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Dragas a Step Closer to Reappointment, Some Still Opposed

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Helen Dragas is one step closer to keeping her seat on the University of Virginia Board of Visitors. A House of Delegates subcommittee voted six to one Thursday to support her reappointment by Governor McDonnell.

A half-dozen people spoke out against keeping Dragas on the board, citing concerns about transparency and trouble with accreditation after UVA was placed on warning last month.

Dragas' confirmation will come up again Friday morning during a meeting of the full House Privileges & Elections Committee. If approved, the reappointment would go to a final vote on the floor of the House of Delegates sometime next week.

Her presumed reappointment comes as the university continues to grapple with a warning from its accrediting agency, levied in the wake of last summer's leadership crisis.

"The problem is it's taking a lot of time and effort, and really I think it's harming the reputation of the university," 25th District Delegate Steve Landes said.

Landes spoke with President Teresa Sullivan by phone Wednesday. They discussed a variety of issues, including the university's attempt to salvage its good standing with its accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).

"[The university is] concerned about it, but we think that will be worked through and they will address the issues the accrediting agency has brought forth," Landes said.

Chief among those issues is the role UVA's Board of Visitors played in the failed ouster of President Sullivan this past June. In a letter earlier this month, SACS acknowledged UVA's efforts to address issues raised last summer.

"It did recognize the actions that the board had taken at its November board meeting," Virginia Secretary of Education Laura Fornash said.

Those actions include revisions to the manual of the Board of Visitors relating to the appointment and removal of the university president.

But despite those actions, concerned alumni say more needs to be done. Virginia alumna Susanna Nicholson still wants Helen Dragas removed from the board, but says the larger goal is restoring the university to good standing.

"To ensure that the SACS warning is lifted," said Nicholson, "to ensure that transparency and good governance standards are applied."

That brings us back to Del. Landes, who is carrying legislation to do just that. His bills - House Bill 1940 and House Bill 1952 - both passed the House of Delegates Thursday. Among other things, they would make boards of visitors more transparent, and require student and faculty representation on those boards, something that many schools already do, but is not statutorily mandated.

"Whether the rector is confirmed or not, these will make improvements for the system ongoing, and that's the most important thing," Landes said. "We want to try to solve and correct the problems of the past."

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