Curtain call

With a 63-33 House of Delegates vote, the Dragas drama closes its final act

The Dragas denouement has arrived. Earlier this month The Cavalier Daily predicted University Rector Helen Dragas would survive her confirmation process to serve another four years on the Board of Visitors. Tuesday, the Virginia House of Delegates proved us right. After gliding through the Virginia Senate with a 29-9 vote, Dragas’ confirmation won approval from the House, 63-33.

The University’s episode of boardroom intrigue began in June with an email. It ended with a vote. These acts of procedural blandness bookend torrents of emotion. From the start Dragas drew outcry and ire. Get her out, people cried; fire her. At one point it looked as if the rector would face the sentence she attempted to impose on University President Teresa Sullivan: expulsion from our community. Though Dragas held two degrees from the University and Sullivan zero, it was the Virginia Beach realtor who seemed like the outsider.

The summer’s frenzy of feeling is worth remembering. Populist pressure rallied behind a conservative cause. Thousands gathered on the Lawn clamoring for restoration, not revolution. Images of Sullivan, dressed in blue, marching down the Lawn thronged by supporters will remain part of the University’s folklore for some time. Confusion spurred the demonstrations. Anger and frustration gave them continued strength.

But emotions fizzled in the fall. A rally for transparency in September drew halfhearted attendance. The few who showed up at the Rotunda were the type that never miss a protest. Multiple forums and panels explored ways to heal the University. Talk of reconciliation rang out amid dark discussion of public higher education’s future. Some bandied about the term “moving forward” as if it meant something.

In June many students were active participants in the events that unfolded. We hollered and waved signs. The imposition of bureaucratic force left us remarkably empowered.

Since then most students have become spectators. We’ve watched the path to Dragas’ confirmation with mild interest. Now the show’s over. We had no catharsis.

This passivity has not been universal. Student Council on Jan. 18 passed a resolution condemning Dragas’ reappointment, and an online petition urging the General Assembly to block the rector’s confirmation garnered more than 2,400 signatures. But alumni, not current students, have fueled a disproportionate share of the anti-Dragas push. If students became disengaged even when they had an opportunity to fight the rector’s confirmation, is there any chance they’ll pay attention now that she’s secured a seat on the Board until July 2016?

Maybe students stopped fighting because they thought the rector’s confirmation was a done deal. An editorial by the previous managing board suggested Dragas was intertwined in a tangle of donors and political interests that made her confirmation all but inevitable. This view, however, is too cynical.

Thirty-three delegates voted against the rector’s reappointment. That’s a sizable chunk of dissenters for what is normally a rubber stamp.

It’s also possible that the dwindling of emotion on Grounds is a good thing. Dragas has been thoroughly vilified. Some attacks on her have crossed into incivility and poor taste. The level of notoriety she’s attained surpasses her original set of offenses—perhaps her last name lends itself too well to caricature.

Levelheadedness is commendable, but apathy is not. Council and a few others aside, undergraduate student disengagement leading up to the House vote suggests a lack of interest in the governing body that controls the University’s future. Students should perk up their ears rather than sit back idly as the curtain falls on the finale of what some call last summer’s “unpleasantness.” It’s time to revive some emotion about the University we care for.


Published January 30, 2013 in Opinion





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