House reappoints embattled Board rector
The Virginia House of Delegates officially reconfirmed University Rector Helen Dragas Tuesday afternoon, ending a drawn-out debate and officially awarding the embattled leader another four years on the Board of Visitors with a 63-33 vote.
Despite significant opposition from within the University community, Dragas has received steady political support throughout the three-part reconfirmation process. Gov. Bob McDonnell announced June 29 he would reappoint Dragas, and the Senate voted 29-9 in favor of reconfirmation last week.
Shortly before the Senate vote, Student Council unanimously passed a resolution urging the Virginia Assembly to block the reappointment, citing a general lack of trust in Dragas and the Board following the botched ouster of University President Teresa Sullivan last summer.
“I think it’s important that we work now to restore the image of the University after the events of the summer and I fully believe both the Student Council and President [Teresa] Sullivan have made this a top priority,” said Neil Branch, Council vice president for organizations. Branch drove to Richmond last Friday to speak against Dragas’ reappointment at a House subcommittee meeting.
“I think if Dragas makes serious efforts to meet with [Council] and shows sincerely that she regrets her actions, then this University will continue to move forward,” Branch said.
Council’s resolution also commended state legislators who took a stand against Dragas’ reconfirmation, including Del. Steve Landes, R-Albemarle, and Del. David Toscano, D-Charlottesville, both of whom took the floor to speak against Dragas Tuesday.
“If we simply should rubber stamp all recommendations of the governor, why should he even submit them to us in the first place?” Del. Toscano said before the House. “In point of fact, we rarely overturn the governor’s recommendations. But if any situation called out for a rejection, this is it.”
Both Landes and Toscano have previously noted the issue of Dragas’ reappointment as an overwhelming concern for constituents, all of whom hail from the greater Charlottesville area. Still, Toscano emphasized that this is far from being a local issue.
“You should care because your constituents want to send their children and grandchildren to U.Va.,” he told his fellow delegates. “Maintaining its quality is important to them.”
The weeks leading up to confirmation vote were also filled with lobby groups speaking out, many in favor of Dragas spending another four years with the University. Notably, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a non-profit group that advocates for strong trustee involvement in higher education, offered strong praise for Dragas’ actions and harsh criticism for the University’s accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, when it placed the University on warning because of the Board’s actions.
Dragas was first appointed to the Board in 2008 by then-governor Tim Kaine. She was elected vice rector in 2010, and was named the first female rector in 2011.