UVA Moves to Limit Criticism, Dissent by “Visitors?”

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    Late last night, The Daily Progress reported on a draft “‘statement of expectations’ scheduled for discussion Wednesday would limit public dissent by members of the Board of Visitors at the University of Virginia.” The Daily Progress article further notes:

    The draft comes after about six months of discussion on a range of issues still hanging over the board in the wake of the 2012 firing and rehiring of President Teresa A. Sullivan. Board members have been looking for a way to ease some of the divisions that may have led a faction of powerful members – led by Helen E. Dragas, who was rector at that time – to oust the popular president…

    Several board members have expressed frustration with visitors who publicly criticize board decisions at every turn

    To read the draft “Statement of Expectations,” click here. Key points include:

    *”Visitors shall not, without the prior consent of the Rector or President, initiate communication with elected or appointed public officials at the local, state, or federal level, on matters related to the University of Virginia.”

    *”Visitors should not contact staff independently.”

    *”When a Visitor substantially disagrees with management’s proposal or plans to recommend a notably different course of action, the Visitor should provide as much advance notice as possible to the Rector, the relevant committee chair, the President, or senior officer as appropriate.”

    *”When asked by the press, media, public officials, or citizens at-large to speak on behalf of the Board or the University or to publicly assess Board decisions, whether past, present, or imminent, Visitors should always demur unless specifically authorized by the Rector to be a spokesperson.”

    *”Once decisions are reached… Visitors shall publicly support, or at the very least not openly oppose, the Board’s action.”

    I contacted the UVA press office for comment, and was told that the “committee today met and discussed this draft,” that “[n]o

    vote was taken,” and that the “committee will gather more revisions and then the revised draft will be presented to the full Board of Visitors for consideration later this year.” The UVA spokesperson, Charles McGregor McCance, further notes that recently-passed Virginia legislation “actually requires all public universities in Virginia to develop and approve a code of ethics or code of conduct for Boards of Visitors.”

    Finally, in response to a source of mine who asserted that “this lands squarely in George Martin’s lap, and is all about efforts to raise tuition beyond the reach of lower and middle-class income kids,” Mr. McCance responded:

    I can tell you that none of this is tied to tuition increases, tuition prices or any specific policy. It relates to improved governance at U.Va. and other public colleges, and is why this is emerging from the Special Committee on Governance here. The comments provided to you regarding George Martin and tuition are simply off target and incorrect assumptions or claims.

    So, bottom line, I’m not sure what’s really going on here, but it’s certainly an interesting turn of events. What are you hearing?