delegate Jim LeMunyon
    CC: , , George Barker , Rosalyn Dance , Siobhan Dunnavant , Thomas Garrett , , , , , ,

    A drug trafficking doc is ALLOWED to practice in Va? How do you think he
    managed that one and NO ONE in the VDHP picked it up when his license
    was granted, or the State Medical Board made up of doctors that are
    supposed to be protecting us? What health professions legislator is
    going to do something on this one?
    A federal judge is allowing a doctor who pleaded guilty to a
    drug-trafficking conspiracy charge for his role in operating a Maryville
    pill mill to continue practicing medicine while he awaits sentencing.

    The Knoxville News Sentinel reports ( that James
    Brian Joyner lost his medical license in Tennessee but continues to
    practice in Virginia under what the judge deemed exceptional circumstances.

    Federal law mandates that convicted drug traffickers are jailed pending
    sentencing. But Pioneer Hospital in Patrick County, Virginia, asked that
    Joyner remain free.

    Yet a long time state employee lost over 200 hours of leave time about
    three months after being named Customer Service Employee of the Year for a state agency of several thousand people. When am I going to stop being embarrassed by being a Virginian? When? A loyal, hard working state
    employee gets the shaft but a drug trafficker goes free?!With all the
    medical professions’ legislators on this email, when they do NOTHING on
    this, that speaks volumes on the State Medical Board and how the
    doctors’ protect other doctors not the public.

  7. Regardless of what the FOIA Council rules on the propriety of closing this meeting (cynically, I”m not holding my breath that they’ll be brave enough to take much of a stand on a rather charged matter), the university administration is in hot water for not imparting full information, for not explicitly making clear to the BOV and public that $2.3B was available to spend, at will, prior to asking the BOV to approve the administration’s budget in Feb. This means BOV voted to ask the GA for a tuition increase and funds to restore the Rotunda, ignorant the they were sitting on this much money. This much you can ascertain by reviewing minutes from the past 3 BOV meetings, you don’t need to do an investigation. The administration deprived the BOV and the GA of their proper fiduciary roles. This is an egregious breach of public trust and I think Sullivan & Hogan should walk.

    • LarrytheG,
      I haven’t been getting Megan’s posts in months. I sent a message got no response, I am on the mailing list but don’t get them. I’ve checked the spam filters.

      I would agree on the FOIA council. They are tied hands with a Governors’ staffer sitting there on the group.

  8. “An egregious breach of public trust”. Funny how that sounds in isolation — it begs the question, which “public” is the public here, and whose trust is being violated?

    Who indeed? Those poor in-State parents of undergraduates (and the occasional self-financed student) who pay those ever-more-private-like higher tuitions to get into the “best” State school while the strategic investment fund set-aside grows at their expense? The alumni of The University who’ve been clamoring for years to spring their semi-private, semi-elite institution free from the dead weight of the GA’s political heavy hand on buildings, programs and administrators? The leadership of the Darden School and the medical school and their graduate competition, who already raise most of their own funds and research grants and want the independence and flexibility that should come with it? The proponents of “UVA for the masses” by hook or crook or MOOC or automatic community college transfer or whatever?

    You can’t convince me now that this fuss over a potential minor FOIA breach isn’t just an ill-disguised attack on Rector Goodwin’s attempt to lead the BOV toward one of those factions and consciously away from others. Dragas lost, everybody; she handled her chance to redirect things towards Big-State-U miserably and now she’s outta-there. UVa is headed towards an ever more private status and flavor and the GA is being shown the door. They had the opportunity to take an enhanced role in the University’s finances and they opted to go cheap, to let the alumni do it instead, and he who pays gets to call the tune.

    • yup. this is going to end with a whimper unless the GA asserts something concrete beyond posturing for effect.

      UVA may well be guilty as sin over the FOIA – but it will matter not one whit on the “where did you get that money and what are you doing with it”… conundrum.

    • This is 100% correct. The alums are footing more of the bill at U.Va. than the state at this point when you consider endowment funds and fundraising.

      The General Assembly has no one to blame but itself as it continually cuts funding not just to U.Va., but to the other large state schools as well.

      The GA can’t say, “You’re a state school, you’ll do what we say and not the alums” and then cut state funding and ask the alums and endowments to foot more of the bill (along with the students through higher tuition).

      William and Mary, U.Va., and Virginia Tech are all 100% justified if their BOVs simply privatized tomorrow and dared the state to do anything. The state’s attitude has been, “Well you’re wealthy enough to fund yourself” since the chartered university policy of the Warner Administration. BTW, if anyone actually cares about facts, take a look at the agreements b/w the state and U.Va., W&M, and VT…. The members of the General Assembly don’t even realize what the state’s agreed to with its universities.

      Is this all good for Virginia? Probably not. But…the fault lies not with U.Va., William and Mary, or Virginia Tech. When the General Assembly makes a conscious decision to treat them as private on the funding end (and this was a conscious choice by the Warner Administration that has been carried on by Kaine, McDonnell, and McAuliffe), it can’t turn around and say, “But you will act like a public university.” Rather than outrage, if the General Assembly wanted to live by its credo of “no more substantial public funding increases for our good schools, raise it on your own” then it would be passing a resolution of commendation for U.Va. at this point for its Strategic Investment Fund. It is precisely what the state has been requesting of its universities for over a decade (raise your own money, we’re out).

  9. Maybe a better way to put it is that the structural chelcks and balances Commonwealth were ignored, denying the BOV and GA their oversight and process. Trust happens when we think that these measures are abided, and when they’re deliberately circumvented, trust is not possible.

    “UVa is headed towards an ever more private status and flavor and the GA is being shown the door.” Only if everyone stands around calling it a fait-accompli. And even $2.3B isn’t enough of a wad for the U to buy itself from Commonwealth.

  10. The FOIA and “trust” issue aside. Those who want UVA to do “something” need to define what that “something” is beyond some fuzzy idea.

    If “affordability” is what proponents want – they need to define what it is –

    And they need to say if they the GA to mandate it.

    This follows along with the way politics works these days with basically complaints and blame of what is not liked – but then nothing concrete to pursue nor what role government is expected to play.

    So right now we have members of the GA who are “demanding” an “explanation” but not a whole heck of a lot more.

    Wouldn’t it be great if UVA came right out and said – “Yep – we created this fund from state money, Now what are you going to do about it?”.

    And my bet is other than a lot of very public huffing and puffing – dang little.

    If folks REALLY want the GA to prevent UVA from using state funds for strategic purposes and/or to use it to provide “affordable” tuition – why don’t they use this opportunity to lobby Chap Petersen and others to just forget the FOIA silliness, cut to the chase and actually do some legislation?

    I”d support that.

    1. No use of state funds for anything other than explicitly specified purposes and

    2. – that UVA offer an (explicitly defined ) “affordable” degree option to anyone who qualifies on a means-tested basis.

    but this idea that we’d want the GA to “do something” and we ourselves have no ideas ourselves as to “what” is about as silly as the fru fru over the FOIA foolishness.

    bottom line: – what do the people who are unhappy with UVA – including Ms Dragas – really want – in specific terms?

  11. Here’s some interesting reading that you all may care to check out….Here is a six year plan that U.Va. submitted to the state in 2008. Notice that all of the tuition increases are included…in 2008……um, kind of detonates all of the clown show’s arguments in the General Assembly about a nefarious BOV raising tuition on a whim. This was all spelled out years before most of these members were even on the BOV. The General Assembly is full of morons complaining about tuition increases in 2016 when U.Va. submitted all of them to the state in 2008. Right here in black and white.

    If they were even halfway competent, don’t you think they might have said something when such a plan is submitted. Not eight years later…..

    Also of interest to Mr. Bacon, take a look at state goal 7. This is for all of the “charter” schools. Yep, that’s right, one of the state’s explicit goals that it demands of its universities is economic development. I know you have complained about universities being in this business. Here is where that comes from…it is a state mandate. Again, your posts focus on the wrong target. It is not the universities, but the state legislature and government that is in need of excoriation.

    • Wow CR! _the_ “smoking gun” – in reverse!

      I’m surprised that UVA itself has not released this to “remind” everyone of the original “plan”.

      and where was Ms. Dragas on this plan?

      and this reinforces my view of the General Assembly – guys “postering” and now, in today’s news complaining that UVA cannt use FOIA exemptions when responding to requests for info from the GA.

      UVA should give them this …. instead!

      good work CR! And Bacon – get on the stick man… where is your investigative skills! 😉

      • It would be interesting to see actual journalists “confront” Senators Petersen and DeSteph with the following rather than being their stenographers:

        A.) Did you read the plan that U.Va. provided to the Commonwealth in 2008?

        B.) If so, every tuition increase was stated years in advance, why didn’t you ever bring up the issue of planned tuition increases in the General Assembly or introduce legislation to curb it?

        C.) If you didn’t read it, then how can you have the temerity to complain about the tuition increases 8 years after U.Va. gave this report to the state and posted it on the school’s website?

        I am about 99.9% certain that all of these legislators never read this document. The real story (or “smoking gun” as Larry puts it) is that these guys didn’t do their jobs. Again, I bet we could do some digging and find the same sorts of documents for William and Mary and Virginia Tech. All, out in the open for anyone with an internet connection to see.

        These legislators never raised a peep until Dragas’s editorial. The tuition increases that these clowns decry have nothing to do with anything Dragas mentioned. Rather, if these morons had a scintilla of interest in actual policy, they’d read all of the plans by U.Va., W&M, and VT submitted years ago with tuition increases programmed in.

        If journalists are interested in policy rather than being a stenographer for legislators, the real story relates to a policy decision made by the Warner Administration and carried forward by all other admins. The state basically quasi-privatized U.Va., W&M, and VT with the Restructuring Act (I believe the Warner Admin called them charters). Basically: Universities, we’ll give you some independence, but you’ve got to raise your own money because we’re not going to fund you like we used to…..

        Yet, the state legislators are so clueless that they’re now acting like they didn’t pass the Restructuring Act and that all gubernatorial administrations have basically allowed the three schools to operate in a quasi-private manner.

        Instead of pointing out extreme incompetence and ignorance on the part of the legislators, the Virginia press will act like their stenographers and simply write stories about what they say rather than confronting them on their buffoonery and policy decisions to treat the 3 schools as quasi-private so they don’t have to fund them like they used to…..

        • The information is indeed online for every institution, available for anyone who wants to dig through it. University officials have laid out their plans for all to see. Hopefully, Bacon’s Rebellion will soon present some of the information that the University of Virginia has published to provide a clear idea of where those in power want to take the university.

          However, universities haven’t exactly publicized certain aspects of their plans. They couch everything in bureaucratic language that can be impenetrable to outsiders and they downplay politically sensitive material, such as massive tuition increases, so as not to draw attention to it.

          As for General Assembly members not being fully conversant with all this information, that’s not fair. The General Assembly oversees huge swaths of the economy, and by your logic, they should be fully conversant with the details of every sector. Given the complexity of today’s society, that’s just impossible. I would argue that it is the responsibility of university administrators to be forthright with the media (the source of most information for the public and legislators) by, say, not holding meetings in executive session to discuss matters that should be debated openly.

          • these are the worst excuses I’ve ever heard!

            For those INSISTING on FOIA to “find out” – what kept them from doing a little non-FOIA investigation to get facts?

            and the GA – who have staff and access to State resources and who are SUPPOSED to KNOW if they are going to write legislation and “demand answers”.

            I don’t think there is a leg to stand on…. here.. the info was easily available … without FOIA – and who among the accusers and complainers actually took the time to do a little work BEFORE they started posturing in public?

            People on the BOV were not familiar with this document?

            the same folks who would fire the President of UVA for “cause”? Really?

          • re: ” The General Assembly oversees huge swaths of the economy, and by your logic, they should be fully conversant with the details of every sector.”

            Au Contraire!

            If .. they ARE going to WEIGH IN on an issue – then shouldn’t they make sure of their facts?

            Now – if you look at their public statements and this document – together – how do they look?

            How about : easily and cynically snookered by Ms. Dragas as a result of their own feckless behavior to not seek facts first?

    • Except that this plan went through only 2014. Since then, there is a different president and no long-range strategic plan, only a loose vision called The Cornerstone Plan.
      The reason it does not qualify as a strategic plan is that it doesn’t include funding provisions.

      • it’s not whether it was a plan or not – it’s that in 2006 they were projecting the tuition costs… and when did people like Dragas , Chap Petersen, etc, react to those provided projections? 2016?

        Dragas wanted to fire Sullivan for a LACK of a strategic plan in 2012 – MOOC, etc, NOT because of projected tuition costs.. right?

        What exactly was Ms. Dragas motivations back then – and now?

        • Dragas was not on BOV in 2006, but managing budget has been one of Dragas’ primary concerns since arriving. MOOC issue was a straw man issue perpetuated by the same artful PR machine we’re seeing at work in Charlottesville now, designed to make skin crawl among Hoos and turn sentiment against Dragas. The lack of strategic plan makes budget management impossible–with no road map, any route will do.

          The national concern over rising tuition and a general consensus that higher ed is in a crisis is not a niche problem, but I suppose that it isn’t widely covered in local and state media. Look at back issues of Chronicle of Higher Ed, Inside Higher Ed, Wall Street Journal, and consider efforts by the Obama administration to understand more broadly that UVa is not unique, that Virginia state schools are not unique, that our GA is not unique.

          To bring focus back to Bacon’s topic, the questions to the UVa administration about the propriety of closing the public out of a discussion are not getting answered.

          • what was Dragas primary complaint in firing Sullivan?

            WHEN did Dragas make tuition costs an issue BEYOND UVA and in what venues besides UVA?

            and hey – I don’t give UVA a bye on their wagon-circling behavior EITHER – but who started all of this and for what reasons – and how long had she been actually working on these issues ?

            And when did folks like Chap Petersen become involved in tuition costs – also?

            these walk and talk like recently made-up issues that neither Dragas nor others have a clear history of being involved in – starting back when UVA actually stated clearly and publically their intentions at tuition costs as well as strategic planning.

            Dragas came on board initially and did what ?? what were her motivations?

            It’s like none of this happened until Dragas wrote her editorial!!

            maybe a timeline of what she did and when would clear things up, eh?

          • Not my job to make you a timeline, but I can point you to meeting minutes and I think that there is an archive of BOV meetings live stream if you want to see Dragas’ voting history. All public.

            One of the systemic, structural problems in the way schools are run is the social dynamic that inevitably develops in board rooms everywhere, which causes all the heads in a room to nod–everyone wants to go along. It’s much harder to be a dissenter. On UVa’s BOV, RJ Kirk threw his hands up and left the room, as did Ed Miller, but this was surrender to inertia. Dragas stayed and simply continued to register her dissent, even if it hasn’t altered the course of UVa. I’m not sure why you expect her to dedicate herself to issues beyond the board on which she served. Now that her term ended, perhaps she’ll redirect her energy or address issues in the way that you are asking.

    • “Kind of detonates all of the clown show’s arguments in the General Assembly about a nefarious BOV raising tuition on a whim.”

      Cville, nobody is claiming that the “nefarious” BOV raised tuition on a “whim.” They’re claiming that the BOV raised tuition before understanding that the $2.3 billion fund would throw off $100 million a year in new revenue.

  12. re: ” These legislators never raised a peep until Dragas’s editorial. The tuition increases that these clowns decry have nothing to do with anything Dragas mentioned. Rather, if these morons had a scintilla of interest in actual policy, they’d read all of the plans by U.Va., W&M, and VT submitted years ago with tuition increases programmed in.”

    How many years was Dragas there and had the opportunity to read the same document?

    and the “journalists”… who did what ? just glom on to what Dragas claimed without themselves doing what CR here did? None of them?

    and the GA guys? Someone should send them this document and ask for their comments – one to each one of them who has made a public statement “demanding” …. “answers”…

    Finally – Mr.. Bacon here – should respond with a blog post on this document…. and ask “Did Dragas know about it and if not – why not and if so – then why not also reference it”?

    this is almost comical…

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