Better late than never

Student Council deserves praise for finally addressing the question of Helen Dragas’ reappointment

The Virginia State Senate Monday approved Rector Helen Dragas’ reappointment to the Board of Visitors, 29-9. But days before, west of Richmond, a typically timid representative body took a stand against the politically influential condo developer’s reappointment. After tabling a resolution against Dragas at an ill-managed meeting last Tuesday, Student Council overcame its inertia to voice an overdue opinion on the question of the rector’s reappointment.

Dragas still awaits a vote in the House of Delegates. Her confirmation, however, seems a done deal. A margin of 20 votes in a 40-person Senate is substantial. The anti-Dragas camp at the Capitol may have capsized into capitulation, but at Council we tip our caps. By calling an emergency session and passing a resolution Friday rather than waiting until this Tuesday’s meeting, Council was able to make a public statement before Dragas’ confirmation prospects went from likely to nearly inevitable.

A few leaders in Council — chief among them Vice President for Organizations Neil Branch, a third-year Batten student who sponsored the resolution petitioning the General Assembly to reject Dragas’ reappointment — helped the body propel past its usual hesitant hand-wringing. Though few students attended the special session in Newcomb Hall, thousands chimed in online in a survey emailed Thursday to all schools that had resumed classes. Of 1,194 College of Arts & Sciences student respondents, 88.1 percent said they were opposed to Dragas returning to the Board.

The poll had its problems. The online survey was insecure and did not ask for respondents’ computing IDs. Thus, students could have submitted multiple responses to slant the results. And given the short turnaround, students who felt more strongly about Dragas’ confirmation might have made up the bulk of the respondents — which is, to be fair, a response bias present in nearly any democracy. Voting is a choice.

But the poll isn’t the point. Admirable as it is that Council sought to assess student opinion quantitatively, the survey’s main consequence was to combat the organization’s internal paralysis. Representatives who begged off voting last week, saying they didn’t know how their constituents felt, were left stuttering in the face of empirical data.

Friday’s vote had two abstentions. One, from Representative Body Chair Alex Reber, a fourth-year Engineering student, was procedural. The other shows a flaw in procedure: the tactic of abstaining to dodge a decision. Given how much time representatives had to evaluate their own convictions and those of their constituents — not to mention the raw data Council collected from students — an abstention was not appropriate. If College Rep. John Woolard, a third year, disagreed with the resolution, he should have voted no.

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