McDonnell returns Dragas to expanded UVA Board

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Despite being on the receiving end of harsh criticism within the UVA community for her role in attempting to force out President Teresa Sullivan, Rector Helen Dragas was reappointed to her seat on the University's Board of Visitors last Friday. Photo by Cole Geddy/UVA Public Affairs.

Two weeks after UVA students and faculty followed Rector Helen Dragas to her car after a marathon closed-door Board of Visitors meeting yelling “Resign!,” Governor Bob McDonnell announced that the much-criticized Board leader would keep her seat. And despite the anger directed at her for her role in orchestrating the ultimately unsuccessful ouster of President Teresa Sullivan, the message coming from University community leaders is one of reconciliation.

“I have been heartened by the recent statement made by President Sullivan, the Board of Visitors, and by the Faculty Senate chair about their ability to work with the rector,” McDonnell said in a Friday press release explaining his decision to reappoint Dragas.The governor’s other appointments were noteworthy, too. Four new names join the Board as voting members: Frank Atkinson, a Richmond lobbyist and McGuire Woods chairman; Victoria Harker, a Gannett executive and chair of the Alumni Association; Bobbie Kilberg, a tech CEO and big-time Republican donor; and Linwood Rose, the outgoing president of James Madison University. Dr. Edward Miller, who has been serving as an ex-officio Board member, was given an official voting seat.

Robert D. Hardie—one of the three Board members who called for the emergency meeting to vote on Sullivan’s reinstatement—was up for reappointment, but didn’t keep his seat. Heywood Fralin and Glynn Key weren’t eligible for reappointment.

McDonnell also created two non-voting advisory positions on the Board, appointing Leonard Sandridge, UVA’s former executive vice president and chief operating officer, and William Goodwin, a former Board member and a former chair of the Darden School Board of Trustees.

Conspicuously absent from the new spate of appointments was the faculty representative many at the University had called for—a change that faculty have said could take time to institute.

While many raged on Facebook, Twitter, and news story comments over the governor’s apparent unwillingness to acknowledge the fury and will of the University community, the official line from UVA has been calm acceptance of the new appointments.

Despite having repeatedly called for Dragas’ resignation, the Faculty Senate signalled support, with chairman George Cohen commending McDonnell for his “careful, thoughtful consideration of these appointments and for his eloquent statement explaining his decision.”
Spanish professor and UVA alumnus Ricardo Padron was one of a number of people who said he felt the outcome of the Sullivan saga was a mark in the rector’s favor. “I think Helen Dragas is to be commended for finding a dignified and honorable solution to the crisis,” he said. “The entire University is indebted to the Board for being able to come to a solution that has brought the University together like never before.”

Even Sullivan spoke up, saying McDonnell “used great wisdom” in appointing the new members.

And in her statement on her reappointment Friday, Dragas took pains to stress the importance of including the entire UVA community in pushing the University toward success.

“Each of us on the Board looks forward to working in a constructive and inclusive way with President Sullivan, along with students, faculty, alumni, and staff on tackling the broad challenges that face the University,” she said. Laura Ingles and Graelyn Brashear both contributed to this story. 

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