Virginia's "Big Three" universities
charter status would make them less accountable to
the public. Such an irrevocable step needs to
be thoroughly debated.
devil’s in the details.
I think it’s a great idea worth
William Howell, Associated Press, December
no way we can address these three in a vacuum.”
John Chichester, Associated Press, December
the legislature meets again in January.
But that’s mostly for show.
The constitution says our representatives
must meet. But,
make no mistake, this is the dangerous time of the
year. This is
when votes are being lined up.
This is when deals are being made.
This is the time of year lobbyists really
earn their money.
time of year, Santa Claus is not the only thing
going bump in the night.
There is a lot of column fodder these days—Warner mulling
over a run at the presidency, the 750,000 clams
Virginia Republicans forked over to keep Jerry
Kilgore from under oath on a witness stand, the
cold-fusion approach (how to build roads without
money) our leaders are taking to highway funding,
and lots of other stuff—but the sleeper issue of
the coming session is this proposal to grant three
of our universities—UVA, Tech, and William and
so-called ‘charter’ status.
What is it that these universities want?
What is it that they really want?
There is an awful lot of "task-forcing," and
charting," and "initiative-ing" going on,
and the harmony being produced by the "Big
Three" university presidents—UVA’s John
Casteen, Tech’s Charles Steger, and William and
Mary’s Tim Sullivan—is perfectly angelic.
In fact, a touch too angelic, if you ask me.
Ostensibly, "charter" status would—if you
believe the Big Three—give the universities
bionic—better, faster, stronger—capabilities.
Maybe so. Maybe
But would it not also put another step of distance between
these great institutions and the people of
who own them?
The answer to that one is an absolute, irrevocable "yes."
And this is what these universities want.
This is what they really want.
They don’t use the word "distance,"
they use "autonomy."
But that is what they want.
They want distance.
Is that bad? No.
It’s what any institution wants—to shed
the tentacles of ownership and governance.
There is not a hired manager in
who doesn’t feel the same way.
Well? What to do?
Way, way too
early to say.
The thing not to do is to let past neglect, past
funding cuts, somehow become the rationale for doing
something foolish now.
There has been no debate of this proposal.
There has been no real scrutiny of it.
Two points here—if the "charter"
idea is as good as it is being portrayed to be, then
it will withstand withering examination; and if it
is as good as it is being portrayed to be, there
should be no rush, no hurry.
If it is all that good, it won’t be
weakened by the wait of a year or two.
At minimum, the legislature should hold public hearings in
each of the 95 counties of Virginia
before they put any more distance between these
universities and the people who own them. That might seem like a lot, but a lot is at
stake here. What’s
given away by charter can never, ever be taken back.
In the matter of a charter, what is done by
one legislature, cannot be undone solely by another.
What would guarantee the debate, the scrutiny this proposal
deserves, would be to give this matter some time and
then put it to referendum. (The year 2026 would be
soon enough for me.) Let
the people of Virginia who built and own these
universities decide this matter directly.
Plain, workaday Virginians are smart.
If the idea of chartering these universities
is all that good, all that desirable, all that
necessary, workaday Virginians will see the wisdom
-- December 23, 2004