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UVA Board of Visitors Address Controversial Fund at Retreat

Posted: Updated: Aug 16, 2016 11:06 AM
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) -

The University of Virginia Board of Visitors (BOV) is trying to decide what to do with the controversial Strategic Investment Fund that recently came to light. With $2.3 billion at stake, the board created a special committee to review the fund and find a path forward during a retreat Monday, August 15.

Helen Dragas, former rector for the BOV, brought the fund into the open when she wrote an op-ed piece in the Washington Post. The article comes after Dragas finished an eight year stint on the board, marred in controversy for her role in the attempted ousting of UVA President Teresa Sullivan.

The debate over UVA’s Strategic Investment Fund is happening within a larger debate over the future of higher education that questions if universities are businesses, institutions of learning, or both.

University Rector William Goodwin started Monday's BOV session by raising doubts about what he called "recent discussion in the newspapers." While never mentioning Dragas by name, the board tore apart her op-ed point by point in a chart that featured direct quotes from Dragas.

“Either is incorrect or people are working with the wrong assumptions,” Goodwin said. “This is meant to sort of help set the real record right.”

The BOV’s main argument was that the Strategic Investment Fund is neither nefarious nor secret. They say it was created over the last few years by cobbling together existing money and adding university investment earnings.

The BOV also says the fund was made public in audited financial statements.

“I think to refer to this as a slush fund is disingenuous, and politically twisted, and ill serves the university,” said Gerald Warburg, university professor.

In his own op-ed piece published in the Virginian Pilot, Warburg says the money in that fund is, in part, for academic research.

“There has been increasing pressure on public universities to cut costs, to hold down salaries, to admit more students, and to do less research,” he said.

As state legislators are seeking answers, Warburg worries they may try to tip into the Strategic Investment Fund for administrative costs, leaving little for research.

“We've already seen that in the response of some individuals in Richmond to discussions about the strategic fund. Well, if UVA has so much money why do they need any money from Richmond? That's silly,” Warburg said.

The university and lawmakers have conversations planned in the coming two weeks for the General Assembly to look into the fund.

Even if the fund was entirely on the up and up, it’s still a lot of money and there the questions on how to spend it all are still up for debate.

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