Other Shoe Prepares to Drop In in C’ville

It’s been two weeks since I first posted “Strange Doings at UVA” which remarked on the unexpected resignation of President Theresa Sullivan.

What a week it’s been.  After multiple meetings and non-explanations, the Board of Visitors seems primed to finally do the right thing, i.e. by rescinding its ”termination” and reinstating President Sullivan (assuming she wants to come back).

Once that’s done, the Governor should request the resignation of the entire Board and start fresh.  Meanwhile, the next Assembly should reform the current system of higher education.  Here are a few needed reforms:

1.  Reduce the numbers.  The current Boards are too numerous, which simply leaves all the power in the hands of a few committed people.

2.  Require professionalism.  Currently, Board membership is reserved for high-level political donors.  Going forward, all members should be required to undergo training and spend a minmum amount of time on campus.  They should receive a stipend.

3.  Standardize performance.  The Board should have an executive committee which measures the performance of college Presidents based upon objective measures such as financial health, fundraising, national ranking, job placement, etc.  The public should be allowed to participate in the evaluations.

4.  Term Limits at the Top.  While I support President Sullivan, I personally think that the “President for Life” model at our universities is a mistake.  (name your example).  Presidents that are in office too long exert too much influence on the Board.   The President of the U.S. is capped at eight years.

We need independent Boards for our state institutions.  There has to be some institutional control.  But we can’t keep appointing people just because they laid down a five-figure check at a cocktail party for Governor X.








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  • DJRippert

    “Meanwhile, the next Assembly should reform the current system of higher education.”.

    “We need independent Boards for our state institutions.”.

    You simultaneously propose that the General Assembly be responsible for reform of the higher education system but should then disavow any participation in managing that reform process once it has been decided by the GA.

    Dear Lord. That’s like writing the playbook for a football team and then throwing the playbook over the wall to a coaching team who did not participate in its development. As the season unfolds, the playbook writers simply look down from Mt Olympus and wonder why the coaches can’t turn the theoretical perfection of a static playbook into an undefeated season.

    Chap – you and your friends in the GA are either responsible for our public colleges and universities or you are not. You cannot “reform the current system” and then wash your hands of the inevitable challenges and “course corrections” that will be required to implement that reform.

    Throughout the current UVA debacle it has been obvious that our elected representatives have no earthly idea as to the status of our flagship public university. Is UVA facing an “existential crisis” or not? I have yet to hear even one of our elected officials comment on that simple question. While the BoV members are appointed by the governor, they are confirmed by the General Assembly. So, where is McDonnell? Where is our State Secretary of Education – Laura Fornash? Where are the 22 delegates on the House of Delegates Education Committee? Where are the 15 state senators on the Senate Education and Health Committee?

    Our state legislature loves to wrap itself in the cloak of higher education. Thirty seven members of our 140 person General Assembly claim to be involved in the oversight of public education. The Governor has a cabinet level directorate with the following mission:

    “The Education Secretariat provides guidance to the 16 public universities, the Virginia Community College System, five higher education and research centers, the Department of Education, the state-supported museums.”.

    Yet a fiasco can erupt at UVA without a single member of our state government making a single sensible statement as to whether UVA faces an “existential crisis” or not.

    You and your colleagues in Richmond need to “man up” on the question of higher education. What is the situation? What should be done? What will it cost? If more money is required, from where will it come? Which elected officials have accountability for the effective implementation of reform plans?

    If the higher education system in Virginia is really in dire need of reform – how did our elected officials miss that point until two weeks ago?

    Reform thyself, General Assembly.

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  • MK

    I know that you mentioned the need for independent boards, but until that happens, I do not see a problem with the idea of a president exerting too much influence over the Board of Visitors. Board members now are rich lawyers and businesspeople — folks who know nothing about academic management and everything about supporting the right candidate for governor. If it comes down to a strong president/weak board or a term-limited president/strong board, there is no question that the former is better.