Lawmakers Reviewing UVA's Strategic Investment Fund

Posted: Updated: Sep 07, 2016 02:52 PM
State lawmakers conducting a hearing on the University of Virginia's Strategic Investment Fund State lawmakers conducting a hearing on the University of Virginia's Strategic Investment Fund

State legislators are reviewing the University of Virginia's Strategic Investment Fund, which former UVA Rector Helen E. Dragas has labeled a "slush fund."

Dragas, who first revealed the existence of this $2.3 billion cash reserve, did not attend Friday's meeting in Richmond. Breyana Baggett, a business associate, delivered prepared remarks on Dragas’ behalf.

"It's quite simply about whether the university and its vast resources is doing as much as it can for as many in-state students as possible," said Baggett.

On Friday, auditing officials reported on a multibillion dollar reserve fund at the University of Virginia. Representatives say they haven't come across anything to make them uncomfortable with the university's so-called strategic investment fund.

"I did not see anything that would indicate that there was a slush fund of any kind," said Eric Sandridge, director for higher education programs at auditor of public accounts.

However, former rector Helen Dragas stands by her challenges to the $2.3 billion fund. She still believes that tuition should be scaled back in light of the large sums of money accumulated under secrecy. She was not in attendance at the meeting, so a representative read a statement.

"The roughly 70 percent tuition increases proposed by the University's leadership since 2009 could have been avoided had the board been aware of billions of dollars in unneeded operating funds," said Baggett, on behalf of Dragas.

University leaders stressed they hope to leverage the fund's growth to enhance research and academics.

"If you could just give us a year or so to see what we do with it, see if we get really good projects," said William Goodwin, UVA Rector.

Virginia Senator Tommy Norment R-3rd District says he thinks Friday’s hearing brought about a productive dialogue and he's open to hearing more about such investments.

"I think it is an innovative model. I am not opposed to as I understand it conceptually today," said Norment. “The model seems to be very intriguing to me and in fact may generate sufficient resources that would help a number of public colleges and universities.”

Dragas, who led the UVA Board of Visitors from 2011 to 2013, characterized the fund as a "slush fund" in a column in The Washington Post. The university says the fund is not connected to tuition or public funding.

"I'm very depressed. Sitting here listening to this you'd think we're a bunch of bad people. You'd think we were a bunch of people who did wrong things," UVA Rector William Goodwin said.

A representative of the auditor of public accounts says UVA appears to be in compliance with state law. Audit Director of Higher Education Eric Sandridge told the panel of lawmakers that he has not come across anything that gives him discomfort.

Some members of the General Assembly voiced concerns about the lack of transparency and closed-door meetings of university leaders.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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