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Can UVA Rector Helen Dragas Survive? Could the UVA Mess Help Allen and Cuccinelli?

by: Goldmanusa

Sun Jun 17, 2012 at 14:59:43 PM EDT

( - promoted by lowkell)

by Paul Goldman

In the long term, the firing of University of Virignia President Teresa Sullivan will be seen as a seminal event in the growing debate over the future of education in the Commonwealth. Helen Dragas, the rector of UVA, and Ms. Sullivan, the ousted UVA President, apparently represent opposing schools of thought on the future of higher education and how to fund it.

Both individuals are enormously talented. Ms. Dragas had all the financial, business and political forces defining today's new politics at her back. Ms. Sullivan had the forces of the traditional educational community behind her, once dominant in politics but threatened today as never before.

We see this "new" vs "old" education debate in so many different forms right now, from K-12 through the highest reaches of post-graduate education. Resource allocation on all levels of our society is undergoing a fundamental challenge. Education is not immune. But there is no way to generate short-term proof on which approach will produce better outcomes for the future.

Thus, in the end it comes down to faith. Ms. Dragas had one belief, Ms. Sullivan another.


The toothpaste is now publicly out of the tube. It can't not be put back. The ramifications are many. Given 2012 and 2013 being big political years in Virginia, the politics is fascinating in terms of how it affects key players.  

Goldmanusa :: Can UVA Rector Helen Dragas Survive? Could the UVA Mess Help Allen and Cuccinelli?
A week ago, I thought Ms. Dragas had a good chance to be the state's first female Governor. Why? She seemed an ideal candidate for Lt. Governor. And if you win that race, then you become one of the few people capable of being elected Governor four years later. Ms. Dragas had the whole package. She was a rising star in my view.

A week ago that is.

But she is no longer in control of her  image. This can be an image killer for someone who was essentially unknown to the press, for the media is the filter through which the public learns the "facts" in this matter.

This may not be fair, but she is the face of the event along with Ms. Sullivan: since Ms. Sullivan is the "victim," then the press needs a "villain."

Unless Ms. Dragas takes charge of her own image, she will be permanently damaged from all that is happening and likely will happen.  

If she wants to avoid this reality, she needs to PUSH BACK HARD AND FAST.

Indeed, her advisors had best deal with the following question: Will she be re-appointed to the UVA Board of Visitors by the Governor, as her term expires in a few weeks? Indeed, does she want to be re-appointed?

Ms. Dragas' term on the UVA Board expires in a few weeks. Everyone in the Commonwealth is watching to see whether McDonnell reappoints her or not. Both have a lot riding on what McDonnell decides.

On a net, net basis: Ms. Dragas needs for the Governor to reappoint her in terms of rehabilitating her image. But in so doing, the Governor will be seen as effectively endorsing what she did. Given his silence, he seems to be "jake" with it. He claims not to have known. But yet he doesn't seem furious as would other Governors for being left out of the loop.

In terms of 200-proof politics, McDonnell's safest political play would be NOT TO REAPPOINT Ms. Dragas.

Why? He could ask her to send him a letter asking not to be reappointed. She would likely do it if the choice was either that letter or not being reappointed.

This allows McDonnell to praise her service, her willingness to step aside to make it easier to resolve the situation, and also get a new person more loyal to him without being seen as pulling the rug out from Dragas. This is the best play for McD.

But even with this sugar coat, it would be a devastating blow to Dragas' image, one that could ruin her career in public service.

She is what, mid 40's? She still has a lot to offer. She is very talented. Should this be a hanging offense?

Given the political realities, what is the upside for Allen in defending the firing of Ms. Sullivan?
I don't see it. Mr. Allen has always run best as the rebel, not as the establishment player.

Let me cut to the chase: This is hardball time folks, a general election for the Senate with money pouring in from outside the state.

Why should Allen care if he crosses McDonnell on Dragas? Do the math. McDonnell just got rejected by his own party on the issue of Convention vs. Primary. So he has no real support there. McDonnell needs for Romney to win the Presidency; and that seems unlikely if Romney can't win Virginia. So McDonnell is facing big lame duck status if he can't get a win soon.

Thus McDonnell needs for Allen to run as strong as possible. So whatever Allen does, McDonnell can't abandon him. Allen is a UVA alum. THEY VOTE. This is a no brainer really. Kaine appointed Dragas.

To me, Allen taking the populist pro-Sullivan side gives him credibility with a whole group of people that is not currently for him. He loses nothing on the other side except campaign cash, which he is going to get from other sources anyway.

If Allen is seen as opposing the kind of actions Dragas took but McDonnell reappoints her, so much the better for Allen!!

This is politics. On a net-net basis, Allen wins a lot more by "going rogue" here.

This is a Father's Day gift for Cuccinelli. He is the anti-establishment guy in the 2013 gubernatorial race; what is more establishment than the UVA Board deciding to throw out a popular female President because they feel she wasn't pro-business enough in her thinking?

This is the gift that keeps on giving for Cuccinelli and it doesn't take much political smarts to make the right play.

Cuccinelli isn't going to get any real money from those on the UVA Board. The faculty is against him due to the climate change suit. The basic educational community is against him around VA.

But they all support Sullivan big time.

So for Cuccinelli, it is all upside to take the populist side of the argument. Moreover, he can set a new standard for board appointments that force Terry McAuliffe to respond.

For a change agent like Cuccinelli, this is huge gift on education, the key issue next year in my writings now for months. He has never cared about crossing McDonnell. As AG, Cuccinelli can reap the ultimate payback and still win votes with the people. If he stays out of this, I will be amazed.

He has to back McDonnell's play.

He has to back Dragas.

He needs to back Kaine on this.

Allen and Cuccinelli have the big openings on the offense. But both have stayed quiet to date. This leaves a big vacuum in my view. I am betting that Dragas changes her PR strategy. She's her best asset. Keeping her under wraps has been a big mistake to date.

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Losers? Winners? (0.00 / 0)
The political fallout from all this is one thing. What bothers me more, though, is the hit to education. I suspect Mr. Jefferson would weep a mighty river over what's become of his little college ... and his state ... and his country.

Dragas (0.00 / 0)
According to the Post this morning, Dragas is a fiscal conservative. Since she was appointed by Kaine I assuming she is basically a blue dog or is she a republican? Either way I think she picked an unnecessary fight.

Terry McAuliffe Needs To Do the Right Thing (0.00 / 0)
I wouldn't be certain that's the Kaine thing if Kaine can cotton the kind of intrigue that is alleged.

And there is no disgrace for either in abandoning Dragas if she has wandered off the reservation. Sometimes people disappoint you.

Sometimes the easy choice is a political trap (0.00 / 0)

    Politically speaking, dumping on Dragas is the easy choice right now and depending on how things shape up, it may be crowded on that side of the street.

    But she was appointed by Tim and right how, the best political course is not the easy way. Because if you dump on Dragas, it will lead the press asking other questions: and you put yourself on slippery slope. It is lose-lose which is why you try to say nothing. But if forced to answer, you find a way to back her.

   Many times in politics, you are stuck with the least worst option: there are no good choices, just less bad ones. There are ways to say the right things about Dragas.

   Dragas is making the PR mistake of having other people state her case, or lack of one. She puts Kaine in tough spot now, but I think he has to hand tough until McDonnell makes his move.

    Terry has to stay with Tim here, not let any daylight.

    Because if they create a fight between Dragas and themselves, it could create a bigger problem.

    This would clear to anyone who has ever had to face this kind of situation in a real campaign: it is quite different view from there than just commenting in the abstract.

[ Parent ]
A Trap that Can't Be Nuanced (0.00 / 0)
I don't see there is a shawdowy middle ground on this one or that if she is gone and she was wrong, Dragas will be more than dead weight.

[ Parent ]
Time Line (4.00 / 1)
Dragas was appointed to the board of Visitors in 2008. That was six years ago. She was elected rector by the rest of the board. I fail to see how Kaine is involved in a six-year-old appointment of a woman, elevated to the post of rector by others, who now decides to mess up at UVa. I also don't see the political ramifications for those running in 2013 of what is basically a fight over the future direction of UVa. The only thing I see here is a lousy decision that McDonnell will have to make very soon. I hope to high heaven that it bothers him on his European vacation...I mean his "European trade tour."

Perhaps the time has come to end the long tradition of putting big campaign contributors, the extremely rich, and business types on college and university boards to the exclusion of people who understand the role of a university in society and the need for responsible change as technology changes.  

Oops, Dragas was appointed FOUR years age...Duh...:-) (0.00 / 0)

[ Parent ]
Perfect (0.00 / 0)
Yes, this is a fight over the future direction of UVA. And it's a fight built around the tradition of wealthy campaign contributors from the ruling elite being able to buy their way into management positions in higher education. That's a problem with both parties in Virginia. There's no secret McDonnell plot here, it's just the natural result of what has been building up for years.

[ Parent ]
Your missing the big picture (0.00 / 0)

     Your making Dragas' and the UVA board's mistake: this is not merely a fight over UVA but it is metaphor for the whole education system, and it raises issues that cut across higher education in the Commonwealth.

      As for the "big donor" thing, I would urge people to try and stop making everything into some progressive whatever: if you cry wolf on everything, it becomes mere noise over time that blocks out any influence one might otherwise have on policy discusions.

      There are no perfect choices for a board of visitor: this myth of "people who understand the role of a university in socity and the need for responsible change"...yada, yada, yada, who are these people anyway?

      By what I read here, they aren't the one's who can get elected to office, they aren't the ones who get appointed to office? They don't run either political party, they don't report in the mainstream press, need I go on? It is one thing to find fault in this or that individual's policy: it is another to paint with a broad brush as if that proves you have special insight.  

      Change is hard: and the thought that their a few people you can find who are the one's who magically understand all this...what should anyone who has ever actually made history suppose to think of all this?

       I know something about it from more than just a spectator's position and on more than one occassion: and I can't magically identify these people.

       The wrote a book calling me the "miracle worker" for my work for Wilder. That's flattering to read but I don't take it seriously.

       The point being: one has to be careful of saying this or that category of person is automatically out and this or that category is somehow chosen.

       The whole white DEM establishment thought I would ruin Wilder's chances, and the African-American DEM establishment in Richmond attacked me a few years ago by saying my effort to get Richmond an elected Mayor would take away black voting rights.

       They were wrong both times as they now admit: and they wrong for the wrong reasons.

       Money, wealth, fame, education, experience, you name it may or may not be indicative of anything as regards this or that person.

       UVA is a great school. The same campaign contributors you denounce now have been on the board for years while it became a great school.

       Do they get no credit, was it all in spite of them?

       One has to be very careful writing a person or a group off as being this or that.

       Life is far more complicated where the rubber meets the road.        

[ Parent ]
Duh (0.00 / 0)
>Do they get no credit, was it all in spite of them?

Do you really need to ask?

It's blatantly obvious why UVA became a great school. Northern Virginia became one of the wealthiest regions in the nation, and it was obvious that some children of that cohort were going to look at in-state options instead of the Ivy League.

Now those same elites want to run UVA like they run their businesses. Are we surprised?

[ Parent ]
Disastrous (0.00 / 0)

I've been following this rather closely since Saturday when I had time to catch up on e-mails from fellow Law alumni.

I think you're vastly understating the level of animosity and emotion the situation has generated.  There were 800 people in support of Sullivan at the Faculty Senate meeting at 5:00 on Fathers' Day, and I'll bet there will be at least 1,000 on the Lawn tomorrow afternoon.

I've spoken with faculty members and alumni who are beyond livid both with the action and, especially, the manner in which it was carried out.  

Springing it on Heywood Fralin, a former Rector, and Vince Mastracco at the last minute is one of the most underhanded tactics I've heard of in a long time.

Dragas is toast politically.  If she were a Democratic nominee for statewide office, she'd be the first in my memory to lose Charlottesville...and she'd lose in a landslide of epic proportions.  Perhaps she has a future as an appointee.

Any political figure who backs Dragas, particularly a Democrat, will face quite a backlash.

I am not sure what you are saying (0.00 / 0)

   Are you suggesitng Tim and Terry denounce her? Or the DEMS in the General Assembly? Are you saying they should call on McDonnell not to reappoint her?

   Again: This is the real world, not some academic thing or a blog post.

   Kaine and Allen are running for office. They don't the luxury of blog posts, of generic analysis, of writing articles.

    It is all 200% proof practicality at this point. They have to make real decisions with real impact. They don't get a do-over.  

    What revelance is it right now to speculate on what would happen to Dragas if she were a DEM nominee for statewide office: that's not on the table.

     And when you say "backs Dragas", what does that mean to you in terms of a practical action right now by Kaine or Allen or elected officials?

     Are you calling on the DEMS on the UVA Board to denounce her, to vote against the Sullivan thing which they allegedly supported?

     OK, so people don't like the process: a lot of people didn't like the way I did a few things to elect some people. But does that matter, does process trump results. What is the key thing here, the way Sullivan got canned or the fact that she got canned?

    So people don't like the "manner" in which it was done. Does that mean they would be okay with firing Sullivan if it were done differently?

     Do they want the UVA to reverse the firing?

     Anyone can give me a 4th of July speech on education on the Lawn or anywhere else. That's cool.

     But haven't we gone past that by now? This is crunch time.

     I want to know what it means to not support Dragas in their mind.

     That's why I wrote my piece. The politics is fascinating to me because folks now have to put up or shut up. This is not a Moot Court argument. It is the real deal.

     How do you assure the future of UVA, of higher education in VA?

     If this were just Dragas vs Sullivan, or a fight in the UVA family, it would one thing.

     But the intense statewide interest and the public nature of the University and the Board make it something far greater. It shows that all over the state, people understand this is not just UVA specific. This is a tip of larger ice berg.  

    So to me, the politics is far more complicated and a lot harder to figure out in terms of 2012 AND 2013.

    I am very interested to see what those who don't support Dragas now do: and likewise those who encouraged her in private over these past months.

    This could be another very interesting lesson in politics and something that helps figure out what might happen in the 2012 and 2013 elections.  

[ Parent ]
In a bit of a rush, so (0.00 / 0)

Yes.  Yes.  Yes.

As to practical action, I'd say stay the hell away (if possible) or express disappointment.

I'd call on all Board Members to rescind the acceptance of the resignation.

Most would not be okay with the firing but the flawed, irregular and underhanded process fuels greater dissatisfaction.

Yes, I'd say 80% (Toscano says 98%) want the firing rescinded.

This is, indeed, crunch time.

Assuring the future of U.Va. and higer education in the Commonwealth requires implementation of my secret plan which I will reveal at a later date.  Seriously, my views would align more with Buford Scott, Heywood Fralin, Vince Mastracco than with Dragas, Kington and Paul Tudor Jones (though it sure does sound like it's going to be a first class yoga studio.

[ Parent ]
On the BOV train wreck (0.00 / 0)
You say:  " I want to know what it means to not support Dragas in their mind."

Well, I want to know what it means to support Dragas in your mind.  Hopefully, this is a moot question I put to you as I am sure that you have had time to learn more about the situation and to reflect on just how much of a disaster supporting  Dragas would be for Virginia Dems.  And moot because I hope that she will be announcing her resignation at the meeting scheduled for 3 PM today. But if she doesn't do we really want to take Dems down the road of supporting her? Why?  What for?  She messed up big time and does not deserve our support.  The politics isn't at all complicated:   if Dragas does not resign - this becomes one of those "I say this more with sadness than with anger..." situations for Kaine, et al.  Quite simple.

[ Parent ]
She's her best asset? (0.00 / 0)
Paul, I have not seen any sign of this from her actions we learned so far. I think you are being very kind to Dragas. I think she is toast, the manner in which this was carried out will make people to really pause before voting for her for any elected office. She has not shown the proper judgment, maturity, openness and political skills in this debacle - with that history I wonder how she can even run a campaign for a  major elected office. I don't think she will be reappointed, and I would be surprised if she could keep her position past tomorrow.  

I have no interest in MBA-ifying all of higher ed (0.00 / 0)
To suggest that these two are somehow just presenting differing visions of education is just wrong. One is clearly trying to press a corporate mentality onto higher education. In this vision, there's no room for a true liberal arts education, unless it can be monetized and justified within the world of corporate buzzwords. If Virginia Democrats want to take after the for-profit school model, that's their prerogative. Just don't expect those of us who still think there's some virtue to academic freedom, inquiry, and the liberal arts to go along with you as you turn education into a commodity like a car or a house.

Dragas is what's wrong with education in America.

I belong to no organized party. I am a Democrat.

~Will Rogers

Dragas has to go (0.00 / 0)
and she has to go now.  And, if she was some supposed up and comer for the Dems in Virginia, I say, thank goodness we dodged that bullet!!  There is absolutely nothing right about how she handled this situation...boneheaded from start to finish.  Unless something truly scandalous comes out, this attempted coup (the "Darden coup" as my son, a 2012 UVA graduate, and his UVA friends are calling it) is an embarrassment and an outrage and Dems would be well advised to acknowledge it as such.  And, no, I won't count the Breitbart investigation into supposed academic fraud by Elizabeth Warren which somehow also involves President Sullivan as a sufficient scandal.  Won't link to Breitbart but the Breitbart "connection" to Sullivan's ouster was linked in a comment to this article by a UVA professor:

I can tell you that my son and his friends are outraged and disgusted by this whole situation.  Most of his friends are remaining in Virginia and will be voting in Virginia.  If Dragas is an example of what the Dems were planning to offer their voters in Virginia, yeah, well, good luck getting kids like my son and his friends to give a damn.  

Dragas' Statement to the Board (0.00 / 0)
Just read her statement.  I guess a top flight PR firm is worth something.   Too bad Kiernan's email puts the lie to much of what she says!

She and her ilk must think we all are stunningly stupid and lacking in memory, honor, integrity, and trust.  

To see her use those last three words to describe her coup is infuriating and heart breaking at the same time.

Do her mendacity, hubris, and duplicity know no bounds?

A whole lot of nothing (0.00 / 0)
link below.  If anyone can read this and point out to me where she says anything of substance, anything that even remotely addresses the issues that we all are concerned about show me and I will happily pay for a weekend for you and a partner at the Barboursville Vineyards.  Seriously, my e-mail is

[ Parent ]
Compare Dragas' "nothingburger" of a statement (0.00 / 0)
(which I posted in a reply to ponderer, below) to Sullivan's substantive discussion of her vision for the University:

Going to the mattresses for Dragas helpful to Virginia Democrats - I think not!  Tim Kaine needs to  distance himself from her.  She is over....time to move on.

No one should be hanged ... (0.00 / 0)
... but this should be a permanent exit from politics for Dragas.

Kaine cannot back her, will not. He needs to focus on the campaign, where her defense could well sink his fate.

She needs to repair the damage to the reputation of the business her father gave her to run, and to the tarnish she and Kington have added to the already unpopular Dominion Resources, whose board they populate together.

If she were to openly admit and retract her mistakes, orchestrating Sullivan's rehire, I think it possible she could in time be seen as a positive figure.

The current course, however, is the worst possible for her and UVA, sacrificing both form and function simultaneously.

When you lose the esteemed Professor William Wulf with the sort of resignation he penned, that says it all. Unconscionable, unacceptable, unforgettable.

Under the Bus With Dragas (0.00 / 0)
I've never known a politician not connected to a toxic tarbaby choose, voluntarily, to step and embrace it. Whatever it is Kaine wants to run on, it's not Helen Dragas. This is not his problem, and under no circumstances will he let it become his problem.

She's going under the bus. From the perspective of those who worked the board to get this done, she was probably a somewhat naive sacrificial pawn all along.  


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