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Gov McDonnell reappoints Dragas UVA rector

Gov. Bob McDonnell has announced he is reappointing University of Virginia Rector Helen Dragas to the university’s Board of Visitors.

Dragas was the leading voice in ousting President Teresa Sullivan, a decision that led to three weeks of outcry from faculty, students and alumni. The Board of Visitors voted to reinstate Sullivan earlier this week. Dragas and Sullivan entered that meeting together, and both gave speeches about working together to solve challenges.

“While there is no doubt that the board made several mistakes in its actions, which it has publicly admitted, this is not a time for recrimination,” McDonnell said. “It’s a time for reconciliation.”

McDonnell said Dragas — who had voiced concerns Sullivan wasn’t moving fast enough to adapt the university to new issues in higher education, including funding needs — should continue working on those issues.

“Ms. Dragas’s serious critique of the challenges facing the university is a voice that must be heard, and can help, in ensuring UVa remains one of the world’s foremost institutions of higher learning,” McDonnell wrote.


McDonnell’s full statement is below:

“While normally I would not make a statement concerning board and commission appointments, the events of the last three weeks at the University of Virginia have been anything but ordinary. They compel me to offer a fuller explanation of the reasoning behind my selection of the excellent people I am appointing today to the UVa board.

“The university has emerged from a challenging time, and remains an extraordinary, vibrant place that is a beacon of advanced learning across the world.  And I am encouraged that, after the reinstatement of Dr. Sullivan, the tone at the university changed quickly this week from one of passionate disagreement in the family to one of willing collaboration. I thank the administration, faculty, alumni and student body for their engagement and desire to have the school they love continue to grow and excel.

“While some still have questions about the reasons for the board’s action, and others about the school’s strategic direction, the recent debate puts the university in a unique and positive position for frank dialogue and progress that most organizations never encounter.  UVa now has the opportunity for an honest self-assessment to refine and improve upon a long-term vision for the university, and build on its exceptional reputation with candor, clarity, and collaboration.   The school is being watched by all of those interested in the future of our nation’s public universities.

“This is not the first time that Virginia has been in a position to serve as a national leader. Therefore, it is imperative that as this conversation ensues the board evaluate and improve upon its own transparency, operating procedures, and communications with the faculty, administration, students and the public. Full transparency, constant civility and open dialogue will be crucial as the university evaluates its progress in meeting the goals set by the board, president and legislature.

“This year I have six appointments to the University of Virginia Board of Visitors. Cognizant of the need for varied and wide-ranging voices, I have appointed competent professionals to the board who come from the fields of academia, business, law and technology, and who can, while bringing different backgrounds and philosophies to the table, work well together in finding common ground and forging a shared path for Mr. Jefferson’s University.

“Today, I have appointed the former President of James Madison University and the former CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine to the board. I have also placed the chairwoman of the alumni association on the board. Another selection is well-known as the architect of many of the Commonwealth’s higher education reforms over the past several decades. Finally, I have appointed two female CEOs who are well-respected in their fields.

“I have also reappointed Helen Dragas to the board. Ms. Dragas was appointed to the board by my predecessor Governor Tim Kaine in 2008 and elected rector by the board’s members in 2011.  Prior to that appointment, she had served on the Commonwealth Transportation Board and the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia, in both cases through appointments made by Governor Mark Warner. During her four-year term on the board she has been a strong and dedicated board member, committed to advancing the mission of the university.

“Just as I was disappointed to see the lack of transparency and communication surrounding the request for the resignation of the first female president of UVa, I am also concerned that the first female rector seemed to become the sole target of recent criticism. While there is no doubt that the board made several mistakes in its actions, which it has publicly admitted, this is not a time for recrimination. It’s a time for reconciliation. I have been heartened by recent statements made by president Sullivan, the Board of Visitors and by the faculty senate chair about their ability to work with the rector. As Faculty Senate Chairman George Cohen said to The Richmond Times-Dispatch, “She (Dr. Sullivan) said she can work with the rector. I think we can work with the rector as well.” That kind of commitment to unity, healing and advancement is crucial to the university’s success in maintaining itself as a pillar of higher education to pursue the growth of knowledge and advance the human condition. Today’s reappointment is made in that spirit and with that purpose. I look forward to the board and administration moving forward together.  The university’s tradition is the embrace of inquiry, critical thinking and change, which the rector and many others bring to the table. Ms. Dragas’s serious critique of the challenges facing the university is a voice that must be heard, and can help, in ensuring UVa remains one of the world’s foremost institutions of higher learning.

“In addition to the six official appointments I am making to the Board of Visitors, I have also asked Leonard Sandridge, a former executive vice-president of the university, and Bill Goodwin, a former board member and business leader, to serve as senior advisors to the board.  Mr. Sandridge and Mr. Goodwin are very well-known and well-respected in the UVa community. Their roles will be to provide the board with wise counsel on an array of matters and to assist the university in solving strategic and communications challenges, based on their decades of institutional knowledge and understanding of the university. It is my hope that Mr. Sandridge and Mr. Goodwin will, at the board’s discretion and upon request, facilitate improved dialogue and collaboration in implementing the reforms in the Top Jobs 21 legislation, unanimously approved in 2011 by the General Assembly. It is also my hope that they will provide advice to help address the pressing items of concerns outlined by the board in recent weeks, and serve as trusted, experienced voices who will help the university grow, improve, and innovate in the years ahead. Both men understand the illustrious history of UVa; both men are committed to building an even more illustrious future. Their wisdom, counsel and advice will prove invaluable to the board.

“I am confident that in the years ahead the board, president, administration, donors, faculty, staff and students, and the larger UVa family across this Commonwealth, country and globe will work together with a renewed spirit of cooperation to develop solutions to the challenges facing UVa and, in fact, facing all public higher education institutions across America. The University of Virginia will lead this nation into the future, just as it has led it through the past.”