The Power Issue: Who’s at the top?

Gabe Silverman in the middle of West Main Street. Photo: Jackson Smith. Gabe Silverman in the middle of West Main Street. Photo: Jackson Smith.

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.



Teresa Sullivan. Photo: Dan Addison/UVA University Communications

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?

Teresa Sullivan
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.

William Goodwin 01 DA
William Goodwin. Photo: Dan Addison/UVA University Communications

William Goodwin
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.”

Patrick Hogan. Photo: Dan Addison/UVA University Communications

Patrick Hogan
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.

Helen Dragas
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.”

Tom Skalak
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.

  • UVAcoverups

    The most corrupt administration. Michael Strine resigns and is paid off. Nobody in the local press even makes a mention that Strine is now working as a VP at the New York Fed. I wonder who helped him land such a plum job? Nothing in Charlottesville is transparent, not even the press!

    • Giles Morris

      Ummm. We wrote a story last week saying that. “These days, he’s still in financial management, but for a very different kind of institution. Last month, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York named Strine an executive vice president, making him head of its Corporate Group and its “principal financial officer.”

      And you aren’t even transparent enough to sign your name!

      • UVAcoverups

        My apologies. You did write it. One would think it would receive more reaction.

        • Giles Morris

          Ahh. We sometimes wonder the same thing. So much outcry in the big frenzied newsy moments. And so quiet as the world goes about its business.

          • UVAcoverups

            You’re a good sport and I apologize again for my oversight.

  • Walt heinecke

    This article while interesting reinforces the traditionslistic elitism of Virginia’s political culture. Power can’t be defined as economic clout. In a republic the people have the power. This article understates the role of non-elites in political struggle and reinforces the notion that we should all just defer to the people, mostly white men, who “hold all the cards.” Don’t forget that presudent Sullivan probably would be gone if it were not for a group of non-card holders like Suzie mcCarthy, Joan Fenton. George Cohen, and thousands of others who protested by showing up to the lawn and calling or writing to the BOV, legislators, press , etc. some elites helped but were behind the curve. In the end it was the protesting by regular people that made the difference. Hogan would not even be here if protest would have not prevailed.I would say the faculty senate has cards.
    On another issue, the human rights commission, we see non elites exercising power. No elites were really behind the HRC. Even the politicians needed prodding.It was a coalition of non- elites that pressed it, people like Alex Gulotta, rick turner, joy johnson, holly Edwards, jim Shea, Brandon collins, among many others that pushed up against elite interests opposed to the commission and equity. Again the power of citizens not elites.
    I find articles like these to just reinforce the status quo version of Charlottesville. The political culture of Virginia is over the top with the vestiges of the old plantation economy. It continues to infect all our institutions, public and private. When will charlottesville and its media start to be the change they want to see?

  • belmont, yo.

    Rarely am I moved to comment anymore, as critical comments tend to disappear, but I just have to say…

    This is quite possibly the worst article I have ever seen. A puff piece fellating the monied and powerful is not journalism. In fact, it just may well be the opposite of journalism. Then again, Im not sure if you consider yourself journalists, so I could be directing my umbrage in the wrong direction. If the goal is to have a pulpier, more local version of People magazine, well, you are on the right track. If not, well… I don’t know what to say. I can only guess that “The Powerful”, and their assorted businesses and ventures are the ones that buy 50% of your ad space, so actually criticizing them in any way might be bad for business.

    I can completely understand when its slow and you trot out a “hey lets revisit a twenty year old crime” article or whatever. Its tough to fill pages, and these things happen. But this? The only thing that kept me from getting cancer from reading this was the fact that no where was mentioned the vast conveyor belt of suck that is Rita Mae Brown, although her classist ignorance would fit hand and glove with such.

    I seriously have not been this disappointed since you decided to cow-tow to the bouffant encrusted thought police and canceled Savage Love. World class city, indeed.

    Other than that, though, keep up the good work!

    • Giles Morris

      Belmont, yo:

      A couple things. First off, we don’t write 20-year-old crime stories. Second, we do real journalism, even when it relates to potential advertisers.

      Third, you can get Savage Love online, and it was canceled before I arrived, but I agree it’s good.
      Lastly, I get that you didn’t like the piece and I can see where you’re coming from, but you don’t actually sound like you read the rest of our paper or read it very often. Questioning our journalistic integrity is a joke. There’s five of us and we work our butts off and our news team, who put together the article you’re critiquing, strikes a real balance between being responsible, fair, and thorough while staying aggressive in a town where, for various reasons, a lot of what happens stays off the record.
      Question: What have we not reported on in the past year that you think we should be reporting on?

  • Cville Tatler

    When a person exits Penn Station , or Union Station
    or any of Amtrak’s stations there has been and is a place
    for taxis to pick you up.

    You may pick and choose among them.

    Now apparently there is only one taxi service permitted
    on the property that surrounds the Amtrak building.

    Who owns the properties, who leases the properties , and
    why only one taxi company has space on those properties
    is curious indeed.

    In a town that is all about diversity, and inclusion
    why do recent developments seem all about
    exclusion , particularly when it involves our national
    passenger railroad.

    Perhaps some of the people profiled in this article
    can explain .

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