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Wanted: teamwork and transparency
UVa reforms are being stymied by a high-handed rector and an aversion to open governance.
Wednesday, March 6, 2013
The University of Virginia must tuck past controversies into the pages of its own history book and move forward. That will happen only if each member of its board of visitors takes personal responsibility for restoring public trust in the school’s governance.
A report in The Washington Post last week warns that lingering antagonisms continue to distract. The Post cited email exchanges in which President Teresa Sullivan and Rector Helen Dragas clashed over policy and operational goals.
Some board members recognize the need for an open process that communicates their shared goals and how they plan to achieve them, thus avoiding internal and external misunderstandings.
Unfortunately, there is not unanimity on this point. Richmond businessman Bill Goodwin, a new appointee, told The Post he blames bad publicity on the state sunshine law requirement that the board meet in public.
Goodwin and his colleagues must understand that they are not running their own company, but instead are entrusted with oversight of the commonwealth’s flagship university. It is a public institution belonging to all Virginians, alumni and taxpayers alike, and they have every right to demand transparency.
Key to UVa’s success in rebuilding public support will be the incoming rector, Richmond attorney George Keith Martin. Board colleagues express confidence that he will be a more collaborative leader than the divisive and headstrong Dragas.
But board members cannot wait and hope for the future to heal festering wounds. Dragas’ term as rector extends through June, and she will continue to serve on the board afterward. Her colleagues must insist on procedures for giving direction to the president that curb Dragas’ apparently uncontrollable urge to micromanage.
Dragas is a smart women who should by now recognize her limits. Her maneuvers to oust Sullivan last year without a public vetting backfired, and the president was reinstated. Yet in the aftermath of that debacle, Dragas fired off a letter to Sullivan assigning her a list of 65 goals. After Sullivan complained, board members wisely met last month and pared that list down to broader strategic directives.
Faculty members expressed concern to The Post that proposed reforms have been slow to materialize. Internal friction yields inertia.
Regardless of who is to blame, it will take a group effort to get UVa out of its rut. Surely there are team players on the board willing to embrace that challenge.
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