We have a new story online about a showdown coming in the Virginia General Assembly over whether to keep Helen E. Dragas on the University of Virginia's Board of Visitors. A vote is expected as early as Tuesday in a state Senate committee.
Dragas became an object of scorn in many quarters on campus and around the state after the implosion of her attempt to oust U-Va. president Teresa Sullivan. But she retains some strong political support.
Her custom is generally to answer reporters’ questions via e-mail. I sent her a few for my story on the coming action in the legislature over whether to confirm her appointment to the governing board for a four-year term. Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) made the appointment last summer. Here is the full Q & A.
The Washington Post: There is certainly support for you in the legislature, but there is also some sharp opposition. Usually these confirmation votes are quick and easy. Are you worried that the division in the legislature and the continued criticism of you on campus will impede your ability to lead should you be confirmed?
Dragas: Since June, the Board of Visitors and the President have forged a constructive and productive partnership. Even amidst some dissent, we’ve made real progress -- setting tighter fiscal controls, launching a thoughtful strategic planning process, opening Board decision-making and requiring more regular and more transparent quarterly presidential progress reviews. We can certainly continue to move forward, and, hopefully, we can do so with everyone’s renewed commitment to contribute to U.Va and its future.
Post: What do you think is at stake in this vote?
Dragas: What’s at stake in many ways is the ability of independent boards to press for answers, a critical component of successful governance that has served the Commonwealth well for over 200 years.
We need diverse perspectives and the determination to ask appropriate questions. We should be able to ask how effectively students are learning, how responsibly resources are invested, and what long-range plans are in place to serve students and patients. Solid answers may exist, but, either way, independent volunteer boards must be encouraged to wrestle with critical, complex issues.
Post: What have you done to try to answer legislators’ concerns?
Dragas: I have appreciated the opportunity to interact with many legislators and forthrightly explain my convictions and my passion to serve U.Va. Most also share my interest in exploring issues and finding new solutions for sustainable funding, academic quality, affordability and educational content delivery.
Post: Is this a fight worth winning? By that, I mean even if you win, the story of last summer gets talked about again and again. Why go through that, personally for yourself and collectively for the university ?
Dragas: As I noted, our state relies upon independent voices who diligently pursue the tough questions. Higher education is integral to our families, our economy and our global competitiveness. I believe in the work. I also believe that even these disagreements can be channeled into positive improvements, as proven by the Board and President’s accomplishments this last half year.
Post: Lastly, do you have a reply to critics who say that your presence on the board is an impediment to “healing” after the crisis?
Dragas: We all make choices. When the Board reinstated the President, it also rededicated itself to forging a stronger, more effective partnership with her administration. We have looked forward, not back. Those who have continued the controversy point to the echoes of their own words as evidence of a two-way confrontation and to their unwillingness to compromise as proof of a deadlock. Neither exists. My hope, and if I am confirmed, my aim, will be to reach out to all those who love U.Va. and find common ground to build upon for the betterment of the University.