This is a crucial moment for the University of Virginia. Many readers of this blog (particularly academics) will be familiar with the deplorable actions of Helen Dragas, the university’s current Rector and the prime mover behind the misguided effort to oust President Teresa Sullivan last summer. Since the events of June 2012, a steady stream of new information about the rector’s peculiar actions has come to light, including a tranche of e-mails that suggest her attempt to covertly manipulate students and faculty into publicly supporting her position (I wrote about several of these e-mails in September in a piece for the Chronicle of Higher Education that you can find here).
Over the next few weeks, the Virginia General Assembly in Richmond will be considering whether to confirm Governor Robert McDonnell’s June reappointment of Dragas to the position of Rector (along with the appointments or reappointments of other Visitors). The General Assembly meets annually, beginning on the second Wednesday of January–exactly one week from today. Though students don’t return to classes until January 14, the time is now to put as much pressure as possible on the legislature to block Dragas’s reappointment.
If you haven’t already, please sign and circulate the change.org petition, “The Virginia General Assembly: Block the Confirmation of Helen Dragas,” created by Suzie McCarthy, a current UVa student. The petition has about 2100 supporters as of this writing but should have ten times that by the opening of the General Assembly next week. There was an informative piece about the petition in The Huffington Post just before the holidays that you can read here. Advocacy groups like Reform the UVA BOV and Hoos University have been posting about the issue, and an editorial by UVa. Alumni for Responsible Corporate Governance appeared in last Friday’s Washington Post.
The most important thing you can do as an individual is to make contact through as many channels as possible (phone, e-mail, social media) with your state representatives, both your delegate and your senator–and while you’re at it, you might as well contact other delegates and senators as well. The state government reopens today following the winter holidays. Phones are being answered (in district offices if not yet in Richmond), messages are being checked, and members are communicating with their staffs.
Here is a list of state Senators, and here is a list of members of the House of Delegates. As you’ll see when you click on the names, you can find full contact information, including phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and in some cases Twitter feeds. If you want to find your own delegate or senator (or help a friend, family member, etc., find his or hers) you can look here.
Be aware that Dragas is doing intense lobbying on her own behalf, as this piece from the Hampton Roads Pilot makes clear:
Meanwhile, Dragas is not taking the opposition lying down. Five senior members of the Senate and House Privileges and Elections committees – the panels charged with vetting gubernatorial appointments – told The Virginian-Pilot this week they have met with Dragas at her request. Dragas confirmed that she has been reaching out to lawmakers. ”I’m listening as much as I’m talking,” she said. “And I’ve been pleased to find that many of them share an awareness of the challenges facing higher education, especially in terms of funding, quality and service delivery. I know they all share the same abiding commitment that I have to Virginia and to U.Va.”
Some legislators have come out against the reappointment. Kudos to Senator Janet Howell (D) of Fairfax County and Del. Steve Landis (R) of Augusta County, both of whom will oppose Dragas’s bid for another term as Rector.
Others, though, remain on the fence. Let me name four members in particular to target, two of whom were featured in this story, which covered a public forum on the issue in December:
Del. Rob Bell, R-Albemarle, didn’t take any position on Dragas. “I don’t want to make any snap judgments,” he said. Sen. Bryce E. Reeves, R-Spotsylvania, said he was taking a similar tack to Bell’s. “I don’t know all the facts and circumstances,” he said.
I don’t see how we can possibly know more “facts and circumstances” relevant to Dragas’s suitability for her position than we already do, and the months that have passed since the attempted ouster of Sullivan certainly have rendered more than enough considered evaluations of her conduct to ease any worries about “snap judgments.” But we should take these elected officials at their word: they probably haven’t paid as much attention to the issue as they will in the coming weeks, and one of the things we can do is help educate them about the extent of the outrage among faculty, students, alumni, and concerned citizens more broadly. Delegate Rob Bell’s office number is (434)245-8900; his e-mail is DelRBell@house.virginia.gov, and his Twitter handle is @delrobbell. Bryce Reeves’s phone number is (540)645-8440; his e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and he Tweets at @reevesva.
Two other undecideds are Del. Tim Hugo (R-Fairfax County), who stated that Dragas “made a good case for her reappointment” when she met with him recently; and Sen. Jeff McWaters (R-Virginia Beach), who said that Dragas is ”the governor’s appointment, and I’m not going to be second-guessing him.” Tim Hugo’s district office number is 703.968.4101; he Tweets at @timhugo. McWaters can be reached at 757-965-3700 (email@example.com), and he Tweets at @jeffmcwaters.
A few dozen Tweets to these four legislators would do an enormous amount to send a strong message to them about the issue, so if you’re on Twitter do please click on the links above and tweet away.
One final thought. Please emphasize when you do contact these representatives that this is not a partisan, left-right issue. Dragas was appointed to state boards by Mark Warner, and to the Board of Visitors by Tim Kaine, both Democrats. Yet while a NO vote on Dragas’s reappointment seems like a no-brainer to everyone I know, there are serious political considerations for Democrats and Republicans alike in defying a popular sitting governor on something that may seem low stakes to many members compared to other issues facing the Commonwealth. Let’s take the example of Mark Obenshain (R), who is running for Attorney General. He’s a vocal friend of the Tea Party. But there’s no reason Obenshain (who tweets at @markobenshain) should support the reappointment of a Rector who has acted so recklessly on issues of corporate responsibility and managerial oversight.
The problem with Dragas is not that she’s a conservative; the problem is that she’s the wrong kind of radical. On this the left and the right should be able to agree!
Thanks for reading.
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