FOIA Case Against UVa Tightens


Discussion of a controversial $2.3 billion Strategic Investment Fund in closed session during a University Virginia Board of Visitor’s meeting appears to be a violation of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) — assuming events unfolded as alleged in a letter by an attorney representing former Rector Helen Dragas, concluded Maria J.K. Everett, executive director of the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council in a staff advisory opinion released today.

Virginia Beach attorney Kevin E. Martingayle asked for the opinion in a letter describing Dragas’s version of events at the board meeting, her last before being rotated off the board. In that meeting, she dissented from a vote to certify that the closed session had been held in compliance with the FOIA.

Wrote Everett:

The answer to your question is therefore “yes,” it would be a violation to hold a closed meeting to discuss a fund when the motion to convene the closed meeting was for purposes of discussion of personnel, legal matters and litigation.

The open-meeting exemptions allowed for “personnel” and “legal matters” do not cover “general policy or other matters that may eventually have legal consequences,” Everett wrote.

However, the law does not set forth any remedial action to be taken by the public body, in this case the UVa Board of Visitors. The statutory remedy for a FOIA violation, Everett wrote, is “a petition for mandamus or injunction supported by an affidavit showing good cause.”

While University of Virginia officials have stoutly defended both the justification for the $2.3 billion fund and the manner in which it was approved by the board, they have met Dragas’s FOIA charge with silence.


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49 responses to “FOIA Case Against UVa Tightens”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    The irony of the General Assembly attempting to get UVA to “obey” their own (frequently and systematically) self-gutted law is a joke and a cynical one at that for citizens.

    The General Assembly, over the years has routinely carved out exceptions and exemptions and stood by and did nothing even when blatant abuses and actual violations occurred, now find themselves hoisted on their own petard!

    UVA is not the first entity, by far, to brazenly claim totally bogus exemptions to providing info. It’s fairly routine and rampant across the Commonwealth whether it’s the Fairfax Police or school or BOS in other parts of Virginia.

    And I have a bet to make. I bet the peacock posturing GA guys writing all these letters “demanding” that information and explanations be provided, hearings held, etc, – at the end of the day – do nothing – because the GA guys actually have a demonstrated record over the years of systematically weakening and swiss-cheesing the INTENT of the FOIA concept – i.e. to make govt and tax-funded agencies transparent and accountable.

    they’ve almost never met an exemption they did not like.

    How many citizens have been denied and/or charged outrageous fees in trying to get public information that in theory we are entitled to – year after year?

    The GA has been fully complicit in these denials. They know about them – they do nothing – they CHOOSE to do nothing. They have their hearings and committees to “consider” then they do their customary unrecorded voice votes to dispense with them.

    And you know what? The Tea Party and other govt and Conservative “watchdog” groups in Virginia don’t have word one in their legislative scorecards about any of this. Zip! The only group to address FOIA has been the League of Conservation Voters.

    The only thing “tightening” is going be information.

    Jim likes guest posts, so do I.

    Time to get one from the Open Govt folks to regale us with some of the more “inventive” actions of public boards of late – beyond just UVA.

  2. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    The legislative history of Section 2.2-3507.1 – that contains FOIA exceptions of general application. 1999, cc. 485, 518, 703, 726, 793, 849, 852, 867, 868, 881, § 2.1-342.01; 2000, cc. 66, 237, 382, 400, 430, 583, 589, 592, 594, 618, 632, 657, 720, 932, 933, 947, 1006, 1064; 2001, cc. 288, 518, 844, § 2.2-3705; 2002, cc. 87, 155, 242, 393, 478, 481, 499, 522, 571, 572, 633, 655, 715, 798, 830; 2003, cc. 274, 307, 327, 332, 358, 704, 801, 884, 891, 893, 897, 968; 2004, c. 690; 2010, c. 553; 2016, cc. 620, 716, 729.

  3. CrazyJD Avatar

    When your client is being gutted by the facts:

    1. Change the subject.

    2. Find someone else to blame for something similar.

    Classic Alinsky

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      Oh I think pointing out hypocrisy is not changing the subject but it is putting blame squarely where it belongs.

      The GA guys have essentially aided and abetted evasion of the intent of FOIA – and now they’re in a snit because UVA is doing exactly what they have, in fact, supported , the irony is as thick as their pointy little dittoheads.

      1. CrazyJD Avatar

        I see. How foolish of me. Sullivan et. al. aren’t responsible for their part in not knowing they can’t discuss budget stuff in closed session. I should have realized that it’s somebody else’s fault. My sincerest apologies.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          @Crazy – Sullivan and company KNEW! They also knew the GA had been traditionally just fine with taxpayer-funded entities using sleazy tactics to avoid providing FOIA info.

          The GA never met an exemption they did not like and was also just fine looking the other way when abuses and evasion did occur.. they were loathe to tighten up FOIA and force compliance… there’s a clear history of that over the years.

          Let me invite you to familiarize yourself with – Virginia Coalition for Open Government where you can go read about the sad history of FOIA in Virginia and the GA’s less than honorable role.

          UVA was doing what many boards and commissions in Va routinely do – and nothing is done about it.

          Oh – and at the end of this – that little issue about “affordability” is lost in space now that the FOIA fight is in full flower!

          1. CrazyJD Avatar

            So what you’re saying is, they’re not very honorable and perhaps we shouldn’t trust the government or state owned higher education to do the right thing. OK, now I fully understand.

  4. LarrytheG Avatar

    what I’m saying is that the biggest talkers about holding the govt accountable – who also happen to hold the majority in the GA – are the biggest hypocrites by far. Capisce?

    but of course the gullible in Va will vote them in based on what they say – not what they actually do – time and time again.

    1. CrazyJD Avatar

      And of course, the Democrats like Sullivan et al. are much better. I get it, I get it.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        Sullivan is a dem? Gadzooks? That was Dragas real problem?

        and now Sullivan is using the GOP own’s feckless FOIA foolishness to shove them away ?

        good lord! you’d think those GA fools would see how crippling the FOIA empowers Dems!!!! how stupid can you get? oh wait…

        1. CrazyJD Avatar

          >>That was Dragas real problem?

          I guess you’re saying so.

          >and now Sullivan is using the GOP own’s feckless FOIA foolishness to shove them away ?

          More of “Let’s see if there’s someone else we can blame”

          >>good lord! you’d think those GA fools would see how crippling the FOIA empowers Dems!!!! how stupid can you get? oh wait…

          It’s really hard to understand, let alone formulate an answer to this kind of sophistry

  5. LtG, you go guy! Among the devious methods the GA employs are the way committee “hearings” are conducted with little or no advance notice or in the way votes are recorded (can I even use the word recorded?).

    This is not a party issue, BTW … both sides of the aisle have employed it.

  6. LarrytheG Avatar

    both sides – yes… but in the end – having their own exempted boards turn and bite them in their own butt – such IRONY!

    I think, in general, the Dems better support FOIA while the GOP says they do but then they sneak around and gut it when they can then say “who me”?

    the whole way the General Assembly does business in secret and on the sly is disgusting and for them to portray themselves as avengers of honesty and integrity – that dog just don’t hunt.

  7. Hey, guys, all this fuss about FOIA sidesteps the really interesting question here. That is, WHY did Dragas wait until her very last Board meeting to do this? Is this merely Dragas grandstanding? Was she really so blind she didn’t see all that money hiding in plain sight? Does she think she’s helping UVA when the rest of the BOV is not following her lead, but the Rector’s? Why the hell do this now, in this awkward way?

    1. Acbar, the very issue IS the last meeting. BOV was aware that there was $2.3B in Operating Funds; it was the shift to funds available for anything other than operations for purposes pre-determined by the adminstration and about 3 BOV members that was revealed in June.

  8. Acbar,

    Without this recent challenge to the UVA administration or the board, Dragas would probably (rightly or wrongly) be best remembered for her failed attempt to oust President Sullivan. I’m sure she does not want to be defined by that, so she have seen this as a chance for a redemption of sorts.

    I believe I commented earlier on this site that there is some irony in Dragas’s actions. First, her attempt to remove Sullivan a few years ago was done in secret (and she thought is was a fait accompli by the time it was announced). Now, she is criticizing what the board was attempting to do in secret regarding the strategic fund. Second, she tried to remove Sullivan for not having a strategy or identifying sources of funding to maintain UVA’s standing and reputation. Now she is being critical of the creation of a “strategic fund” and believes UVA should focus on lowering tuition rather than maintaining reputation and rankings (see her first editorial).

    Dragas has raised some good points, but unfortunately, the above inconsistency (and lingering animus from the attempted Sullivan removal) has been a distraction. As someone put it in an editorial, Dragas is an imperfect messenger to be championing open government.

    I thought her most important point was challenging the prevailing notion on the board that UVA should become more private and chase rankings. Rector Goodwin believes UVA can vault into the top 10 in rankings. US News is still preeminent in rankings, and with their methodology, which emphasizes financial resources, it is almost impossible for a public school to make gains of this magnitude against the upper echelon of private schools. The US News deck is stacked in their favor.

    But beyond the infeasibility of the top 10 goal, is it the right thing to do? Spending on higher education has risen faster than incomes and inflation every year since the early 1970s and significantly faster than even healthcare since the early 1980s. If this were finance or real estate we would call it a bubble. If this were defense spending we would call it an unsustainable arms race. How much do we need really need to spend for a good education?

    I would argue that schools like UVA and William and Mary already spend a sufficient amount. It is only when trying to compete against the crazy levels of spending going on in a segment of higher education that it seems inadequate. That crazy spending level is ironically propped up and subsidized by federal spending intended to control student costs. This has been called the Bennett effect. We saw what easy money did to finance and real estate.

    Looking around, you can see the craziness. Yale is spending $650M to build two new residential colleges (which is really a fancy name for dorms), which translates to $700K per bed! Harvard is spending $1B on one new engineering building on its new campus. Should UVA really chase that? These are extreme cases at Ivy schools, but you can see craziness and waste visible things like rock walls and lazy rivers in recreation centers, and less visible things like diminishing teaching loads and administration spending growth that greatly outpaces even the rapidly rising cost of higher ed.

    I’ve gone on too long. I just wanted to make the point that this is a debate worth having. To Dragas’s (ironic) point, that debate is supressed if it happens (assuming it happens) in private.

    1. Izzo, regarding the irony of Dragas orchestrating the ouster of Sullivan behind closed doors and now calling for openness regarding the discussion of the Strategic Investment Fund (SIF)… Matters relating to Sullivan’s ouster truly were a “personnel” issue that should not have been discussed in public. The disposition of the $100 million a year in income from SIF is absolutely a public matter.

      1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
        Reed Fawell 3rd

        “Matters relating to Sullivan’s ouster truly were a “personnel” issue that should not have been discussed in public.”

        I agree with you on that, Jim. And also believe that Dragas was scrupulous in that regard, even to her own detriment.

      2. James, I get your point regarding personnel issues and FOIA, but I think that is too legalistic and narrow to fully defend the way Dragas went about it. First, when you are a public institution and you are trying to get rid of a president who has strong support in some quarters, is admittedly not showing up drunk for work or misappropriating funds for personal use, etc., you’d better be as TRANSPARENT as possible and ready to defend your reasons. Otherwise, it will blow up in your face (and your institution’s face) and result in embarrassing articles in publications like the New York Times and the Washington Post. Second, Dragas vaguely cited “philosophical differences” for the attempted removal. Is a “philosophical difference” really a personnel issue? What would prevent those from being discussed better in public? After the best use of the SIF funds comes down to philosophical differences.

        1. “you’d better be as TRANSPARENT as possible ” This is impoosible without violating HR practices or incurring litigation. You can’t start murmuring publicly about a president’s inadewaute performance. You either vote publicly to terminate, or you wait until contract runs out, or you request resignation. When Sullivan negotiated her re-entry, it included a gag order on the board, which is why no more explanation was given.

          You will observe few things harder than getting rid of a college president. They are given long terms (by comparison to the private sector) to achieve goals, there is always a desire for, forgive the pun, collegiality between board and administration, and you will risk hellfire and damnation if you dare ruffle the feathers of assumption that everyone loves the president. Read up on the University of Texas System saga with a few of its regents and Governor(s)–it makes the little UVa story look very polite and backwater.

          1. There are many aspects of transparency, which is why I chose that word. Read Jim Bacon’s account taken from several sources and tell me she couldn’t have been more transparent:


            Also, read the AAUP press release and report:


  9. LarrytheG Avatar

    Dragas does not have a history of working on college affordability.

    What she has a history of is confrontation and tumult over her disagreements with UVA – first on strategic planning and the President, then on UVA affordability and now on FOIA.

    When she attempted to fire Sullivan – is was not over college affordability but instead, ironically, for not having a strategic plan that Dragas agreed with to include MOOC which now is totally forgotten because the subject has changed to affordability .

    It seems that what Dragas wants is to rattle UVA cages… more than anything else and she just picks something she thinks they can be attacked for.

    I am no defender of UVA on FOIA -their actions are dishonorable, even corrupt, but as I’ve pointed out – the hypocrisy of the GA to hold UVA to account when the GA is itself no friend of FOIA is ironic. Indeed – the GA is now going to hold “hearings” since UVA has flat refused to provide info that is clearly FOIAable – not even to the GA! Those hearings will be great Kabuki theater I’m uite sure and at the end – will be a pile of dust and not much more.

    So what exactly has Dragas actually accomplished on affordability ? What other things has she done on behalf of affordability until this point?
    what other forums and venues has she taken her message and tried to get more folks in Va on board with affordability? And who has she asked at the GA to help with affordability?

    I would contend that she has done precious little other than use it as an excuse to attack UVA…. but I’ll be glad to issue a mea culpa if after all of this she continues to be a strong voice for affordability instead of disappearing into the sunset as I expect.

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      “Dragas does not have a history of working on college affordability.”

      I have nothing in the record to support that assertion. And much over the years to support precisely the opposite conclusion.

  10. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    Izzo –

    Your comment is on the money. Very important issues are at stake here. These are matters that will affect the higher education of future generations of Virginians and their families.

    UVA is owned by the citizens of Virginia. Making decisions that affect “these rights” are not like arbitrary private decisions that are routinely made the leaders of Harvard or Yale. UVA’s Board of Visitors owes all Virginian’s the fiduciary duty to act in their Virginia citizens’ best interests. And not to make decisions contrary to the best interests of Virginia’s citizens. And to insure these rights of every Virginian, such decisions that should not be made behind closed doors, or without full, open, and prior disclosure. This is contrary to the laws regulating public institutions.

    You make the point about spending levels. Many people think these levels are wildly out of control, the $50 million on the Rotunda for example. The majority of that $50 Million cost is being funded by all Virginia taxpayers. But go to UVA’s website on that Renovation and try to figure how your share of that $50 million is being spent, and why, and for what specific purposes?

    If you do try to find that information, you will discover that much specific information is hidden from you amid hundreds of pages of details that tell you about restorations that went on long long ago, and also about the details of far too long deferred maintenance that needs fixing, while what is largely ignored are the big ticket items that now likely are being done to accommodate extravagant extras – things like underground cuisine food preparations centers, high speed elevators (up 3 stories) and security tunnels and fixtures and interior decorating for high profile power events and power gatherings and entertainments fit for and modeled after the Aspen Institute but on a far more expensive scale. That description is my best guess of what $50 million renovation is mostly about and where it is headed. We will see if I am right when it opens fully to the public now said to be this Fall. We’ll see about that too.

    But even with that $50 million Rotunda, the issues are much larger and long lasting. One of the largest transformational changes that you can expect to occur at UVA if UVA gets its way is discussed generally in a column by Peggy Noonan that now appears in this weekend’s WSJ opinion section untitled “How Global Elites Forsake Their Countrymen.”

    I believe the UVA elites are well on their way to forsaking their fellow Virginians. I believe that UVA’s current leaders are focused on thinking like and being and acting as a global university, leaving most all Virginia Students behind in UVA’s quest to mount a far grander international stage.

    And I believe that they hope that meanwhile Virginian’s will pay much of cost that UVA must incurs to gain and play on that international stage. And will do it just like right now they are it with Virginian’s funding the great majority of the renovation of that World Heritage Site called the Rotunda. And that is why it cost $50 Million to fix up that small building. The repair and restoration of long deferred maintenance would cost a fraction of $50 million. I believe that most every dollar above that faction to fix deferred maintenance is being done for the purpose of building up image, and kind of institution social climbing, and enhancement of political and professional standing and status that UVA leaders now crave in their quest to be members of the new elite academics and administrators of a great Global University. That is why the Rotunda is no longer a National Historic Landmark. It’s a World Heritage Site. One that wants to be The Aspen Institute, and will do anything to get there.

    1. Thank you, all — seems to me this is a discussion worth having. Just one comment: Jim, I don’t agree that Sullivan’s firing being a “personnel matter” did, or should have, excused the privacy of what went on within the BOV at that time. Any more than we know, really, that a personnel matter wasn’t discussed at that recent meeting to approve the SIF. What’s striking to me is that every other member of the BOV has united behind Goodwin. Not just on the technicality of FOIA compliance but on the necessity for creating the Fund. As for Dragas’ objections, they smack of bad faith to me. She was a long time BOV member (and a former Rector!); she should have been extremely well aware of the necessity, and the means, and the costs, and the consequent opportunities, from reallocating the monies needed to satisfy all those credit rating requirements. Izzo makes the point that she probably wanted to rehabilitate her reputation — well, given the absolutely horrendous way she went about destroying reputations in the first place, I’m not interested in helping her in a second quixotic quest to tilt windmills. Let her go back to ODU and build another building there with her company’s name on it and stop trying to leave train wrecks in the Visitors’ Board Room. But don’t help her — of all people! — make a martyr of herself on the altar of governance transparency.

      Reed, thank you for drawing attention to Noonan’s column. I agree there is arrogance among the elites out there, which has provoked the Trump phenomenon in reaction, among other things. She writes:

      “They send their children to the same schools and are alert to all class markers. And those elites, of Mumbai and Manhattan, do not often identify with, or see a connection to or an obligation toward, the rough, struggling people who live at the bottom in their countries. In fact, they fear them, and often devise ways, when home, of not having their wealth and worldly success fully noticed. Affluence detaches, power adds distance to experience. I don’t have it fully right in my mind but something big is happening here with this division between the leaders and the led. It is very much a feature of our age. But it is odd that our elites have abandoned or are abandoning the idea that they belong to a country, that they have ties that bring responsibilities, that they should feel loyalty to their people or, at the very least, a grounded respect.”

      Only, elites have always done so. Have we moderns invented arrogance? Have we created the global forces, the international institutions? No, I submit we are merely mopping up the details of trends set in motion by the Gilded Age, by the privileged young touring Venice and Spain, by the robber barons of the railroads and of Silicon Valley; by the visionary idealism of the Hague courts and the frustration of the United Nations; by the failed economic unification of Europe. So, what’s so bad about wanting to make the University of Virginia one of the grandest tools of the elites, an educational institution among the top 10 in the top nation of the World, when judged by the affluent standards of the elite? Is it not obvious that, from the perspective of the elites, the best education can only be provided by an institution that reflects affluence and idealism, not gritty practical subjects taught in gritty practical buildings to students living in gritty dorms? Where else but the Restored Lawn (with air conditioning and individual bathrooms!) should our elite children be sent to finishing school? Where else but on the Original Lawn could Mr. Jefferson have imagined the elite children of his day gathering daily in the living rooms of well-housed faculty to worship before the temple of knowledge, the Library — never mind that within 20 years the gross impracticality of the Jeffersonian setup demanded the building of an “Annex” to provide some actual instructional space.

      I see the Dragas-Goodwin drama in those same terms. Jefferson, the idealist, the visionary, the elitist — gave us the core buildings and values of the University, and they are in conflict with the sordid details of getting the most funding for Our University in this day of near-mandatory college education for the masses. So education is profligate, and wasteful? Well, we are going to be successful — among the Top 10 — at THAT game!

      And we’ll have a beautiful new Board Room at the top of the old Temple Of Knowledge to show for it.

      1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
        Reed Fawell 3rd

        Acbar –

        Thank you for a fine insightful comments.

        I agree with much of them, and disagree as to parts.

        As I was writing my own comments earlier this morning I found myself forced to a halt by a question that suddenly arose:

        What would Thomas Jefferson do?

        Three contrary conclusions then wrestled with themselves, turning over and over among themselves, without any apparent advantage to either, irresolvable.

        Thomas Jefferson – the Yeoman Virginia Farmer –

        Thomas Jefferson – effete philosopher René Descartes style –

        One side said he would approve of the new Rotunda plan.

        Another side said no, he’d improve upon it. He’d include not only all the Rotunda but he set aside his entire academic village (including lawn and range) after visiting the Aspen Institute, its wonderful setup for visiting guests to pop in and submerge their minds and sensibilities into the great ideas, as well as the prodigious literary, social and musical delights for a few days in the mountains after flying in from far far away, and soon depart till next time.

        Another conclusion said both other ones were wrong.

        Poplar Forest versus Monticello. I twist and turn between the two. Back it forth it goes like weather rolling in and out without my control.

        Somehow through I do not believe it the elite global university. I have enough trouble with Harvard, and the idea and impact of Harvard – a kind of University that gives us a Supreme Court stacked with Harvard Law Grads. Something here is rotten in Denmark. Look where that has to taken American in the grip of Harvard. Or where has the Ecole Nationale d’Administration and Ecole Polytechnique has taken the France.

        The idea of those elites French and Harvard or their ilk being funded by the Government I find abhorrent. “To paraphrase the English writer E.M. Forster, these people would rather betray their country than betray a friend.”

        Such institutions operating on a Global stage and I now then fear a Petri Dish that breeds monsters. God Help the rest of US?

        Others at the time the questioned the competence of Thomas Jefferson the farmer. Could you really rely on him to feed you? It was an open question among some citizens at the time. But Jefferson could sure write and think about farming. That thinking and writing is helpful. Raising the food reliably is critically important to our eating so as not to stare to death.

        I think the personnel issue you raise might unduly conflate the issue of obligations on the firing or dismissing of an employee with the obligations of the actions of a public Board or its members in their exercise of fiduciary duties. This is not to say one such obligation can, or should be used, as a crutch to violate another. Her actions since those mistakes I find justifiable, indeed commendable and remarkable so, the stuff of heroes going against a rigged system. Although it pains me to raise the specter that some might think I invoke Trump or here get anywhere near him here.

        1. CrazyJD Avatar

          >> Or where has the Ecole Nationale d’Administration and Ecole Polytechnique has taken the France. >>

          I wouldn’t want to make too close a comparison to these French schools. The history of those schools is that they contributed heavily to saving les fesses francaises after WWII. There were 21 governments between 1946 and 1958. Chaos reigned. Those who came out of L’Ecole National d’Administration kept things running as an ad hoc administrative state, something we would abhor here (at least some of us). Later on, technocrats like Valerie Giscard D’Estang were instrumental after DeGaulle’s departure in keeping things from sinking. Then came the Socialists and the Communists running parliament and the executive, and it’s been largely downhill from there.

          1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
            Reed Fawell 3rd

            yes, I guess you are saying perhaps that this is an important anchor in the otherwise stormy French seas. And they are what differentiates France from its shaky sisters Italy and Greece.

            But still look at the results for France either way. Surely for US the bottom up opportunity for all with its practical get is done spirit of The Alexis de Tocqueville’s American Democracy is better formula for us.

            Unless of course we lost that system and spirit now, so need an ever more narrow, inbred and debilitated ruling class anchor such as these french schools engender and produce.

  11. LarrytheG Avatar

    who is going to force changes ? I just don’t see the expectations…

    1. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

  12. LarrytheG Avatar

    No matter what happens at UVA – what Virginia should do – is guarantee a college education for any kid who has the academic qualifications – at a University or College that agrees to provide a basic degree for an affordable price.

    Then let UVA and the others sort themselves out as to what they want to be and how… but the number 1 priority in Va should be that each child who has the ability – have a chance at a degree.

    And if Dragas wants to ride that horse – give her a swat on her blessed rump.

    1. In all seriousness, I completely agree: I’m with Tennessee on this, Community College ought to be as free as High School. And if UVa wants to chase prestige and USN&WR ratings, God Bless ‘Em — but then it’s something the alumni, not the taxpayers, should underwrite, and we should stop the pretense that it’s a State U. beholden to the taxpayers. The BOV cannot serve two masters, here. As Reed put it, “UVA is owned by the citizens of Virginia. [It’s] not like those arbitrary private decisions that are routinely made by the leaders of Harvard or Yale. UVA’s Board of Visitors owes all Virginian’s the fiduciary duty to act in their Virginia citizens’ best interests. And not to make decisions contrary to the best interests of Virginia’s citizens.” He’s absolutely correct. But in that case, UVA has no business being an elite, nationally-ranked residential university. Mass education is a different goal, with different tactics, different responsibilities.

      As for swatting Dragas’ horse, I hope she and her horse are headed back to ODU, or a school like it. They need her there. They need all the help they can get.

  13. CrazyJD Avatar

    The French have always been more successful at an administrative state than we have, mainly because they were used to kings, and we were not. Now, of course, we are becoming an administrative state. We have a chief executive who has a pen and a phone. My associate pastor this morning told me it was because Congress won’t do anything. I reminded her that maybe that was because the country didn’t want to do the “anything”. She was unconvinced, and therein lies the problem for our country. I didn’t ask, but I rather suspect she would subscribe to the statist’s syllogism: “Something must be done. THIS is something. Therefore, THIS must be done.”

    We are clearly losing the spirit you speak of. There’s no question of that. The only real question is what we will do with it.

  14. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: ” reminded her that maybe that was because the country didn’t want to do the “anything””

    the majority do not want gridlock – they want to go forward and they are willing to make compromises.

    the obstructionists are not and it don’t take a majority to obstruct if the obstructionists occupy key positions.

    it takes time to overcome obstructionists but now they are hanging by a thread and we’ll see if this next election is the one that dislodges them… we’re certainly getting an education in all the creative ways that obstructionism can take… that’s for sure

    the minority cannot impose on the majority – what they want -but they can put major sand in the gears… for awhile…

    Speaking of church – Jesus… what would he think ?

    I guess that church stuff is just sort of food for thought, eh?

  15. The benefits of higher education, particularly the more elite institutions, primarily accrue to the individual. These benefits take the form of significantly higher average lifetime earnings. Only a fraction of the population attends these institutions.

    At UVA, a significant majority of students are middle class and higher. Only about 13% of students at UVA receive Pell Grants, a proxy for socioeconomic diversity. (See ). You can see another view of this on the SCHEV site, where the median income of UVA undergraduate families that qualify for financial aid is nearly $95K versus $64K for the state family median income. Note that only 33% of families apply for and are shown to qualify for aid, so this roughly reflects the income of the most needy third of UVA students, and it is still significantly above the state median. ( ).

    I would submit that it is fundamentally unfair to have all taxpayers subsidize a group of relatively high income people who receive the benefits.

    For this reason, I do not think we should have public higher education in its current form. If there are going to be subsidies for tuition, I would recommend having them come in the form of Tuition Assistance Grants or Vouchers that go to individuals rather than institutions. These vouchers could vary depending on income or on on the field of study chosen (e.g. higher for teachers who will go to rural areas.)

    That said, I recognize the current system is unlikely to change. There is too much history and too much resistance from a middle class that does not want to potentially lose a subsidy. This leaves UVA caught at the fault lines of elite/private and public, which is why we are feeling the earthquakes.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      Izzo and I are on the same wavelength – just about 99%.

      we’re talking about using tax dollars – for “help” to folks who earn more than many of the taxpayers who are paying for these subsidies.

    2. Cville Resident Avatar
      Cville Resident

      100% spot-on. If there really is a concern for middle class families….and color me skeptical…..I think the answer is to stop subsidizing U.Va. and W&M which attract a very affluent student body. U.Va. has been criticized for decades for being a school for the upper middle and upper classes. And your numbers bear that out.

      Those public subsidy dollars and any effort of the GA to “cap” tuition is basically a subsidy for the top 10% of the state’s families when you’re talking U.Va. and William & Mary. That’s why I’m skeptical of this as assistance to the middle class. Doing anything with those 2 schools does absolutely nothing.

      I note that Ramadan used to represent Loudoun. Ok, let’s say U.Va. let in more in-state kids…..guess what, most will come from Loudoun…the wealthiest county in the state and sometimes the nation. Is that really of any true assistance to families from Bath County or Emporia? No, it’s just a subsidy for upper middle and upper class families in Loudoun, Arlington, and Fairfax.

  16. Cville Resident Avatar
    Cville Resident


    As for “original intent” and Jefferson….U.Va.’s first faculty, selected by Jefferson, was almost entirely foreign. The first class of students had a majority of out-of-state students.

    Jefferson refused to acknowledge religion as the cornerstone of knowledge and instead made the library the cornerstone of his university. He did not include a chapel on Grounds for that reason.

    All of these actions angered the General Assembly and “middle class Virginians” of the day.

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      Yes, exactly. Which proves what?

      1. Cville Resident Avatar
        Cville Resident

        It means Jefferson couldn’t care less about whether Virginians attended the University or not, and he certainly didn’t care about what the General Assembly thought. He scoffed at the General Assembly, just as U.Va. laughs at them now.

        1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
          Reed Fawell 3rd

          Yes, which proves the very point I was making. Except you stake out Jefferson’s position at the time without doubt or irony, and apparently so does”UVA” today, in your opinion. This means UVA and its leaders are breaching their fiduciary duty to the people of Virginia and their elected representatives, not to mention most members on UVA original Board of Visitors, men of great substance and consequence of UVA. Not to mention the “middle class” then and now.

          I am more kind to Jefferson, his times, and his demons. I see duality and nuance in his thoughts and emotions and actions on many subjects, a split, one among many, that haunted his life, and his actions, and their consequences. An inscrutable dilemma within Jefferson that many (including myself) and also his biographers struggle with still – one I loosely and crudely used here speaking of Jefferson’s Virginia Yeoman Farmer, and his philosopher René Descartes style (as later interpreted) to represent.

          Remember, on this subject you bring up, one side of Jefferson also rejected the serious opinions of very substantial members of his own original Board of Visitors, men whose names grace the Grounds today, men without whom Virginia would not have achieved the reality it did.

          I suggest we have to be far more careful. As Deccartes himself warns: the “resolution to get rid of all opinions one has so far admitted to belief is in itself not an example for everyone to follow … (as it tempts those) who think they are more clever than they are, and cannot help forming precipitate judgements.” See Discourse on Method, Decartes.

  17. Cville Resident Avatar
    Cville Resident


    I think you’re thoughtful. However, I think the real issue for both U.Va. and William and Mary is that they’re just different. From their foundings, they’ve never been prototypical “public Us”. Nor have they ever received funding from the General Assembly to become the classic big state U.

    And in the early 00s, the Commonwealth made a choice to basically say to U.Va., W&M, and Virginia Tech…fund yourselves, we’re done. There was a de-emphasis of governance and funding of these schools starting in the Warner Administration. Schools were allowed to enter into contracts with the state concerning various state laws and mandates.

    If the General Assembly really is interested in middle class families, it needs to look at allowing U.Va. and William & Mary to privatize. William & Mary shut down after the Civil War and only became “public” in the 20th century. So, it’s not as if there’s history there. As we’ve gone over, U.Va. and the state have had a fairly contentious relationship for centuries.

    I think both should privatize and all savings should go to VT, ODU, GMU, and VCU. Those 4 schools fit the public model of higher ed. They can expand class size. The benefit of expanding GMU, ODU, and VCU is that they’re in the Urban Crescent where the vast majority of students reside. Rather than focus on tuition, what about making those schools larger and allowing a greater number of students to avoid paying room and board costs? I think that would be an enormous benefit to middle class families.

  18. LarrytheG Avatar

    give the money to the students – let them choose where to attend and how much more they want to add to the voucher if they want more.

    this entire concept of “helping’ UVA “help” the middle class is odious … when many lower income kids have much less help and opportunity at even a plain jane degree.

    our priorities are all screwed up.

    1. CrazyJD Avatar

      Holy crap, Larry!! You’re for vouchers? As we say here in the South: Day-um!

      I’m with ya’, guy.

  19. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    Regarding tuition subsidies as raised by Izzo, C’ville, and Larry –

    UVA’s ambitions today force it into policies contrary to egalitarian values. Need based scholarships thwart its ambitions. UVA scholarship and grant policies now must be based on UVA’s OWN NEED to satisfy its soaring ambitions. Not the needs of its Virginia students, their parents, or the state of Virginia.


    UVA is shooting for the Top Ten Nationally, done in stages. To get there, among many challenges, UVA must attract and keep a growing number of All Star Tenured Faculty.

    It must achieve this goal in a highly competitive market driven by speed of acquisition and the outlay of very large sums of money. Mass retirements of large numbers of baby boomer tenured faculty demand this. All the top universities in the nation face this challenge whose successful resolution is critical at minimum to maintaining the rating of each institution. Hence a very fierce and expensive race is on to sign up top talent.

    UVA faces several disadvantages in this race. Given UVA’s huge ambitions, UVA has a far steeper hill to climb to get into Top Ten than do most competitors, or schools already in the top ten. Take the Academic quality of UVA students today.” How many of the nation’s and world’s elite students choose to attend UVA as their first choice? Not enough! This must be corrected to drive up. Until this is corrected, UVA remains stuck or passed by. But a correction will then work to attract more other elite students, and a lot to lure the elite all star faculty hires that UVA now craves.

    In short today’s top institutions and want-to-be top institutions are in a vicious, closed and highly competitive racing circuit. And to win that race played out in the student and faculty annual draft will cost UVA huge sums of money, if it is to realize its stated ambitions.

    That is why UVA, while giving lip service to need based scholarships, is in practice doing the reverse. It is heavily subsidizing the very best students in a money race to lure them away from the Ivy leagues so as to make UVA their first choice. A Home Run is a elite Foreign student whose parents or government foot to whole Bill. In any case the bigger the pool to fish in the better, and now given its ambitions, UVA needs a much much bigger pool to fish in and must better and more costly bait to catch the fish it now wants.

    Hence UVA must extend its pool of applicants and acceptances out into places far beyond Virginia, and it must toss far for attractive bait out in the water using merit based scholarships and grants and other goodies if Virginia is to begin and succeed in its long climb into the top nationally and its equivalent world wide. Some thing applies for getting and keeping all star faculty.

    The costs of playing the game UVA has choosen boggle the mind, given that attracting the right students is only one facet of its challenge.

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      correction to typos at end:

      Hence UVA must extend its pool of applicants and acceptances out into places far beyond Virginia. It must toss far more attractive bait using merit based scholarships and grants and other goodies, if Virginia is to begin and succeed in its long climb into the top national universities and their equivalent world wide. Same thing with getting and keeping all star faculty.

      The costs of playing the game UVA has chosen boggle the mind, given where Virginia has to start and the fact that attracting the right and very best students is only one facet of the many challenges that it faces.

  20. Goodwin denial, plans to do nothing further

    If anyone wants to understand how philosophical differences matter, listen to the fascinating Malcolm Gladwell podcast in Revisionst History call “my Little Hundred Million.” Pay particular attention to Gladwell’s interview with Stanford Pres Hennessy–same guy who has instituted a program for 100 of the best/brightest students with a budget of $800 MILLION. I don’t know how he and Phil Knight, who gave the first $400M, can keep straight faces nor keep up the delusion that this is an efficient way to make a difference in the world. Those 100 students are already destined to become leaders.

  21. LarrytheG Avatar

    I don’t think UVA can be forced to do what others want – even if the “others” could actually reached unanimous agreement and that’s why I support taxpayers providing vouchers to Virginia kids and let them choose what school best meets their needs.

    Some of them might choose UVA – and they’d have to come up with more money to add to that voucher. Others might find schools that take the voucher and provide the degree and that might especially be true with Community College.

    I think that each College and University should have some latitude to determine who they want to be and there is no denying that UVA would have no trouble attracting out of state students for top dollar right now. The UVA that some folks want is probably more myth than anything realistic in the 21st century competition of elite schools in the Nation. It’s not folks fathers University any more and we really have competing views – one of change and adaptation and the other of maintaining status quo…. ironic because initially Dragas big complaint was that UVA was not adapting to the 21st century – fast enough for her and now she seems to have taken the opposite tact and demands that UVA be the Middle Class McDonalds of Degrees.

    1. LarrytheG your attitude toward Dragas troubles me–you criticize her for not being expert and advocate for things that are not even on the table and at institutions whose boards she hasn’t served, and then accuse her of advocating things that she hasn’t. Demanding that UVA remain accessible to the Virginia households which it is chartered to serve is not defaulting to mediocrity; that is just the fear tactic that higher ed administrators have successfully rammed down the throats of panicked students and parents. It’s a false dilemma–there are examples of schools that are successfully controlling costs, holding the line on tuition, and producing excellent results. It doesn’t require more money to be good or better at everything.

      But even if some are comfortable with UVA chasing top 10 ratings, I would demand that a the decision to do that cannot be made by 3 administrators and 2 board members. State agency=state asset=public discussion.

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