U-Va. leadership debate simmers

The debate over the leadership upheaval last June at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville continues to simmer on at least two fronts.

The General Assembly in Richmond is heading toward final action on confirmation of U-Va. Rector Helen E. Dragas to continue as a member of the school’s governing board through June 2016. Dragas, you’ll recall, spearheaded the effort to force U-Va. President Teresa Sullivan to resign, then reversed her position to support Sullivan’s reinstatement after a campus uproar over the ouster.

The state Senate voted 29 to 9 on Monday to confirm the reappointment of Dragas to a seat on the board, my colleague Laura Vozzella reported. The dissenters were all Democrats. The matter now heads to a vote in the House of Delegates.

And late Wednesday, U-Va. made public an interesting letter from its accreditor, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, based in Decatur, Ga. SACSCOC, my colleague Jenna Johnson reported in December, had placed U-Va. on warning status for a year because of questions raised about the university’s governance in the wake of the June leadership struggle. No one expects the elite public flagship to lose accreditation, but the sanction was a public relations blow for the university nonetheless.


University of Virginia Rector Helen Dragas and Teresa Sullivan walk together from the president's residence to the Board of Visitors meeting at which Sullivan was reinstated last June. (Norm Shafer/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

For instance: “[P]rovide evidence that safeguards are in place that would prevent control by a minority of the board, or by organizations or interests separate from the Board.”

And: “The institution should demonstrate that it publishes policies on the responsbility and authority of faculty in academic and governance matters and that these policies are appropriately approved, implemented and enforced by the institution.”

The letter set a deadline of Sept. 9 to receive answers.

A U-Va. spokesman said the university “looks forward to preparing the report requested.”

No doubt many observers are looking forward to the answers.

Nick Anderson covers higher education for The Washington Post. He has been a writer and editor at The Post since 2005.

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