The campus of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. (Photo by J. Lawler Duggan/For The Washington Post)

A longtime medical executive is quitting the University of Virginia’s governing board, with a parting blast at the university’s leadership over a decline in research funding and a recent tuition increase.

Edward D. Miller said Monday his resignation from the Board of Visitors will take effect June 30, a year

Edward D. Miller, a veteran medical executive, was named in 2012 to the University of Virginia Board of Visitors. (Photo courtesy of Miller and U-Va.) Edward D. Miller was named in 2012 to the University of Virginia Board of Visitors.
(Photo courtesy of Miller and U-Va.)

before his term was scheduled to end. Miller, who served 15 years as chief executive of Johns Hopkins Medicine and dean of the renowned Hopkins School of Medicine, said that he believes U-Va. is heading in the wrong direction on key issues and that his expertise was going to waste.

Since 2010, he said, annual research funding at U-Va. has declined $90 million. Data from U-Va. show that total research funding fell from $375 million in 2010 to $286 million in 2014. But the funding rose about $9 million from 2013 to 2014.

Miller said the funding decline was accompanied by a “precipitous slide” in specialty rankings in clinical medicine. “To date, no concrete action has been taken to address this issue,” he said.

U-Va. officials said research funding fell after 2010 for several reasons, including the end of federal stimulus spending and the beginning of the federal budget cuts known as sequestration.

On tuition, Miller derided a board decision on March 24 to raise in-state tuition and fees 11 percent for incoming freshmen — a key element in a plan to reduce borrowing requirements significantly for students in financial need. Miller was absent for that vote. Next school year, new students from Virginia will pay $14,468 for tuition and fees, not counting room and board, compared to the current price of $12,998. At the same time, the maximum debt U-Va. asks in-state students to incur for a bachelor’s degree will be reduced by $10,000 for those in financial need.

[Read about the tuition and financial aid plan.]

Year after year, Miller said, “I have implored the administration to put an end to tuition increases that mire Virginia’s students and families in a mountain of unnecessary debt.” He faulted the board for not giving the public more time to consider the tuition increase before it was enacted. And he contended that the university has not done enough to control costs.

“Looking at tuition alone without addressing other issues is simply poor business management,” Miller said. “A long-range plan is vital in order to understand the true financial status of the University, but the administration has failed to provide a viable one.”

As a critic of tuition increases, Miller has been seen as an ally of board member Helen E. Dragas. But others on the board have overwhelmingly backed the university’s tuition policy.

U-Va. officials say they do have a financial plan.

U-Va. Rector George Keith Martin, who leads the governing board, said the tuition plan “addresses student indebtedness head-on,” reducing the net price of a U.Va. education for many Virginia families. Martin said the university was “grateful” for Miller’s service on the board.

Martin also said that he formed a special board committee on research last year, reflecting the importance of the issue to the university. Miller is listed as chairman of that committee.

“The creation of knowledge through research remains a priority for the University of Virginia and an important part of its role of service to the Commonwealth, nation and world,” Martin said.

Teresa A. Sullivan, U-Va.’s president since 2010, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

Miller, 72, is an anesthesiologist with a long career in academic medicine. He was on the U-Va. medical faculty for several years in the 1970s and 1980s, among other positions. He was interim dean of medicine at Hopkins in 1996 and then became dean and chief executive of Johns Hopkins Medicine in 1997. He held those positions for 15 years and is now dean/CEO emeritus. He was named to a four-year term on the U-Va. board in 2012 by then-Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R).

Before Miller’s departure in June, the board faces a key issue: whether to extend Sullivan’s contract, and if so, on what terms. The public university, founded by Thomas Jefferson, is preparing to celebrate its bicentennial in 2019.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) has announced that Mark T. Bowles, a Richmond attorney with expertise in government relations and public affairs, will fill the vacancy on the board when Miller’s resignation takes effect. There are 17 voting members on the board and one student member. Brian Coy, a spokesman for McAuliffe, declined to comment on Miller’s statement.

Here is the full text of a statement from Miller about his resignation:

Though I have enjoyed the people I met and applaud the good work of many, I can no longer support the direction the University of Virginia’s leadership continues to pursue.  On March 15, 2015 I submitted a letter of resignation from The Board of Visitors to the Governor of Virginia, effective June 30, 2015.  It has been accepted.

I do not believe I have been able to bring any of my expertise in academia, health care, or research to the University.

Since I joined the Board, I have questioned the research funding declines that occur year after year. Since 2010 we have seen a $90 million decrease.  The University has fallen out of the top 50 institutions in NIH funding from number 21 several years ago.  And we have experienced a precipitous slide in specialty clinical rankings–but this information is kept hidden from the Board.  How can a University call itself a great research University when it ranks so low in the nation?  To date, no concrete action has been taken to address this issue.

And year after year, I have implored the administration to put an end to tuition increases that mire Virginia’s students and families in a mountain of unnecessary debt.  And no matter what anyone says, the latest decision to increase tuition by 23 percent over two years was not done in a transparent manner.  To have such a colossal tuition hike and the plan behind it presented at the very last moment to the entire Board and the public was totally unacceptable. I don’t understand why the faculty isn’t protesting this time. 

Looking at tuition alone without addressing other issues is simply poor business management. A long-range plan is vital in order to understand the true financial status of the University, but the administration has failed to provide a viable one.

With a nearly $6 billion dollar endowment and a faculty that can and should bring in more research dollars, we could have kept tuition and student aid at responsible levels.  Sadly, that did not happen, and the only thing the administration has done during my time on the Board of Visitors is mortgage a significant part of the Commonwealth’s academic future.

I join my colleague, Helen Dragas, and student groups in calling for the General Assembly to demand a reversal of this decision.

Higher education continues to believe it does not need to live in the real world.  For the sake of Virginians, it must.

Here is a response from George Keith Martin, who leads the board as rector of U-Va.:

 

The University is grateful for Ed Miller’s service on the Board of Visitors. My colleagues and I appreciated the expertise and guidance he brought to our discussions, particularly as they pertained to the University Medical Center and its operations, as well as our research enterprise. His expertise and insight provided value on these and many other issues.

The Board’s adoption of the Affordable Excellence financial model will ensure that the University of Virginia provides an affordable and excellent public education for the broadest possible set of students. This plan addresses student indebtedness head-on, reducing the maximum amount of student debt that qualifying Virginians will face by $10,000 as they earn a U.Va. degree. It offers options for predictability regarding tuition increases in future years.

For 70 percent of Virginia households, Affordable Excellence will reduce the net cost of a U.Va. education.

In addition, Affordable Excellence provides the framework for a multi-year financial plan for the University – the first such plan in U.Va. history. This framework includes key, conservative assumptions about state appropriations, increases the annual spending from the University endowment, recognizes and formalizes efforts to achieve operational efficiencies and savings, and restructures debt to create new revenue for operations.

As part of the Affordable Excellence model, the subcommittee also is recommending the establishment of a $1 billion endowment for need-based financial aid. This recommendation follows a period of strong philanthropic growth at U.Va., with support around key initiatives including need-based financial aid, the Rotunda and Academical Village, and the hiring of the next generation of excellent faculty.

Federal funding for research has increased by 4 percent in the first half of the current fiscal year, compared to the previous year. This follows an increase of 5 percent last year. These increases are attributable to critical new faculty hires, the success of new cross-Grounds research initiatives, and the intensification of efforts to further diversify funding sources.

Overall research funding experienced a series of declines in the 2010-2013 period, due mostly in part to the end of the federal stimulus funding, sequestration, and long-term reductions to key agencies such as the National Institutes for Health.

 In the summer of 2014, I established a new Special Committee on Research.  The creation of this Board committee reflects the important role of research to the University and the Board’s emphasis on maintaining our recent momentum. The creation of knowledge through research remains a priority for the University of Virginia and an important part of its role of service to the Commonwealth, nation and world.