Saturday, June 23, 2012

In a Weird Juxtaposition of National Politics and University of Virginia Politics – Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell is Caught in a Trap

Another Example of Why Accurate Forecasts on Politics Cannot Be Made

[Update:  Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell has taken a strong and firm stand just wimped out on this issue.  He has abdicated any responsibility for the actions of the Board of Visitors for the University of Virginia and told them in no uncertain terms to do something.  What he has not told them is what to do.  But he has said nothing using very forceful language.

“Let me be absolutely clear: I want final action by the board on Tuesday,’’ he wrote. “If you fail to do so, I will ask for the resignation of the entire Board on Wednesday. Regardless of your decision, I expect you to make a clear, detailed and unified statement on the future leadership of the University.”

He has also told them if they do not do something, that something being unnamed, he will replace all the Board with new members whom he expects to do something.  Of course, since he has not said what he wants them to do it is highly likely that a new Board will be unable to do what the Governor wants them to do since he has not said what he wants them to do.

Gov. McDonnell's actions in all of this can be found under 'Leadership, lack thereof" in any treatise on management.]

The state of Virginia and specifically the University of Virginia are going through a huge amount of turmoil as we speak.  The cause is the fact that the head of the Board of  Visitors of that very fine institution unilaterally convinced the other members of the Board to fire the President of the University.  That person, Helen Dragas has since come under a firestorm of criticism.

In recent days, protesters have massed on the university’s historic Lawn in front of Thomas Jefferson’s Rotunda. Newspaper editorials have demanded answers. Donorshave threatened to withhold funds. Faculty have called for Dragas to step down.

“I’ve never seen one person have such a negative impact on a large institution like this,” Elizabeth Friberg, a nursing professor, said at a rally in Charlottesville on Wednesday. “Maybe there were two. Maybe there were three. But she’s the face of it, and she’ll have to live with that.”

A large part of the controversy has come about because of the way in which the termination of UVa President Teresa Sullivan was handled.  Ms. Dragas apparently mounted a one person campaign, acted in secret and then told Ms. Sullivan she was being terminated without giving the UVa President any time to refute the concerns or state her case to the Board.  All of this was done without a formal Board meeting.

All of this is unusual, since an account in the Washington Post paints Ms. Dragas as an effective business leader, a concerned citizen and a person who has given generously to various causes. 

The Dragas Cos. recently donated $1.5 million to help the homeless in three cities in the Hampton Roads region, and Helen Dragas has been honored by Habitat for Humanity and other organizations. She is known in her home town as a civic leader.

She could be considered bi-partisan, with leanings towards Virginia’s conservative Democrats like former Gov. Warner.

There is a large effort to have the Board reinstate Ms. Sullivan.  But that has run into politics.  It seems Ms. Dragas’s appointment expires July 1, and Virginia Gov. McDonnell must decide on whether or not to re-appoint her, which would be an endorsement of her actions and her positions.

One obstacle to Dr. Sullivan’s resuming her presidency could be the presence of Helen E. Dragas, the rector, and, by most accounts, architect of the ouster, who exchanged e-mails with others on the board expressing concerns about financial positioning and, in particular, whether the university was moving into online education as quickly as it should.

The Washington Post has reported that Dr. Sullivan has said that she would like to return to her job, on the condition that Ms. Dragas resigns, and if communication with the board improves. Ms. Dragas has not indicated any plans to leave, and while her term expires July 1, the governor, while criticizing the ouster process, has not yet said whether he will reappoint her.

The reason this is national news is that Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell is certainly being vetted for a possible selection as the Republican Vice Presidential nominee.  If he reappoints Ms. Dragas he will be seen as siding with those who wanted the President of the University removed, and implicitly condoning the rather ugly way in which that was done.  At least one newspaper in the state is strongly against this.

But on Wednesday, she lost the support of her local paper.

“Helen Dragas, rector of the University of Virginia, has failed repeatedly to explain why President Teresa Sullivan was forced out a week ago,” the Virginian-Pilot said in an editorial. “Dragas has, however, built a convincing case for another departure — her own.”

If Mr. McDonnell does not re-appoint Ms. Dragas he will be seen by conservatives as giving into the hated ‘university people’ and his chances for the VP slot would be close to zero. Wow, how could anyone have foretold that a local issue like who is and who will be President of the University of Virginia would have an impact on national politics.

There is one good lesson here.  A bold, decisive business leader does not necessarily make a good leader in the public sector where the skills of leadership are vastly different.  Hm.  We wonder if that is in any way relevant in the Presidential race?

1 comment:

  1. Hey I am so glad I found your site, I really found you
    by accident, while I was browsing on Aol for something else, Regardless I
    am here now and would just like to say kudos for a remarkable post and
    a all round thrilling blog (I also love the theme/design), I don't have time to look over it all at the minute but I have saved it and also added your RSS feeds, so when I have time I will be back to read a lot more, Please do keep up the excellent work.
    Also visit my weblog ... Dubai Real Estate Laws