UVA Put “On Warning” by Accrediting Body; Calls for Dragas’ Ouster Grow


    Did you think that the mess surrounding the University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors, and particularly Rector Helen Dragas, was over? Well, think again.

    The University of Virginia’s accrediting body has placed the elite public flagship “on warning” for allegedly violating two compliance standards when members of the school’s governing board covertly planned an ouster of President Teresa A. Sullivan, privately asking her to resign in early June and then unanimously reinstating her 18 days later.

    The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, which accredits schools in 11 Southern states, had accused the U-Va. Board of Visitors of compromising the university’s integrity, not having a formal policy for involving faculty in decision-making, and not following its governance requirements, which forbid a small number of members from controlling the board.

    Commission trustees announced Tuesday that they found the university was not in compliance in two of the three cases – those concerning faculty involvement and following governance requirements.

    The reaction to this move? So far, from what I can tell, there have been two: 1) the university itself put out a statement (see the “flip”) essentially saying this is no biggie, nothing much to see here, please go back to your holiday shopping; and 2) the reaction of everyone else. For instance, from the UVA Facebook page, there are currently 37 comments on the status update about this situation, of which around 30 are negative (mostly towards Helen Dragas), a few are neutral or inscrutable, and only 1 or 2 seem (possibly) supportive of Dragas. A few sample comments include:

    *”Can’t we just get rid of Dragas instead of being put on double secret probation?”

    *”Dragas is a disgrace!! Any balls in the [General Assembly]???”

    *”This is disgusting. The fact that Dragas is still on the Board is an outrage and the students, alumni and faculty have a responsibility to pressure her to resign immediately”

    *”Sadly, this sanction was well deserved. Thanks Helen.”

    *”It is more clear than ever. The resignation of Rector Dragas is the only acceptable resolution to this ongoing debacle. Has she no respect for the institution she claims to love but continues to humiliate?”

    *”et the Virginia General Assembly know how you feel:” http://www.change.org/petition…

    Getting the picture? Need more? Then check out the comments on the Washington Post (where the top-rated comments all seem to be along the lines of “In addition to having no judgment or leadership skills, Helen Dragas apparently also has no shame. She needs to acknowledge the harm she is causing to the University and resign, now.”) or the Richmond Times Dispatch, etc. There’s also a strain of criticism, by the way, of Gov. McDonnell, for politicizing the board and for reappointing Dragas following last summer’s debacle. The question now is, will the General Assembly show some “balls” and take action or not? I’m not holding my breath, that’s for sure.

    P.S. The president of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges is Belle Wheelan, who served as Virginia Secretary of Education under Gov. Mark Warner.

    Dear Alumni, Parents and Friends of the University,

    As you know, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) has been reviewing governance issues at the University since President Teresa A. Sullivan’s resignation and subsequent reinstatement this past summer. SACSCOC announced today that it has placed the University of Virginia “on warning” for one year and will send a visiting team to Grounds in early 2013.

    This action does not imply any criticism of the University’s academic quality and programs, nor does it affect the institution’s ability to receive federal aid, including financial aid and sponsored research.

    According to SACSCOC, “An institution may be placed on Warning or Probation for noncompliance with any of the Core Requirements or significant noncompliance with the Comprehensive Standards. Additionally, an institution may be placed on Warning for failure to make timely and significant progress toward correcting the deficiencies that led to the finding of noncompliance with any of the Principles of Accreditation. An institution may also be placed on Warning for failure to comply with Commission policies and procedures, including failure to provide requested information in a timely manner. The maximum total time during one monitoring period that an institution may be on Warning is two years.”

    The SACSCOC Board of Trustees determined that the University was not in compliance with Core Requirement 2.2 regarding board governance and Comprehensive Standard 3.7.5 regarding Faculty Role in Governance of the organization’s Principles of Accreditation.

    The University of Virginia acknowledges the decision of the Board of Trustees of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). While the decision is disappointing, the University of Virginia pledges to work diligently to address the concerns cited by the commission. For the past several months and in the spirit of continuous improvement, the Board of Visitors and University leadership have been proactively working together to review governance practices and policies to ensure the highest level of transparency, accountability and responsiveness to all those it serves.

    Last month, the Board adopted revisions to the Board of Visitors Manual to provide clarity on procedures for electing and removing presidents, set up comprehensive guidelines for evaluating a president’s performance, and provide more direct involvement by faculty in board deliberations.

    The Board of Visitors and University leadership will continue to gather research and identify best practices from a variety of sources – including tapping outside experts and resources – so that the University may become a model for higher education governance in the commonwealth and nation.

    These are extraordinary times for the University of Virginia and for all of higher education. I appreciate the many ways in which our community of learning has come together these past months and I thank you for your ongoing support as we address the many opportunities and challenges facing higher education.


    John D. Simon

    Executive Vice President and Provost