A university still dealing with the ripple effects of an attempted leadership shakeup turned PR disaster. A political landscape in flux, awaiting a November election that could bring big shifts. A city poised for growth in a recovering economy. An expanding community of entrepreneurs chasing after big money with big ideas.
Four game fields, if you will. And the people populating the pages that follow are the players you need to watch. These are our lists—and one outside observer’s picks—of the educators, governors, builders, and innovators holding the most cards.
Yes, it’s pretty arbitrary. And it’s only a snapshot. But in a town where politics, business, and higher ed are so tangled up in each other, it’s useful to remember who controls the message, the money, the land, the people, the next big thing—in short, the power.
It’s been a year since President Teresa Sullivan’s ouster first made headlines all over the country, and the message from UVA’s Board of
Visitors and administrative leadership has for many months now been some iteration of “let’s move on.” The story has kept churning, of course, but the relatively high rate of turnover on the Board means that the central figures of last June’s debacle have slipped more and more into the background. Even if faculty and others in the community keep pressuring for answers and reform, time has meant the University’s governors and some of its administrators are literally moving on. So who’s stepping up—and who’s still here?
When we were compiling this list last year, Sullivan’s future at UVA hung in the balance. The Board of Visitors was prepping for a much-anticipated meeting in which they planned to announce whether they would reinstate the president they had tried to kick to the curb a few weeks earlier. Even in the uncertainty, we put Sullivan on top of the list of UVA power players (albeit with a question mark), and we’re doing it again this year.
Not only did she survive the attempt by the Board of Visitors’ leadership to remove her, Sullivan managed to rally around her an indignant faculty that has continued to champion her. The very fact that she stood her ground made her famous far beyond Charlottesville, and drew new attention to her plans and policies: a more decentralized approach to long-term financial planning; more emphasis on interdisciplinary study; more attention paid to the care and feeding—and influence—of faculty. Since last June, she’s overseen the dismantling and rebuilding of her administration, hiring new chief deputies and restructuring the University’s messaging apparatus. Her newly reorganized communications department will be headed up by the most recent administrative hire, current University of Connecticut spokesman David W. Martel, who will report directly to Sullivan as a member of her cabinet when he arrives in August.
And by hanging onto power, she’s become something of a symbol in the ongoing national debate over how higher education should be run. Score one for the anti-corporate-governance, hand-the-reins-to-the-academics crowd. And despite rumors that she might be lured away to her previous employer, University of Michigan, she indicated in a recent interview that she doesn’t intend to give up her hard-won seat any time soon.
“I came here to do the job, and I still want to do it,” she told a Richmond Times-Dispatch reporter.
Vice-Rector of the Board of Visitors
Richmond billionaire and Darden alum Bill Goodwin wasn’t exactly new to UVA’s Board of Visitors when he was appointed as an advisor to the Board by Governor Bob McDonnell last June. A big-time donor to both McDonnell and UVA, he served from 1996 to 2004 as the appointee of another Republican governor, George Allen.
Goodwin officially became a Visitor again in January, when he was tapped to fill the seat vacated by Randall J. Kirk, and took on the key role of vice chair of the finance committee, helping craft the University’s recently approved budget. Last month, he solidified his importance by accepting his appointment as vice rector, putting him in line for the top spot on the governing board in two years, when George K. Martin’s term as rector is up.
He’s got the deep pockets and political connections, so what about his views on Board governance? So far, Goodwin’s made it clear he’s cut from the same cloth as the current Board leader. Upon appointment, Goodwin quickly allied himself with Dragas, who was reinstalled at the same time he got the nod from McDonnell. He has criticized efforts to shine light on closed-door Board proceedings, and publicly dismissed the Faculty Senate’s urges for full disclosure of what led to the attempted ouster at a late summer meeting last year, telling then-president of the Senate George Cohen “the more you dig, the more you make the University look bad.”
Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer
After Michael Strine resigned as UVA’s COO in August 2012 amid hints and rumors that he had been more closely allied with the rector and vice rector than the president they tried to force out, the office remained vacant for just over two months. Then came the announcement of the Board’s approval of 60-year-old former Ernst & Young executive Patrick Hogan.
While not an alum, Hogan already had close ties to the University. He was named to the McIntire School Advisory Board in 2000, served on the Board of Trustees for the school’s foundation, and was appointed to the Medical Center Operating Board in 2011. He’s also father and father-in-law to a pair of Wahoos.
The position of COO at a major university is always going to be an important one, but it’s become even more powerful at UVA under Hogan. He came in particularly strong, the careful pick of a president still riding high on the tide of support from the University community. And this spring, he made public a major organizational shift: Rather than hire a new chief financial officer—a key cabinet position that had long been vacant—the duties of that office would be folded into his, making it clear that as the administrative reshuffling in the wake of Sullivan’s reinstatement continues, he’s holding quite a few cards.
She may only be the head of UVA’s governing body for a few more weeks, but Dragas’ term on the Board isn’t up for another three years. The fact that she was reappointed by Governor Bob McDonnell last summer shows she’s still got political clout, and the fact that she rode out the firestorm of criticism over her pivotal role in the ouster shows she’s got the will to keep deflecting detractors and pushing her agenda—which, according to her recent interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch, includes more focus than ever on institutional efficiency. In her words, “we need to ensure we spend every dollar effectively and maximize every other revenue source.”
Vice President for Research
Skalak, head of a well-known biomedical engineering lab at UVA, was tapped by former president John T. Casteen III to step into the role of the University’s chief driver of innovation. Since then, he’s overseen the total rebuilding of UVA’s patent-holding organization, hiring a tech-transfer guru to help rewrite the rules for licensing and ventures. That move, as well as the fostering of collaborative initiatives like the multidisciplinary OpenGrounds studio, the UVA Entrepreneurship Cup, and Darden’s new iLab, have placed the University squarely in the center of a Charlottesville startup scene that’s churning with ideas, inventors, and investors. Skalak puts a great deal of emphasis on the need for UVA to reach out and connect with that scene—“we’re a hub in this broader constellation,” he told C-VILLE earlier this year. And as Charlottesville’s tech and biotech industries grow on a steady diet of ideas spun from UVA business classrooms and labs, so does the importance of Skalak’s position.
Still got it?
UVA’s faculty grabbed the metaphorical—and literal—bullhorn during the turmoil of last spring, and have done their best to keep a firm grip on it and steer the ensuing conversation toward shared governance and other issues they hold particularly dear. But some, like former computer science professor William Wulf—the only faculty member to publicly resign over the Sullivan firing—worry that the wind went out of their sails when Dragas and Sullivan pledged to make amends and move forward. UVA’s Faculty Senate and a brand new local chapter of the American Association of University Professors continue to bring up the need for more faculty involvement in governance issues, and point to the continued fallout from last spring as a reason why: More secrecy and not enough academic voices on the Board means a long and messy recovery when mistakes are made. They did convince the University’s governors to include non-voting faculty members on Board committees, but they still haven’t won a seat on the Board itself, which indicates their bargaining chip—a vote of no-confidence dating to last June—might not be enough to get them the changes they still want to see.