UVA eyes privatization as public funds diminish

UVA's Rotunda. Photo: Dan Addison, UVA Public Affairs. UVA’s Rotunda. Photo: Dan Addison, UVA Public Affairs.

In a preliminary report released earlier this week, a University of Virginia panel proposed that the Commonwealth’s flagship university take significant steps toward operating more like a private school.

Jenna Johnson at the Washington Post broke the story of the 11-page report earlier this week. It was drafted in April by the UVA Strategic Planning Initiative Public University Working Group, which was charged with the task of establishing what it means to be a public university in the 21st century, and brainstorming how to define the school’s public mission during a time of declining federal and state resources.

The group argues that UVA should “retain a strong public orientation,” while maintaining five values: being of world-class quality, attracting only the best students, faculty, and staff; offering a premier residential experience for students; being a comprehensive university with cross-jurisdictional collaborations; emphasizing intellectual and practical leadership in public service; and strong self-governance, with every University community member playing a role in the institution’s future.

One of the most drastic changes would be a new contract with the Commonwealth, resulting in a tuition shift. The report states that UVA should have a single base tuition rate for all students, both in-state and otherwise. The tuition, which would be similar to the current out-of-state rate, would allow greater flexibility and management discretion for the University, “allowing senior leadership even more self-governance and decision-making flexibility.”

In addition to a lengthy discussion on how the University should adapt to a changing economic climate, the report describes a need for “professional board members.” A more privatized system would make governance and management even more vital, the group concluded, and board nominees should meet a defined set of standards, with knowledge of and experience with issues facing higher education. The members of the Board of Visitors have traditionally been selected by the governor, but the work group encourages the University to change the selection process so that the governor makes nominations, but the Board is ultimately chosen by an independent selection panel.

UVA spokesperson McGregor McCance was quoted in the Post saying that the working group has not finalized its report, and President Teresa Sullivan “has no intention or interest in attempting to make UVA a private institution.”