UVA strategic planning forum focuses on University’s future, warning from SACS

File photo. File photo.

Wednesday evening, about 100 students, professors, and community members gathered in Newcomb Hall to discuss the future of UVA. The forum came a few days after a notice from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) stating that the University had been put on warning for one year. The SACSOC, the University’s accrediting agent, has been reviewing governance issues at UVA since the summer’s ouster and reinstatement of President Teresa Sullivan, and according to the press release, the organization will send a visiting team to Grounds in early 2013.

According to the letter sent from Provost John Simon to the University community, the SACSCOC Board of Trustees determined that UVA was not in compliance with a core requirement and comprehensive standard, regarding board governance and faculty roles. Simon’s letter reminded the University that the Board of Visitors recently adopted revisions to its manual to clarify procedures for electing and removing presidents, and plans to include faculty more directly in future board deliberations.

This week’s forum was scheduled ahead of time and was not in response to the warning, but some in attendance certainly had the events and aftermath of this summer in mind during the discussion, and emphasized the importance of faculty and staff seats on the Board of Visitors. McIntire School of Commerce Dean Carl Zeithaml, who was selected in June as interim president after Sullivan’s removal from the position, led the forum, and asked participants to consider what UVA should look like in 2019, its bicentennial. Following 30 minutes of small group discussion and brainstorming, several University and community leaders stood up to share their thoughts on how far UVA has come and where it ought to go.

History professor Brian Owensby questioned whether or not UVA can move forward from the summer’s events with the current rector—Helen Dragas, the driving force behind Sullivan’s ouster—still in her position.

“The reputational damage to the University is profound,” Owensby said. “I traveled in Europe this summer, and I had people at European universities saying ‘What’s going on at UVA?’”

Even months later, he said colleagues and potential graduate students at conferences ask him about the University’s status.

“There is genuine concern over whether the university is being properly governed,” he said. “And the SAC’s warning—if there were any doubts left, there aren’t anymore.”

For the full story, pick up a copy of next week’s C-VILLE Weekly on Tuesday, December 18.