Dragas comes under fire

University rector faces appointment affirmation this week following speculation, contention


The University’s accrediting body’s decision to place the University on warning for a year has reenergized a lobbying effort to block Dragas’ reappointment to the Board of Visitors.

University faculty, students, alumni and donors alike began appealing to state legislators to deny the Rector’s reappointment when the General Assembly reconvened Jan. 9. The Senate Privileges and Elections Committee is scheduled to recommend the confirmation or denial of her appointment Tuesday.

Gubernatorial appointments to the commonwealth’s university boards must be approved by both the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates. Typically, approval of these appointments is a mere formality. In Dragas’ case, however, approval will likely prove to be unusually contentious.

The rector rose to notoriety within the University community during the summer when she acted with fellow Board members to oust University President Teresa Sullivan, giving little indication why.

Less than two weeks after Sullivan’s reinstatement, Gov. Bob McDonnell chose to reappoint Dragas, eliciting public outcry.

Ranking State Sen. Janet Howell, D-Reston, said in a position paper emailed last month to constituents that she will lead an effort to deny Dragas’ reappointment.

“The universal and overwhelming response from these groups in opposition to the decision suggests that Rector Dragas and Board members had limited understanding of the University culture,” Howell said in the statement. “The process of their decision making was, thus, a failure of professional leadership.”

As a leading member of the Privileges and Elections Committee, which oversees approval of gubernatorial appointees, Howell’s statement is an early warning signal for the rector.

Dragas does not agree with Howell’s estimation of her leadership ability.

“We endeavored to respect the sensitivity and confidentiality of a personnel matter,” she said in an email. “I knew then — and even more keenly now — the many responsibilities of leadership, including the importance of responding to difficult issues and promoting a culture of inquiry, respect for diverse opinions and accountability.”

Area legislators gathered in mid-December in the Rotunda to discuss University governance issues and other topics, according to a University statement.

Two legislators — Del. David Toscano, D-Charlottesville, and Del. Stephen Landes, R-Weyers Cave — both said at the discussion that they plan to vote against Dragas’ reappointment. Landes is a member of the House Privileges and Elections Committee.

But two other attendees, Del. Rob Bell, R-Charlottesville, and Del. Mark Cole, R-Fredericksburg, both members of the House Privileges and Elections Committee, said they need more information before reaching a decision.

U.Va. Alumni for Corporate Governance, a group formed after McDonnell reappointed Dragas, has led the lobbying effort against her reinstatement to the Board.

The group released a lengthy background paper Aug. 4 and a Sept. 4 legislative brief providing an overview of the situation for state legislators.

Richard Marks, co-founder of the group, said there is a lot at stake in the General Assembly’s decision whether or not to reappoint Dragas.

“If Helen is confirmed and is in the position to serve another four year term, [the University] will be hurt,” Marks said. “There’s no question about it.”

An online petition to the Virginia General Assembly to block Dragas’ reappointment has already garnered close to 2,300 signatures.

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