Home Education Helen Dragas, UVA, and Hill & Knowlton

Helen Dragas, UVA, and Hill & Knowlton


I contacted UVA Media Relations for more information on the use of PR firm Hill & Knowlton by UVA Rector Helen Dragas, and they referred me here. Also note that Hill & Knowlton is one of the slimiest PR firms out there, having been involved in a large number of controversies over the years (e.g., regimes around the world accused of serious human rights violations; fracking and the oil/gas industry; the firm designed “the tobacco industry’s strategy for counteracting scientific evidence which linked cigarette smoking to lung cancer”). THIS firm is “a contracted vendor registered with the state?” Don’t we have ANY standards?!? Apparently not.

Clarification regarding the use of a PR firm

June 22, 2012 – from Carol Wood, U.Va. spokesperson

The University of Virginia (Real Estate) Foundation did NOT hire a firm on behalf of the Rector.

The firm that has been hired – Hill+Knowlton – already is a contracted vendor registered with the state.

Many institutions bring on additional public relations professionals during particularly challenging times. The firm was hired on behalf of the Rector and the Board of Visitors to assist them in handling the matters over the past weeks.

While invoices will be submitted through the Board of Visitors office, no state funds will be used to pay for Hill+Knowlton’s services. The funds will come from other sources of University funds, including the endowment.

At this time, NO invoices have been submitted and information about the Hill+Knowlton’s state contract is available at: https://www.gsaadvantage.gov/r…

P.S Also note that I contacted Hill & Knowlton for comment on a number of questions (see the “flip” for those); their spokesperson responded with a non-answer, that “As general corporate policy, we do not comment on our clients or prospects, or the details of our relationships with either.” Not that they have anything to hide, of course. Heh. 😉

1. Who decided to hire Hill & Knowlton to represent UVA Rector Helen Dragas and/or the Board of Visitors?

2. How much exactly is Hill & Knowlton being paid, and what exactly are the deliverables?

3. Where is this money coming from exactly, and what would it have been spent on if it hadn’t been spent on this?

4. Is there a contract, statement of work, or billing documents between Hill & Knowlton and UVA, the Board of Visitors, Helen Dragas, or any other UVA employee? If so, what do I nee do to get a copy of it/them?

5. Do you have any comment regarding the fact that Hill & Knowlton has previously represented such unsavory clients as Big Tobacco (Hill & Knowlton designed the tobacco industry’s strategy for counteracting scientific evidence which linked cigarette smoking to lung cancer), and “reportedly used scaremongering tactics to kill legislation before the European Parliament in 2005 that would have banned fluorinated gases

(“f-gases”), which contribute to global warming.”)

6. Who at Hill & Knowlton is working on the UVA matter? Is it only John Ullyot, or are other Hill & Knowlton employees also working on this?

  • Teddy Goodson

    The whole UVa mess (I use the term deliberately) becomes more and more convoluted…. why? It seems ever more likely that the motives underlying the recent events are of a type which will not stand the light of day. I am, however, still reluctant to dignify it by calling it “a conspiracy.” As I understand it so far, the supposed reason for turning UVa into a purveyor of on-line “learning” was to set up a stream of income for the University. When President Sullivan explained that was not likely to work out, that it would debase the whole concept of UVa, she was forced out. The purpose of hiring a sleazy public relations outfit was, one suspects, to respond to objections like Sullivan’s with a public relations blitz, “selling” the on-line plan (and smearing Sullivan in the process, no doubt)—- a typical response by Big Money bullies. After all, see how this kind of “public relations” has worked for Big Oil with its climate change denial campaign.

    It sounds like yet another example of the push for privatization of every aspect of public life, driven by wealthy Republican plutocrats who, having made billions by hook or by crook, assume they alone know what’s good for everybody because they’re rich. The Republican anti-government so-called “free market” philosophy really is based on the belief that absolutely everything a society needs, can and should be provided at a profit by a private entrepreneur. If there is no profit to be made, then society does not need it. Thus, if an enterprise cannot make a profit, it has no reason to exist, and should not exist—- if UVa was not making money, it should change what it does.

    These people know the price of everything and the value of nothing. That some things needed by a civilized society cannot be produced based on the profit motive, but require other standards, is a concept utterly foreign to the Big Money Republican mind-set.    

  • Tom

    The Labor Price List page I drilled down to is the PR category, with the top Labor Category being a rate of $362.70 per hour. Keeping in mind that the May 31 e-mail exchanges between Dragas and Kington say “A public relations executive writes to Dragas to discuss pricing …they have already discussed”. And says “The price is $7,500 for the first 10 hours” (i.e., $750 per hour for the 1st 10 hours) and “$350 for each additional hour”. Kington replies, “Seems reasonable”. And Dragas says the firm was “Ed’s recommendation”, possibly referring to ex-officio board member Ed Miller”.

    The conclusion one could readily reach is that the PR delivery order Dragas and Kington were discussing involved at least a Senior VP, but at an hourly rate for the 1st 10 hours being nearly double the GSA Schedule listed rate, and hours in addition to the 1st 10 hours about the rate for a Senior VP, definitley not a lower ranking account executive. No wonder that this company has not yet submitted an invoice to UVa – any halfway competent GSA contract person would have to conclude that they would be over-charging considering the exceptionally poor “deliverable” they provided to their customer, in this case either UVa or the BOV.

    I’m not sure why Carol Wood, a “UVa Spokesperson” would be responding by saying “The University of Virginia (Real Estate) Foundation did NOT hire a firm on behalf of the Rector”. What does a UVa Real Estate Foundation have to do with either the Board of Visitors, the Rector or the hiring/firing of a University of Va. President ? And why would a person in that capacity be authorized to respond as a U.Va. spokesperson on a PR contract matter directly related to a personnel hiring/firing issue ?

    No doubt there are numerous levels of separation between the Federal (GSA) contract, the government of Va., and the University of Virginia, down to whomever at UVa. and/or the BOV authorized the PR work, in terms of who may or may not have actually placed a delivery order against the GSA Schedule pricing/deliverables.

    The one important plus about the GSA contract and pending or future invoice(s) is that before a GSA payment can be made for labor charges a specific deliverable number must be cited – i.e., no authorized deliverable number means no payment. Otherwise, without an allowable deliverable cited the labor charge would fall in the category of “personal services”, which is prohibited for federal contracts awared by GSA or any other fed. agency.

    I apologize for the execessively long comment. I just couldn’t come up with a less wordy way to note get at what I think are the pertinent facts from what I found in the GSA contract as they relate to the e-mail exchanges between Dragas and Kington.


  • Elaine in Roanoke

    Excellent article in HuffPost about the UVa fiasco.

    “Members of the board, steeped in a culture of corporate jargon and buzzy management theories, wanted the school to institute austerity measures and re-engineer its academic offerings around inexpensive, online education…a guiding vision that the university could, and indeed should, be run like a Fortune 500 company.”

    “The current slate of board members have given over $2.1 million to Republican and Democratic political endeavors in recent years, according to a HuffPost analysis of data from the Center for Responsive Politics and the Virginia Public Access Project. The donations cover every corner of the political spectrum…They include roughly $1.2 million given to political action committees run by Kaine and McDonnell. Companies owned by board members or that employ board members have given still more.

    “”Political contributions to our governors have become more important factors in the selection of our board members,” [former UVa President John] Casteen told HuffPost.