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Sen. Janet Howell vows to vote against Helen Dragas’ confirmation to UVA Board of Visitors


The following statement is from State Senator Janet Howell (D-32nd district). I’m very happy to see this, as Helen Dragas clearly needs to be removed from the UVA Board of Visitors for incompetence and for damaging the great university she claims to care about. I urge EVERY Democratic member of the General Assembly to join with Sen. Howell on this!

One of the responsibilities of the legislature is to confirm appointments by the Governor.  As the ranking member of the Privileges and Elections Committee, I have a heightened responsibility. My usual approach is to support any governor’s selections unless the appointee has a conflict of interest or refuses to fill out required paperwork.

This year we face confirmation of Helen Dragas for a second term on the University of Virginia Board of Visitors. She does not have any conflict of interest and she is willing to fill out the paperwork.  Nonetheless, I will be actively opposing her reappointment  for the following reasons:

  • *The University of Virginia has a culture of self governance and democratic process.  The Rector’s actions were not in the spirit of that culture. The decision to remove President Sullivan was made without any transparency or full debate and, thus, was  out of line with the principles established by Mr. Jefferson when he founded this flagship university. The decision to remove President Sullivan was made without an in person meeting and vote by the full Board of Visitors. Rather, Rector Dragas solicited support in individual phone calls with Board members.  To this day,  information has not been forthcoming that would meet the standards for removal of the President.
  • President Sullivan  had been hired with much acclaim only eighteen months earlier. Dissatisfaction with her leadership had never been discussed in official Board meetings or with her, with the result that the President was  blindsided when  Rector Dragas told her  she had sufficient votes of Board members for her removal.
  • One of the core responsibilities of the Board of Visitors, led by the Rector, is to hire or remove the university  president. When the Board acts on that responsibility,  its role becomes critically important. It appears that the Rector and the Board did not discharge their responsibility  in this situation with an appropriate level of seriousness or professionalism.  The person who led the process should accept the consequences.
  • Ms. Dragas’ actions as Rector created turmoil for the University that was unnecessary and unhelpful in pursuing the University’s academic mission. The  action caused distraction, confusion and disbelief for students, faculty, alumni and donors who had no indication there were questions about the leadership of President Sullivan. The universal and overwhelming response from these groups in opposition to the decision suggests that Rector Dragas and Board members had limited understanding of the University culture.  The process of their decision making was, thus, a failure of professional leadership.
  • The  distraction, confusion and disbelief  of the summer’s events continues with the recent warning issued by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.   Although the public position of the University  is that all parties  are now working together effectively,  I do not believe the various entities can truly move forward with Ms. Dragas remaining on the Board of Visitors.
  • On December 3, I met personally with Ms. Dragas.  We had a frank conversation.  It is my conclusion that she does not comprehend the damage done to the University of Virginia, nor does she accept responsibility beyond having poorly managed the President’s removal.

As a result of these factors, it is my intention to vote against Helen Dragas’ confirmation to the Board of Visitors and to move for a recorded vote by the Privileges and Elections Committee and the entire Senate.


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