UVA Faculty, Student Revolt Could Define 2013 Virginia Governor’s Race

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    by Paul Goldman

    “There is something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.” That’s a line from a 1960’s song by Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Buffalo Springfield. But what is is happening right now at the UVA is becoming VERY clear: Governor McDonnell is heading for a Romney fundraiser in Utah to play national politician, as opposed to first going to Charlottesville to show concern for an important UVA constituency concerned about the future of their school. Oh, and in case my friend Tucker Martin in the governor’s office forgot: UVA is the state’s flagship public university, one of the most important drivers of economic activity and health care delivery in the Commonwealth.

    Let’s review the political chess board. It appears the Governor intends to return from his overseas trip, spend a day or so in Richmond, and then fly right over Charlottesville on his way 2,500 miles west to be part of a dog-and-pony show of GOP partisan politics. So let’s change the lyrics: “There’s something happening here. What it is, is exactly clear.”

    That’s right: The Governor is now “all in” on Romney winning the White House. Do the math. McDonnell’s attention has clearly been on national politics, to the detriment of his standing at home, for months now. The results? McDonnell started 2012 getting blind-sided by social conservatives in the General Assembly. He was then humiliated by the Ron Paul libertarians on the GOP Central Committee. Now, he has adopted a “not my problem” approach to the biggest educational fiasco in modern times in Virginia. Then, of course, there is the fact that McDonnell’s choice as a successor is likely to be rolled big time by the Cuccinelli constitutional conservatives.

    As Laurie Morgan might have sung: “What is there about the Governor having NO TIME to pay attention to the politics at home that you don’t understand by now?”

    True, McDonnell is head of the Republican Governor’s Conference, which is also meeting in Utah. But Mark Warner was head of the Democratic Governor’s Conference. And I can tell you what Mark would have done in the same situation:

    HE WOULD HAVE BEEN IN CHARLOTTESVILLE this coming Friday night, holding several high-profile meetings with all concerned. He would have had them all to a high profile breakfast on Saturday morning. ONLY THEN would he have flown to Utah.

    The UVA constituency inside the Virginia GOP is HUGE. Moreover, the UVA family connection to key swing voters in the Virginia statewide election next year is even HUGER.

    The Governor says he doesn’t want to “micromanage” the situation or words to that effect. Is going to Charlottesville to talk to students, faculty, voters, board members, the interim President “micro managing?” Hardly. Instead, it is the  basic response voters expect from the leader of their state when this type of fiasco occurs.

    The Governor is out there during hurricanes and natural disasters: is he “micro managing” the efforts of the emergency personnel then? Again, hardly. Instead, it is a good political photo op; no one expects the Governor to play Kevin Costner.

    The bottom line here: BYPASSING CHARLOTTESVILLE FOR UTAH IS A BIG MCDONNELL MISTAKE.

    Now, he may feel not reappointing Ms. Dragas is enough to show he “cares” to this UVA constituency. Time will tell. But in the meantime, Democrats and those who put a premium on higher education have been given a once-in-a-generation opening by Governor McDonnell. AND THEY OWE IT ALL TO THE UVA STUDENTS AND FACULTY.

    That’s right: You know my view, I don’t think Ms. Sullivan deserves any of the credit. She didn’t fight for her job. She failed to tell the students and faculty that while urging them to fight for principle, she was  cutting a sweet “golden parachute” for herself, which required her to stay silent for all intents and purposes on key matters of dispute.

    In short, Sullivan wants her “cake’ (slang for money) and her heroine status too. She OWED the students and the faculty full disclosure in the beginning. Having not done so, she can’t plausibly rail against Dragas and posse with her left hand and then be scooping up the “cake” with her right.

    But, even if Sullivan is not all she claims to be, clearly the UVA student body and faculty are rising to the challenge. I doubted they had the staying power, and don’t much like their “Bring Sullivan back” strategy. But it is their university and their blood, sweat and tears: so I have to respect that. The role being played by the school newspaper is particularly impressive; this is always key in such situations, and I must say it is good stuff so far.

    Ms. Dragas read her antagonist Ms. Sullivan perfectly: she knew Sullivan would take the money. But she and her posse – and their high priced PR firm – have badly misread the students and the faculty. That, in turn, is why they completely fail to understand the extent of their public relations disaster.

    That’s right: IT IS THE STUDENTS AND THE FACULTY THAT ARE GOING TO SAVE UVA FROM THIS FIASCO. Not Ms. Sullivan. Even if she gets her job back, she wasn’t prepared to fight for her school. But the students, the faculty, the alumni are.

    If you believe, as I do, that the Dragas vs. Sullivan fight embodies a far larger issue — one that is being played out now, and will be in the future, at all public colleges — then we all owe the UVA students and faculty a debt of gratitude. BIG TIME. While I don’t believe Ms. Sullivan deserves their idolatry, that isn’t my call.

    Earth to Democratic leaders: You should be in CHARLOTTSVILLE ON FRIDAY AND SATURDAY, listening to the people…holding meetings…an empty chair on stage where the missing Governor should be…while Mr. McDonnell is pictured in Utah.

    Bottom Line for 2013: The UVA student and faculty revolt could change the 2013 GUV race. That is, if they don’t back down, and if Democrats are smart enough to seize this once-in-a-generation opening.

    • Elaine in Roanoke

      Mark Warner wouldn’t have taken his wife along on a “trade mission” to Europe at the height of vacation season and during a chaotic economic  situation there that pretty well guarantees that McDonnell couldn’t drum up business for the state. But…I bet the scenery and the hotels were great!

    • jwsevert

      Paul, your repeated attempts to glorify Ms. Dragas and demonize Ms. Sullivan are becoming tiresome, especially since they are so obviously wrong.

    • jwsevert

      Emergency Board of Visitors Meeting to be held Tuesday, June 26th at 3:00 p.m.  

      Let’s hope Helen Walks before then.

    • mechenvy

      Paul, your analyses focus on the rough and tumble shark tanks of politics and business, and you are often right. But I believe Terry Sullivan’s turning the other cheek — in the form of her immediate acceptance of the illegitimate demand for her resignation and her refusal to incite or give the appearance of drumming up opposition afterward — was a far more powerful stroke than the venal fighting that you recommend. Yes, perhaps it was the easier thing to do given the economic security she could lock up. But I firmly believe that she would have done the same thing even if it meant walking away with nothing. Because this act of self-sacrifice exposed the culture of arrogant, narrow-minded selfishness apparently held by certain members of the Board more than a fight ever could have. And it has focused attention on a much larger, more critical point: We must have a vigorous public sector to complement the private sector. We must have places in our society into which the sharks cannot intrude. Places in which bullies can still be shamed by grace and defeated with honor. Places where you cannot sell what you do not own. Places where we follow the truth wherever it may lead. UVa has been such a place. It may still be such a place. It may yet continue as such a place. May it serve as the Commons on which we, the people, rally and reclaim the Public University’s full promise and vital function in our society.