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Posted at 12:13 PM ET, 01/17/2013

Virginia’s elite rescues Helen Dragas


Call it the rehabilitation of Helen E. Dragas.

Dragas, the head of the Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia, got into a big mess last spring when she tried and failed to oust popular university President Teresa Sullivan.

After a national embarrassment, the reappointment of Dragas, a politically influential construction firm owner from Virginia Beach, seemed on the line. But as The Post’s Robert McCartney points out, the state’s cosmic forces are lining up to keep her, albeit with a slap on the wrist.


University of Virginia Rector Helen E. Dragas. (Mark Gormus - Associated Press)
McCartney points out, “She’s a member, or at least a close associate, of an elite group of top business-friendly politicians and corporate executives who often guide the state’s affairs — and they take care of their own.”

Spot on. Dragas was first appointed by Sen. and then-Gov. Tim Kaine and has been actively supported in her trials by Sen. Mark Warner. Both are Democrats, the party favored by Dragas in her political donations. Republican Gov. Robert F. McDonnell went along by not canning her last summer when her botched effort at dismissing Sullivan brought the school unwanted attention.

Virginia has long been ruled by an oligarchy of lawyers, bankers and business people. Their locus had been Richmond, but it has migrated more to Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads as population movement and businesses shift their focus.

One would think that Virginia might grow beyond this traditional and typically Southern model, but apparently it hasn’t. For evidence, take a look at U.Va.’s current board.

Almost everyone is a business person of some sort. I count four lawyers from powerful state firms, a New York area financier, a Texas beer distributor, a coal industry veteran and developers. There’s also a student member, the dean of Johns Hopkins Medical School and the former president of James Madison University.

Contrast that with Harvard University’ Board of Overseers and the picture gets a lot more interesting. There are business people and lawyers, to be sure. But there’s also a writer-in-residence from Yale, a concert violinist and professor, distinguished biographers and journalists, and even an astronaut.

It seems obvious that Harvard’s board might have a broader vision than the strictly-business views at Mr. Jefferson’s University. That’s a shame, because one of Dragas’s initiatives was to reassess and perhaps dismantle some of her university’s strengths, such as teaching the classics and non-mainstream foreign languages.

Big Business wants more engineers and researchers. With Dragas on the way to rehabilitation, the University of Virginia is hardly out of the woods.

Peter Galuszka blogs at Bacon’s Rebellion. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

By  |  12:13 PM ET, 01/17/2013

 
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