Goodwin Defends $2.3 Billion UVa Fund

William H. Goodwin Jr., University of Virginia rector

by James A. Bacon

William H. Goodwin Jr., rector of the University of Virginia, has taken to the Washington Post to defend the university’s $2.3 billion “Strategic Investment Fund,” which will generate up to $100 million a year in cash to advance the university’s strategic plan.

Expenditures will undergo a two-tier review process before approval by the board, Goodwin wrote. “This is no blank check,”he added, disputing former rector Helen Dragas’s characterization of the fund as a “slush fund.”

“This fund is an extraordinary opportunity to improve academic quality, help minimize tuition costs and student debt, conduct research that benefits society, and offer world-class medical care,” Goodwin wrote.

The possibilities are endless. They might include specialized equipment or research labs, recruitment of the finest faculty talent, or initiatives that enhance student life. They could include seed money for endowed student scholarships, support programs to further improve access and affordability for Virginians, and more. …

We have approved and are implementing a new strategic plan. We have formalized our efforts to find efficiencies and cost savings. We constructed and put into place a multiyear financial plan that addresses the university’s priorities across years instead of starting from scratch every budget cycle.

We have approved and implemented a program, “Affordable Excellence,” to ensure that tuition increases, when necessary, are predictable and minimal, while dramatically reducing the amount of student debt facing Virginia families. Middle-class Virginia families directly benefit from this relief, as do those with high financial need.

To the extent that investments from this fund allow the university to address long-term excellence without using tuition, the net effect will be greater affordability and value – not for a year or two, but well into the future.

Bacon’s bottom line:

I have great respect for Bill Goodwin, the most successful Richmond businessman and philanthropist of his generation. And I have no question that he has the best interest of the University of Virginia at heart. But what seems clear, and this op-ed does nothing to dispel, is that his vision of UVa’s future is aligned with that of the UVa administration — not necessarily with that of its alumni or of parents paying ever-escalating tuition and fees.

Moreover, Goodwin’s op-ed never addresses Dragas’s charge that the board held a closed session in June, possibly illegally, to discuss the Strategic Investment Fund or that university officials implored board members not to mention the meeting to legislators or the media. (For that matter, neither has the university department of public affairs. UVa’s stance seems to be one of ignoring the controversy in the hope that it will simply go away.)

There is a legitimate case to be made for the university’s strategic plan, which aims to vault UVa into the ranks of the Top 10 universities nationally by prioritizing the hiring of superstar faculty, the bolstering of R&D, the boosting of out-of-state students, and adoption of a high tuition/high aid financial model over curtailing tuition increases. (I don’t share that vision, but I concede that it is a legitimate viewpoint to have.) But there also is a legitimate case to be made for easing the tuition burden on Virginia families.

The University of Virginia is one of the most precious assets of the Old Dominion: The potential to gain admittance to UVa and enjoy an affordable, world-class education is one of the great blessings of living in this state. Executing and paying for the university’s transformative vision must achieve buy-in from stakeholders outside the university, such as tuition-paying parents, a state government that still provides substantial funding, and indeed the entire citizenry. If decisions are made without full openness and transparency, an inherently contentious process will become even more contentious.

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20 responses to “Goodwin Defends $2.3 Billion UVa Fund”

  1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    But Goodwin has no skin in the game. If he truly believed in what he is supporting, I’d like to see him turn his goals into measurable ones and put a few million at risk – if the goals are not met, he gives the money to UVA to reduce tuition.

    1. Indeed, like most government spending, no one has skin in the game, no one with any power. Why can’t public agencies incentivize employees to find savings, to spend smartly, to examine assiduously, as is done in private sector?

  2. Bacon has put it perfectly. Questions remain unanswered, and the BOV is looking in lock step with administration who devised this fund and its use. No refuge for Virginia families found here.

  3. JOHN BR Avatar

    To become one of the top 10 universities? By what measure? Not by student learning.

    As I said in a previous post, this is all about ego and bragging rights between “educators” who show off “their” universities while using other people’s money.

    And after spending the $2.3 billion, they will need even more $ to insure the continued support for their egos and bragging rights.

    1. This is why Dragas’s voice has been especially important. Not only will current staff rally around anything which elevates the school’s status, alumni will fiercely support anything which elevates the value of their diploma, their bragging rights as graduates. The constituents who are least served by the ratings chase are current & future students and their parents; they have no power in Charlottesville, so Dragas has been advocating on their behalf since 2012.

  4. CrazyJD Avatar

    You guys have it exactly right.

    I wonder how LarryG will spin this. We haven’t heard much from him on this topic after the s___ hit the fan.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      what s__ ?

      you know….. one can support something – strongly – without making it an “either / or .. my way or your way” proposition.

      you don’t have to make enemies of everyone – to be in support of something unless of course that’s what you want to do to start with.

  5. The fact he didn’t address those things should tell you he is guilty.

  6. LarrytheG Avatar

    Dragas “voice” could have ALWAYS been in SUPPORT of things without having to make those things the enemies of the status quo.

    Good change evolves…transforms… moves by concurrence and agreement – not by insisting it has to be one particular way by a minority of people who essentially demonize the majority..

    so the President and all the staff, faculty, and now the BOV are all enemies of the change that Dragas seeks – because that’s the way she has purposely structured it.

    you can’t win like that – and even if you could – it would be more destructive than constructive…

    This is a problem with how folks think now days when they get frustrated with our institutions – and I’m NOT defending UVA – their actions are not exactly the best either but people respect (and will support) other people who fight for reform WITHOUT making enemies of everyone on the way….

    Remember Dragas original complaint ? That Sullivan and UVA were not thinking strategically and needed to be replaced because they were not?

    does not sound a little like the current theme? i.e. the administration is wrong – let’s burn it down?

    1. I don’t share your view of Dragas as black & white, my way or burn it down, but in any case, I have to correct your telling of original complaint about Sullivan: after repeated requests for strategic plan and some reports of academic quality, the BOV tired of having nothing delivered. They received precious little in the way of reporting about the school’s status other than abysmal patient care quality reports from Med Ctr. In the absence of something, anything, questions arose around MOOCs which other schools were developing. Eventually, they concluded that Sullivan had forgotten, overlooked the fact that she answers to them, and took her skimpy reporting as a job performance failure. This came out gradually in the time intervening since the immediate crisis, but couldn’t be discussed candidly because one can’t do public job performance evals.

      This issue now is a call for the administration to be forthright about its methods for amassing and its intention about spending money that caught most of its supervisors by surprise. Those who weren’t surprised in June included Goodwin, who months earlier demanded an explanation for these funds under threat of bringing in his own accountant–but he was surprised as recently as few months ago.

  7. LarrytheG Avatar

    Lift – what happened to the MOOC and other strategic concerns?

    was progress made in those areas?

    at that time – was affordable tuition also an issue?

    I just see the way that Dragas works – and has worked in the past – as not finding ways to go forward… but rather throw-down contests against the administration…

    and the fact the BOV is no longer with her – speaks volumes.

    1. You are right on target, Larry. She was sincere, I think, but confrontational to a fault. And not very perceptive of the clues she must have heard long before the crucial board presentation. Haven’t they been talking about the big jump in tuition charges for a while now? Hasn’t anyone on the BOV taken a hard look before now at the resources available to avoid as much of those increases as possible? Why does Dragas suddenly wake up to all this “slush fund” money on her very last day on the BOV, and just as suddenly realize that resources she’s been looking at for several years can be allocated to different purposes? Come now, Jim, at least give the current Rector credit for seeing through the fog long ago, as noted by Lift. Maybe the whole problem here is that only Dragas thought this ball was being hidden from view; that the rest of the BOV was not the least mislead and doesn’t share the outrage over “secrecy.”

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        Alright – I’ll give “sincere” but “sincere” is pretty inadequate compared to the continuing carnage that seems to have been the primary product of her efforts. I see no positive results.

        You don’t fire the President – as a way of convincing others that MOOC and other strategic initiatives and changes need to be pursued – when those tactics were pretty much rejected by not only staff and faculty but the public and ultimately the BOV AND the supposed changes needed just disappeared… later… never to be brought up again…..

        What happened after that initial fail? Where is Dragas and MOOC now?

        Did she – mend fences, regain support from the BOV, engage others – expand the number of people who wanted change? Did she continue to articulate the changes needed and involve others, gain support, expand the movement for change?

        Contrast her approach to Michelle A. Rhee’s efforts at reforming DC schools or Arne Duncan or even William Bennett – all – who fervently believed in change but endured to expand support – rather than targeting people and institutions as the bad guys standing in the way of change that one person wants.

        She still has opportunity to do that -to be a enduring catalyst for real change rather end up being remembered primarily as a one woman wrecking squad – “opponent” of UVA.

        we’re going to find out and I’m willing to reassess my view if it turns out that she IS going to continue her efforts to address college affordability in Va. A nice Op-Ed to that effect would be a plus.

        Or is she headed to other pastures and the folks who want change go looking for another “leader” to “battle” UVA?

        If Dragas was NOW going to give a speech at Va Tech or William and Mary – what would she talk about? How bad UVA is?

        In the end are her supporters truly after substantiative change not only at UVA but for affordability of all students of higher ed in Va or are they just frustrated with the UVA administration and that is their real focus?

      2. Acbar, I’m less concerned whether Dragas felt she was left in the dark regarding UVa’s intentions than I am about whether the public was left in the dark. We can argue all day about Dragas’s intelligence, perspicuity and ability to put two and two together. What can’t be argued is that the public knew nothing about the $2.3 billion fund until Dragas revealed its existence.

        Regarding the public’s ignorance, I can suggest two possible explanations. One is that the administration gave a full and clear explanation of what it was doing to the full board (as, say, VDOT does for a major transportation project to the Commonwealth Transportation Board) and that both Drags and the media covering the meeting were too obtuse to pick up on it, or that the board deliberately withheld information, knowing that it would be controversial.

        Given the possibly illegal discussion that took place in the closed session, I am inclined to the latter explanation.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          is there an implication here that William H. Goodwin Jr. – per your two possibilities:

          1. been kept in the dark like the public

          2. or he is now part of a possible illegal discussion?

          This is the problem with accepting only Dragas view as the truth – what does that say about Goodwin?

          either he’s a gullible chump or part of a conspiracy?

  8. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: ” … but couldn’t be discussed candidly because one can’t do public job performance evals.”

    geeze Lift – they FIRED HER – how public is that!

    and ”
    Those who weren’t surprised in June included Goodwin, who months earlier demanded an explanation for these funds under threat of bringing in his own accountant–but he was surprised as recently as few months ago.”

    so what happened since then that he’s now okay? what changed his mind – but not Dragas?

    1. No, LarrytheG, the didn’t FIRE HER, they requested her resignation for reasons which weren’t made public because that would be like having your job performance review held at The Public Square.

      My point about Goodwiu is that even the Rector had trouble getting a straight answer from the U about these funds. Once he got the answer, he did not share with the public nor the rest of BOV, but rather lined up with the administration in planning how to use it. And how to keep it secret until they were ready to reveal it later this year. I’m sure that Goodwin is well-intentioned and believes that the plan they’ve got will enhance the school The issue is simply that such a small handful of current personalities should not control $2.3B.

      In yesterday’s RTD piece he doubles down on the falsehood that “All of this, by the way, has occurred in the bright light of day, during meetings open to the public.” I’ve looked at minutes from the Feb meeting, in which a vote was taken on making a $1M grant, with no explanation that this was of the $2.3B pool and part of the Strategic Initiative Fund. And he continues the PR craft which is that a very small handful of people are taking care of things for the rest of us.

      Getting an explanation from the fox about what went on in the hen house isn’t getting us anywhere. I’m hoping that the legislators will be able to scratch into input from other BOV members and through some independent verification of how the shift of so much money held for one purpose was processed and then moved to another very different purpose.

      1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
        Reed Fawell 3rd

        Well said. And on target.

  9. Yet another Richmond crony capitalist plutocrat with a Donald Trump haircut who thinks that laws are for the little people. Isn’t he the empty suit who claims that UVA will be in the top 1o of US universities within 10 years if we only let him splash this slush fund where ever he and his crony friends care to do so? Has anybody considered the practicality of such a drunken boast?

    This is the typical Virginia clown show on crack. Secret funds, illegal meetings, absurd claims … all financed on the backs of Virginia’s middle class. Typical pig sty behavior.

    Jack the BoV into lie detector machines like every other petty criminal in Virginia. If they pass they go about their business. If they fail they get removed from the BoV and prosecuted.

    If a poor kid in Richmond can spend time in jail for stealing a $1,000 car then a bunch of rich cronies from Richmond can spend some time in jail for falsifying the agenda of a board meeting.

    If they lied they need to be prosecuted. Period.

  10. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    A half dozen times I have tried to read the Rector’s Washington Post defense of UVA’s newly discovered 2.4 Billion Dollar Slush Fund.

    Despite my best efforts to learn something, the Rector’s gaudy but shallow defense of this covert maneuver of $2.3 Billion remains impenetrable to logic, common sense, and/or good business or governance of public monies and trust. In short his defense never touches bottom, or even approaches it. Indeed it avoids the issues like they be a plague and so locks them away ever tighter.

    Will these tactics work?

    Many rhetorical tactics have been successfully deployed over the ages to create the “impenetrable defense” that has worked to achieve its aim. This is because obfuscation, not truth, is the aim of the impenetrable defense. And remember that truth is ever illusive, particularly so when cant descends from high places to overwhelm the ill informed and the great mass of us who far too often are disinterested folk.

    Hence the impenetrable defense typically and far too often wins by simple default in matters great and small. For all but a few of us, ignorance and/or disinterest rules the day for the great advantage of those few of us who thus operate by arrogance and false sense of privilege. Hence the many variants of and rewards for the few who deploy the impenetrable defense against the many.

    For example:

    Mumbo-jumbo gaudily dressed as scholarship. This typically is the Professor Erwin Cory routine, the bonus academic poseur sold as comedy. Here is the best use of the impenetrable defense, a satire that exposes sham for what it is. Thus it is intended to alert the otherwise unwary.

    Another generic tactic is the illusion of depth that in fact leads nowhere, yet is cleverly disguised to impart the impression that the author is far smarter and far more informed and wise than the reader. The poseur’s hope or expectation here is that the reader’s insecurities, when confronted with the impenetrable defense, will simply fold, acquiesce to higher authority. This too often occurs for many reasons built within the human psyches of us followers. Our rationales are as endless, as our fears and desires. So many will conclude that they truly understand and appreciate the deep truths revealed within the utter nonsense of their leaders. Many others of us will simply stop reading the revealed truth given that we are unable or unwilling to pay the price that full and complete revelation demands. This reaction can be legitimate. James Joyce’s Ulysses waits on the library shelves of the few who will by determined effort grow into the capacity to appreciate it, while unfortunately most of us will gladly use Joyce’s Ulysses as a prop to project the image of learning on us or as a mask for us to hide behind. The great majority of such books, however, are frauds themselves. Frauds from start to finish however they may be cleverly disguised by such techiques as the impenetrable defense. Take Dos Kapital, for example. Its baloney rides on a sea of cant, angst, anger and non sequitur that killed off generations of us before a few of us woke up to expose it to common sense.

    My take on the Rector’s Washington Post defense of UVA’s newly discovered 2.4 Billion Dollar Slush Fund is another variant. In my view it rides on a sea of platitudes and conclusions that together ride on nothing at all. Beneath those platitudes and conclusion, I see within the four corners of the defense, no facts, no history, no narrative, no logic and no analysis, just debris floating in the air. By debris I mean a cloud of bald and unsubstantiated assertions that defy common sense, reason, logic or truth, and that instead rest solely on arrogance, and a false sense of unearned Privilege.

    In my opinion this sort of defense insults the reader.

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