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State Senators Demand Answers on UVA’s Reserve Fund

Posted: Updated: Jul 26, 2016 04:42 PM
File Image: The Rotunda at the University of Virginia File Image: The Rotunda at the University of Virginia
State Senator Bill DeSteph State Senator Bill DeSteph
State Senator Chap Petersen State Senator Chap Petersen
File Image: Former University of Virginia Rector Helen Dragas File Image: Former University of Virginia Rector Helen Dragas
RICHMOND, Va. (WVIR) -

The recent revelation that the University of Virginia has a multibillion dollar reserve fund has many people concerned. Now, two lawmakers are demanding answers and calling on university leaders to roll back tuition.

State Senator Bill DeSteph (R- 8th District) called on the inspector general to launch an investigation Thursday. He’s also reaching out to other officials to conduct an audit and asking the Virginia attorney general for a legal opinion.
     
DeSteph and fellow State Senator Chap Petersen (D-34th District) say it's time for UVA to offer more transparency.

"I'm not saying there's anything wrong. I'm just saying there's a lot of questions and something doesn't seem right,” DeSteph said.

The issue came to light after former university rector Helen Dragas wrote about it in the Washington Post. She labeled these dollars a slush fund while university officials have called it a strategic investment fund designed to promote the long-term financial security of the school.

“You could use just the money from the investment of this $2.3 billion and reduce tuition 70% for statewide students. We got to fix this,” said DeSteph.

Senators DeSteph and Petersen say they're alarmed by this fund. DeSteph is looking to get to the bottom of it.

“From a strategic reserves standpoint, the state's rainy day fund or reserve fund is $800 million. This is three times the amount of the state reserve and this is a state agency - a public university - and they feel they need something three times the size of the entire state of Virginia,” DeSteph said.

Petersen, a UVA graduate, says he shares these concerns and is considering introducing a bill on this issue next session.

"The General Assembly needs to rein them in. I mean, if necessary, I'll bring legislation in 2017 saying universities, by law, cannot price their education beyond what it actually costs. In other words, you can't overcharge your consumers and then run a surplus,” Petersen said.

The University of Virginia has several online resources including frequently asked questions about the Strategic Investment Fund, the latest audit, and a recent statement from University Rector William Goodwin.

Statement from University Rector William Goodwin:

“Over the past several years, current and former members of the Board of Visitors and the University of Virginia administration have dedicated countless hours and numerous meetings to develop and implement a strategic plan and long-term financial plan that will position the University to remain one of the greatest public universities in the Commonwealth and the nation. 
 
"Our long-term work in this regard aligns the University’s strategic goals with funding that will enable important investments in our students’ experience, faculty, academic programs, Medical Center, physical space and research infrastructure.  
 
"All of the board’s actions regarding the strategic plan and the long-term financial plan have been discussed and voted on in public session.  The monies have always been included in the University’s audited financial statements, which include the operations of the UVA Medical Center, representing more than half of the University’s operating revenues.
 
"I should also note that such long-term planning and financial management is prudent for any large and complex organization and is a practice the Commonwealth encourages public institutions to follow.
 
"I have asked the University administration to provide details over the next few days regarding our work to date on this matter and the process that is currently being undertaken by a faculty committee that has been charged with reviewing proposals by the deans.
 
"The University's strong financial position will enable the University to make these strategic investments while minimizing tuition increases so that UVA continues to provide its students with an affordable, accessible and world-class education.
 
We remain excited about the great strides we have taken to ensure our strong financial footing, and the great work that will continue to take place to propel the University into its third century better poised to fulfill its mission to the benefit of the Commonwealth and the nation."