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Is the University of Virginia Really Out of the Woods? III The AAUP Speaks; the Faculty Senate Listens

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In two previous posts (here and here) I treated recent ramifications of the events last summer where the Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia was steered by Rector Helen Dragas into forcing the resignation of the University’s President Teresa Sullivan, and was then compelled to reinstate her after an uproar.

There are now two further ramifications. First, the American Associations of University Professors, after conducting an investigation into the original BOV action, released a 20-page report yesterday (PDF). MSM news media have tended to characterize this report as devastating, and it is certainly critical within the limited scope of the investigation (i.e., not getting into such issues as Board members’ ties with Corporate America, beyond general comments like that they “come from business backgrounds”). For example, as to Dragas’s complaints that Sullivan was not doing enough in areas like utilizing new technologies, the report says:

The rector’s rhetoric reflects a mindset of entrepreneurial control common in small and mediumsized business enterprises. The firms that occupy that economic niche must adjust quickly to changed market conditions, consumer tastes, and rapid shifts in financing or in other aspects of the business landscape. Managers of such enterprises may be taken on or let go, on short or no notice, on the basis of a perceived need to change direction, the need for different skill sets, or even a lack of personal compatibility with those in entrepreneurial control. This mindset ill fits the role of trusteeship in the modern university.

And then:

The investigating committee met with person after person, vainly striving for some explanation for the board’s action and the process it had followed that would give direction to what otherwise appears to be nothing more than a crude exercise of naked power

[but found nothing to counteract that impression].

There is a wealth of more detail on such issues as the role of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (the AAUP’s bête noire) in supporting Dragas and the board, but probably the most important aspect of the report from the standpoint of future relations between the board and the University community is one of the report’s conclusions, namely:

The investigating committee believes that the faculty senate is
correct in abstaining at present from lifting its vote of no confidence in the board of visitors [that it enacted last summer].

That leads to the second ramification. One gathers from a new report in the Washington Post that lifting the vote of no confidence is unlikely. The Senate chair is quoted as saying

We want to get to a place where the faculty as a whole could have confidence, [but] … it doesn’t look like we’ll be able to do that by June

which is when Dragas’s term as Rector ends. This “inability” is evidently conditioned by more recent belligerent acts by her, in particular the demand that Sullivan enact 65 goals by the end of the academic year, noted in my precious posts.

There are some lesser developments as well, such as a ruling by the U. S. Department of Education that the University’s accrediting body did not violate the law in weighing in on the controversy, as described by

And as always, these developments remain accessible through the key web site, UVA United for Honor’s Facebook page.

I will only add that Dragas is defiant to the end. In a letter attached to the AAUP report, written on the occasion of the BOV being given a chance to comment on an earlier draft, she says that this draft has “multiple errors of fact” but declines to specify them on the grounds that she does not want to “rehash past events” or “repeat corrections that are part of the public record.”

One gets the sense that the UVA community realizes that she is a lame duck, and is content to let her rant.

Photo from jbj licensed under Creative Commons

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E. F. Beall

E. F. Beall