UVA to bear the cost of the Dragas-bungled ouster
Governor Bob O’Donnell is giving himself another black eye. This time it is for dodging the issue at UVA. Not only has McDonnell dodged the issue, it is he who appointed the leader of the ouster, Rector Helen Dragas, from a mere post on the Board of Visitors to the University Rector (chairman of the BoV).
Dragas has bungled her attempt to overthrow popular President Teresa Sullivan. 42 Department chairs have taken a stand against her behavior. The Faculty Senate has condemned her and the Board of Visitors in support of Sullivan. Student and faculty protests and demonstrations have been ongoing since the announcement of Sullivan’s ouster.
Dragas was headed for a Republican political career in Virginia . Some predicted she would run for governor in upcoming years. Now what she has ended up doing is hiring a one of the nation’s top expensive “designer” PR firms to handle the mess. The cost to UVA will be $50,000-$100,000 to cover Dragas’ butt for her stirring up and mishandling the Sullivan affair. The money will come from a UVA affiliated foundation. From The Hook:
With the UVA Faculty Senate formally requesting her resignation and a Board of Visitors meeting with ousted President Theresa Sullivan slated for Monday afternoon, the pressure’s on for UVA Rector Helen Dragas to pull a rabbit out of a hat. But even her possible status as the most despised woman in Virginia doesn’t appear to be bending her will. At least not yet, as she’s hired one of the nation’s priciest PR firms to help her manage the crisis.
“She’s burnishing her image,” says a source familiar with the hire, estimating the firm, which specializes in crisis management– New York City-based Hill & Knowlton Strategies– will carry a price tag of $50,000-$100,000 to be paid out of a UVA-affiliated foundation.
“Think how many students that could help,” says the source.
Perhaps emboldened by her frequent contacts with billionaire donor Paul Tudor Jones and her career developing houses and shopping center in Hampton Roads, 50-year-old Dragas has demonstrated a steely resolve in the face of immense public backlash and seems unwilling to change course, even as the chorus of critics has ballooned to include former UVA presidents Bob O’Neil and John Casteen, State Delegate David Toscano, and the widows of two other billionaire UVA donors– Hunter Smith and Jane Batten.
“We can, and will, recruit a stellar new president,” Dragas writes in a defiant statement emailed to faculty on Sunday, June 17, again justifying the secrecy around the ouster as a “confidential” personnel matter. Sources, however, indicate that Dragas confers frequently with Connecticut-based hedge manager and UVA donor Paul Tudor Jones. But rather than acknowledging the billionaire’s influence, revealed by the Hook in an online story, Dragas claims in the memo that it was faculty pressure for raises that helped prompt the firing.
“We also expect that our next leader will help secure the resources and set clear priorities to incent and reward excellence through faculty salaries, support, and sustenance of an engaging and rewarding academic environment,” she writes.
Governor McDonnell should have hurried home from his trip to Europe to grab the reins back from his poorly selected appointee. She obviously has created a crisis at UVA that will be difficult to bring back under control, even with students leaving for the summer. If McDonnell is going to avoid catastrophe, he needs to replace Dragas with a more qualified Rector and have a come to Jesus meeting with the Board of Visitors, reinstate Sullivan, and hope that this entire ugly mess dies down before it costs more money and embarrasses the state even further. To date, he has not done so.
I see any chance of McDonnell being tapped as a running mate drifting further and further away. After the embarrassment to the state over Lady Virtue’s bare breast, trans-vaginal ultra-sounds, oppressive abortion clinic regulations and now his pet henchman pulling a coupe on a beloved University president who happens to be the first woman UVA president, it has become apparent that McDonnell really isn’t in control of those in his party who serve under him.
What infuriates Virginians and alumni the very most is the secrecy and failure to be forthcoming with the public. Dragas wrote a bunch of gobbledeegoop that said absolutely nothing in an attempt to lull us into thinking we had been told something. She told us nothing. Ultimately the Board of Visitors has the responsiblity to run the school. However, they do answer to the public and they have not done so. The Virginia press, Washington Post and blogs have released scorching criticism of Dregas and the Board of Visitors. The Hook:
One thing Dragas doesn’t avoid is the largesse of the corporate world. For serving on the board of one publicly-held company, Dragas earned nearly $200,000 last year. The most recent proxy statement for Dominion Virginia Power, which is run by a former UVA rector named Thomas Farrell (who was paid $14 million last year), shows that Dragas took home $198,000 last year for attending board meetings. Fellow Dominion board member Mark Kington– her closest companion in the quest to oust Sullivan– was paid $215,000 for serving on the Dominion Board.
There is no shortage of collusion, back door dealing and good ole boy/girl networking, that’s for sure. It’s those behind the scenes relationships that make or break careers and University reputation. UVA’s reputation and rankings are rapidly headed down the tubes.