Across the country, a growing number of governors and politically appointed governing boards have clashed with university presidents over their differing opinions on how public institutions should operate. Texas regents appointed by Gov. Rick Perry (R) have aggressively questioned faculty workloads, program offerings and tuition cost, leading to explosive clashes with the University of Texas at Austin’s president, William C. Powers Jr. North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) said in a radio interview this year that the state should focus on funding university programs that lead to jobs and not liberal arts courses pushed by the “educational elite.”
The U-Va. board has turned over since June, and some members directly involved with Sullivan’s ouster are gone. Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) has appointed 13 of the board’s 17 members.
He also reappointed Dragas last summer and said that her “serious critique of the challenges facing the university is a voice that must be heard.”
McDonnell has asked legislators to allocate more money to public universities, with an understanding that schools will keep tuition increases modest and curb administrative costs. Legislation passed in 2011 pushes colleges to create or enhance programs that could lead to more jobs, especially in the fields of science, technology, engineering, math and health care. It also calls for growing research, enrollment and graduation rates, plus providing “technology-enhanced instruction.”
At a training session for new board members in the fall, Secretary of the Commonwealth Janet Vestal Kelly told appointees that they are expected to embrace the governor’s higher-education priorities. McDonnell and his supporters made sacrifices and spent a lot of money for him to become governor, she said, and that allows them “to set the agenda.”
U-Va. has seen its state funding drop more than 50 percent since the early 1990s, when adjusting for inflation, according to university data.
Still, Virginia lawmakers have maintained — and some would say ramped up — oversight of their public universities. Legislation has prompted U-Va. to increase its enrollment and cap the number of out-of-state or international students. The school’s tuition has dramatically increased in the past decade. Several years brought tuition increases of 8 or 9 percent, although the latest increase was less than 4 percent. In coming years, U-Va. plans for increases of about 3 or 4 percent, according to the financial plan.
U-Va. officials also hope to expand their use of “differential tuition,” charging higher rates for certain majors. U-Va. already charges commerce students a higher rate, and engineering and nursing students in advanced classes pay a per-credit-hour fee.
“We are trying to keep the undergraduate base tuition as low as possible for both in-state and out-of-state,” Hogan said. “We’re in a different day now where you have to have a more sophisticated tuition model to really address the diversity of course offerings, diversity of degrees and, again, the cost of delivering those things.”
Affordability is sometimes a prickly topic at board meetings. Sullivan has begun to tout that Princeton Review named U-Va. the nation’s “best value” public university. Most presidents of prestigious universities avoid giving any public credibility to the ranking industry.
At a February board meeting, Sullivan said: “We have earned this best-in-the-nation value ranking at a time when value seems to be the most critical yardstick by which colleges and universities are measured.”