By Peter Galuszka

Knocking down the Board of Visitors at the University of Virginia a tad, a regional college accrediting agency has issued a warning, its lowest level of disciplinary action, because of the way the BOV handled the forced firing and reinstatement of President Teresa Sullivan earlier this year.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission ruled that the Board of Visitors, then led by Virginia Beach construction company executive Helen Dragas, did not follow governance procedures and did not have enough input from its faculty in decision making.

U.Va. will be reviewed over the next year by the commission to check its progress. The school could have been placed on probation or lost its accreditation. The commission also stated that its warning has nothing to do with the quality of the university’s academic instruction.

The Board, claiming it had the support of two thirds of its members — something that has never been documented — surprised the highly-regarded Sullivan when it questioned her fitness of her job after she had been there about one year. She had never been told that the board was displeased with her and its reasons were never clear. The school’s faculty was not asked for its opinion.

Sullivan resigned but was reinstated 16 days later after the outcry on campus and among alumni in her support drew national attention. The bizarre way Dragas and some on the the board handled the matter led to several resignations and an intercession by Gov. Robert F. McDonnell who forced the board to decided on whether to reinstate Sullivan or not and ended up reappointing Dragas.

The good news for Mr. Jefferson’s University is that it didn’t get a more severe penalty. The Southern commission put Florida A&M on probation, a more severe condition, for a death of student in a hazing matter.

The bad news is that U.Va.’s Board still has a lot of work to do rebuilding bridges and explaining what the hell happened earlier this year. Some may claim that the Great University is too wonderful to be bothered with pesky little accreditation commissions but that view, of course, is arrogant nonsense.

The wrist-slap also makes McDonnell look bad because while he did take decisive action in forcing the board (picked by governors) to make a decision on Sullivan quickly, he kept Dragas on the board.  A move is afoot to dismiss her.

Among the issues that remain is how the Board intends to include more faculty input in its decision making and there seem to be some mysterious, left-over issues involving conflicts of interest. This could have to do with the influence of wealthy university donors, but a clear explanation has yet to come.

A larger issue is why such boards are chock-a-block with rich business executives and short on accomplished researchers, academics and people who may be a little less a parochial and more familiar with what is actually happening at their schools.

Trying to defend their position, Dragas and the board came up with some strange arguments such as that U.Va. was behind in the move towards online education, when,in fact, the school has had such programs for year. The board later admitted it failed to give clear reasons why it wanted to get rid of Sullivan.

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One response to “Dragas, U.Va. Board Get Wrists Slapped”

  1. DJRippert Avatar

    “The wrist-slap also makes McDonnell look bad because while he did take decisive action in forcing the board (picked by governors) to make a decision on Sullivan quickly, he kept Dragas on the board. “.


    And why might the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission care if McDonnell looks bad? Lo and behold, the president of that organization is Belle Wheelen – the Secretary of Education in the Warner Administration.

    The SACSC appears to be a politicized “mini clown show” determined to fan the flames of controversy long after the controversy has ended.

    I wonder if the DPVA sent Ms. Wheelen a thank you note?

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