Embattled U-Va. rector facing opposition to reappointment

December 20, 2012

Helen Dragas, the head of the University of Virginia’s governing board, visited Richmond this month to lobby the lawmakers who will decide whether she will keep her job after spearheading the ouster of the college’s president this summer.

Rector Helen Dragas met with Sen. Janet Howell (D) on Dec. 3, according to a letter from Howell to her constituents, which was provided to the Washington Post on Thursday. Howell, a ranking member of the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee, said she will be “actively opposing” Dragas’ reappointment to the Board of Visitors.

“We had a frank conversation,” Howell said in the letter. “It is my conclusion that [Dragas] does not comprehend the damage done to the University of Virginia, nor does she accept responsibility beyond having poorly managed the President’s removal.”

U-Va. President Teresa Sullivan was removed in June, but was reinstated days later amid protests from faculty and students.

Dragas said Thursday night that she has apologized several times “for the way in which the matter was handled.” She added that she and U-Va. President Teresa Sullivan and the board “have moved forward aggressively and collegially in leading U.Va. forward.”

Dragas, a Virginia Beach home builder, was first appointed by Democratic Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, who supported her return to the board during the crisis. Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) reappointed Dragas to another term later that month.

The committee is set to vote in January on whether to confirm Dragas’ reappointment. In her letter, Howell outlines her reasons for opposing Dragas’ continued service on the board, saying that Dragas’ handling of Sullivan’s ouster was a “failure of professional leadership” and that as rector, Dragas should “accept the consequences.”

Howell went on to say that she does not feel the University of Virginia can move past the events of last summer with Dragas at the helm of the Board of Visitors.

The incident prompted the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to issue a rare, one-year warning to U-Va., though it is unlikely the move will result in loss of accreditation.

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