Archive for June, 2012

Dragas Reappointed to Board of Visitors

Late Friday, when many journalists had gone home for the weekend, Governor Bob McDonnell announced he would re-appoint Helen Dragas to the University of Virginia Board of Visitors.  McDonnell said he was disappointed that the first female rector of the university had become the sole target of criticism, and he said her critique of challenges facing the university must be heard.

Helen Dragas was widely seen as the engineer of Teresa Sullivan’s ouster, and her critics were none too happy with the news she’d been reappointed.  Siva Vadyahnathan is chairman of Media Studies at UVA.

“It’s really unfortunate.  It’s, however, not surprising.  At the top levels of institutions and states, when you want to get things done, you have to cut deals,” said Vadyahnathan.

And faculty senate president George Cohen, who once demanded that Dragas resign, was willing to let the appointment ride.

“If the president feels that she is able to work with her, we ought to follow the president’s lead on that, and we’re going to do that in the spirit of cooperation.”

Other appointments include Frank Atkinson and Barbara Kilberg.  Atkinson is a lobbyist for corporations and university foundations who gave nearly $37,000 to McDonnell, Lt. Governor Bill Bolling, Attorney General Ken Cucinnelli and other Republican candidates since 2000.  Kilberg is president and CEO of the Northern Virginia Technology Council.  Her contributions to McDonnell, Bolling and other GOP candidates totaled more than $50,000 over the last 12 years.

Victoria Harker, chair of  UVA’s alumni association, Linwood Rose, former president of James Madison University, and  Ed Miller, CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine also made the list, so faculty leader George Cohen said he was satisfied.

“I think we see the glass is half full, that the governor reached out to name a former university president, someone from the alumni association – and I think we have to look at that as progress.”

He was also gratified that UVA’s retired COO – Leonard Sandridge, had been named to one of two new seats reserved for senior advisors.  The other went to William Goodwin, Jr. of Richmond, a former member of UVA’s board of visitors and a generous donor to the GOP, having given more than $546,000 to McDonnell, Bolling, Cucinelli and other Republican candidates since 2000.

Cohen said the faculty senate would continue to press for someone to represent UVA’s professors on the board of visitors.     

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Partisan Planning after the Ruling

The day after the High Court decision over health care— Virginia politicians continue to rally.
As we hear from Matt Laslo, Democrats are trying to cope with the court’s decision to weaken the law’s Medicaid provisions….while Republicans continue their attempts to repeal the law.

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Virginia’s Attorney General Reacts to SCOTUS

After initially calling the U.S. Supreme Court decision “a dark day for American liberty,” Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has revised that outlook.  He now says after reviewing the justices’ opinion that upheld the federal health insurance mandate through the power to tax, he believes it is a policy loss but a victory for liberty.  Virginia Public Radio’s Tommie McNeil reports that although the Attorney General wanted the entire mandate struck down, he says the Commerce Clause ruling actually gives Virginia more options.

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Tax Incentives & Education

Governor McDonnell has ceremonially signed into law a bill that provides tax incentives for donations that help low-income children and students with disabilities attend nonpublic schools.  The measure received support from only a few Democrats and narrowly passed the divided state Senate.

Under the law, individuals or businesses can receive tax credits worth 65 percent of their donations for private school scholarships, which must go to low-income students. The law is intended to reduce state costs for public education since more students would attend private schools. But the governor said it’s really about helping children succeed regardless of their zip code or parents’ finances.

“We’ve tried a lot the last couple of years as governor to create a world class public education system in Virginia but also to create some options and some choices for young people. Charter schools. College laboratory schools. Virtual schools and now a tuition tax credit bill all that create the range of options for young people and their parents to be able to make an effective choice.”

Opponents argue such measures siphon tax dollars away from public schools, strapping local budgets and hurting students left behind. There’s an annual state cap of $25-million, which would pay for about 7,000 students to attend one year of public school. That’s 2% of Virginia’s poorest students.

–Amanda Iacone

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Back on the Job at UVA

UVA President Teresa Sullivan is back in the saddle this morning after a wild rodeo ride.  The board of visitors voted, unanimously, to reinstate her after protests erupted on campus and donors threatened to withhold money.  Sandy Hausman reports that Sullivan and the people who tried to push her out are now pushing ahead – together.

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Offshore Drilling Debate

U-S House Republicans continue to try to pressure the Obama Administration to open up Virginia’s coast to offshore oil and gas drilling.

In Virginia the House of Delegates, the Senate and Republican Governor Bob McDonnell have all approved drilling for oil and gas off the commonwealth’s coast. Still, the Obama Administration has a moratorium in place blocking Virginia from leasing out the area for drilling, which is puzzling to Virginia Republican Congressman Scott Rigell.

“So here we have the express, collective wisdom and will and desire of Virginians and it’s being thwarted by the administration,” said Rigell, who
recently got the House to approve an amendment that would lift that moratorium, which he says would do well for the economy across the state.

“We are optimistic about this. It has tremendous job creating potential, not only Virginia’s second congressional district but the entire region.”

Environmentalists and people in the tourist industry vehemently oppose the plan to drill off Virginia’s coast, saying the potential harms far outweigh any new revenue.

— Matt Laslo

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More on the New Voter ID Law

Local registrars or electoral board members would be able to call provisional voters to remind them to provide an ID under regulations just adopted by the State Board of Elections.  Those who vote provisionally would also receive these ID requirements in writing as they cast their ballots.

The regulations flesh out more details for carrying out Virginia’s new voter ID law.  The state will mail free ID cards to all registered voters.  Those who don’t show proof of identity at the polls would cast provisional ballots.  They would then need to bring, e-mail, fax, or mail a copy of an authorized document by noon on Friday.  State Board of Elections Secretary Donald Palmer said the few public comments the board received expressed concern about whether provisional voters would be told what they need to do.

“They do receive the provisional ballot notice, and it has all the information.  There were a few comments in there on this issue.  But it has the fax number, the address, the telephone number which they can contact, the due date for the evidence to come in.  So I think that we can provide some recommended language,” said Palmer.

But that later phone call would be optional.  The Board also drew names to decide which political party will be listed first on the November ballot.  The Republicans won.  Some observers believe undecided voters may choose the first name listed, which can be pivotal in a close election.

–Anne Marie Morgan

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UVA Board of Visitors Meeting Scheduled

The University of Virginia Board of Visitors meets Tuesday, 6/26/12 at 3:00 p.m. in what could be the last chapter in a tumultuous tale.  Faculty and students have demanded the reinstatement of President Teresa Sullivan, and many expect that to happen, but Sullivan could refuse to return, creating a new crisis on campus.

Since the board of visitors asked for Teresa Sullivan’s resignation, students, professors and many alumni have been fighting to have her reinstated.  George Cohen heads the faculty senate.  He was relieved to hear the board might reconsider its decision. “We were grateful that the board did call for this meeting, but this is a crisis in which many unexpected things, so we will just have to wait and see what happens,” said Cohen.

Cohen said he was optimistic, but there are signs that Sullivan fans could be disappointed.  The man chosen to replace Sullivan, on an interim basis, has kind words for Rector Helen Dragas, who worked behind the scenes to push Sullivan out.

“The Rector has been villifed, has been the subject of a lot of abuse, and Helen Dragas is not an evil person.  She has given so many years of service to this university, and I honestly believe that she thinks the decision they made to ask President Sullivan to resign was the right thing.”  Carl Zeithaml, Dean of UVA’s undergraduate school of business, criticized the way Dragas handled this matter but agreed with her assessment of university problems and would not say whether he supports Sullivan.

“I want the board to engage in a thorough and appropriate process and make the best decision for the university.”
And then there’s billionaire alumnus Paul Tudor Jones – a major donor to the university — who has publicly expressed support for replacing Sullivan.

For her part, Sullivan says she will not remain in the presidency if Dragas is on the board. Students and faculty rallied over the weekend – showing support for the president and urging the Rector to resign.  “Please, Helen,” said one sign. “Don’t Dragas Down.”  But late last week, Dragas issued a lengthy defense of her actions – written with the help of a high priced public relations agency.  Her term expires at the end of this month, but she could be reappointed by the governor who has praised her as an “incredibly good leader and strong participant on the board.”

So what will Bob McDonnell do?  State Senator Dick Saslaw, a Democrat from Northern Virginia, says it’s a no-brainer. “The governor would have to be out of his mind to reappoint her as a result of all of this chaos.”

Even if Sullivan remains, Saslaw says UVA can expect hard times ahead, because all public schools in the Commonwealth have one big problem. Teresa Sullivan saw that when she took the job, nearly two years ago, and went straight to Richmond.

“We’ll get about $8,400 per student from the state.  At Michigan where I was last, we got $17,600.” Yes – Michigan, in the midst of a depression, was giving more than double the per student aid to its public universities.  Maryland provides $17,620 and North Carolina sends its premiere state school – UNC-Chapel Hill – more than $26,000 per student.

“The reason is that they have higher taxes in that state.  Their roads are far superior to ours.  They’re able to do a lot of things we can’t do, because there’s a flat refusal to make anybody pay for anything in this state,” said Saslaw.

Students and faculty at UVA have remarked about the surprising degree of agreement in the battle to reinstate Sullivan – the ability to bring more than 2,000 people out for a rally.  Organizers hope that energy can be harnessed to demands for voting faculty and staff representation on the board of visitors and for more state money to fund UVA and other public universities in Virginia.

— Sandy Hausman

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Learning from the Forgotten War

This month marks the 200th anniversary of the start of the War of 1812, and state officials have been preparing with a special commission, website, and historical markers at significant locations.  And as Virginia Public Radio’s Anne Marie Morgan reports, commission members are urging residents to take time to explore the critically important American event that some have called “the forgotten war.”  

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Virginia’s Influence

To understand Virginia’s influence on presidential politics today, it might be helpful to study how each of the eight Presidents who hailed from Virginia led the country. University of Virginia Political Professor Larry Sabato says the founding fathers, many of whom were from Virginia, “were on to something” despite having varying philosophies.  In order for this country to move politically, Sabato says it must get back to its roots.  Tommie McNeil reports.

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UVA Still Simmering

The University of Virgnia’s PR office has introduced the man chosen to serve as its interim president, but the faculty seems determined to save Teresa Sullivan, and the Washington Post quotes sources who say Sullivan would stick around if Rector Helen Dragas resigns.

UVA’s Faculty Senate sent an e-mail yesterday, urging professors to attend a silent vigil at the Rotunda, and concluding: “It’s not over.”  After the vigil, the group’s president told us why.

“We are still seeking the reinstatement of President Sullivan, the resignation of Rector Dragas, and I think this really gives us a chance to re-examine the whole structure of the board of visitors, the method of selecting board members.  I think everything should be on the table now for examination and debate.”

But Geroge Cohen, a mild mannered professor of law, was not prepared for confrontation.

“We are trying to be as respectful and rational as possible.  We want to convey through our words and our actions our concern about the university.”

Sullivan herself sent an e-mail scolding those who had used abusive language or graffiti during an emotional week on campus.  “Civility is an important hallmark of our university,” she wrote.  Joe Szakos agrees but says the professors will have to step up their game if they want to win.  He has spent 33 years fighting for underdogs, from the slums of Chicago to the coalfields of Kentucky, and is now executive director of Virginia Organizing.  He’s not speaking for the group – just offering a little friendly advice to the faculty.

“It’s obvious from the news accounts that this was as premeditated … talk about this nicely.”

Szakos says the faculty must be strategic and direct – working every possible channel to persuade the people empowered to reinstate Sullivan — the governor and the board of visitors.

“You really have to think, do we know anyone who knows them … what’s going to make them move?  You have a tremendous advantage, because there are UVA donors, UVA graduates, UVA students everywhere in the state.  There’s no way this is going to change unless it becomes personal.”
He’d even to talk with the governor’s kids, who are students at UVA, and in every conversation, he’d  lay it on the line.

“You can do that in many ways … and tell them you don’t like it.  I mean, it’s almost … just not right.  Now there are a lot of cases … really easy.  They did some really nasty things in the last couple of weeks, and you have to bring that to light.”

And there’s one other thing Szakos says the faculty must be prepared to do.  This could go on for some time, so they’ll have to be persistent.

— Sandy Hausman

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Heat Reminder

Just as summer officially kicks off, there are a few things that Virginia motorists need to be aware of.

AAA Mid Atlantic Spokesperson Windy VanCuren reminds us of the time when the husband of the Richmond SPCA head left a pet in the car, where it died.  She says it shows common sense doesn’t always translate to common practice, which is why they’ve asked motorists to be mindful of very hot conditions.

“Even on a shady day when temperatures are 80-degrees outside, after 20-minutes, the internal temperature of a vehicle can reach 109-degrees,” says VanCuren.

But VanCuren says already this week, there have been near 100-degree days, making the temperature inside most cars quickly exceed the 120-degree mark.

“At 107-degrees, a child’s brain cells are damaged and their internal organs start to shut down at core body temperature,” she says.

This is especially true for children under the age of four. “Their body absorbs the heat a lot faster than adults at three-to-five times faster.”

AAA advises people to leave something they need in the seat with the child or pet—as a reminder. VanCuren says people can dehydrate very quickly, so it’s always important to have large amounts of water stored in the car. It’s also handy in the event the car overheats.

–Tommie McNeil

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Saving the Boundary Stones

In the nation’s capital, locals are racing  to protect and preserve the oldest federal monuments: its boundary stones, placed along the original D-C border in 1791. Rebecca Sheir brings us the story.

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UVA Interim Presidents Meets Media

The newly designated president of the University of Virginia held his first news conference today.  He spoke about Teresa Sullivan, the way she was treated, and his plans for the future.  Sandy Hausman reports.

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Lawmakers Weigh in over UVA Board

A number of state lawmakers want to know EXACTLY what happened behind a closed-door meeting of UVA’s Board of Visitors, which resulted in the ouster of President Theresa Sullivan.  One such legislator, Delegate Joe Morrissey of Henrico, has called for a hearing before the House of Delegates Education Committee—and his law firm has offered to pay associated costs.  As Virginia Public Radio’s Tommie McNeil reports,  Morrissey says by law the Board of Visitors must be accountable for its actions.

Meantime, in response to Morrissey’s comments, the Speaker of Virginia House of Delegates says it would be “premature” to call a legislative hearing on Sullivan’s dismissal.  William Howell tells the Richmond Times Dispatch the situation is “still very fluid”.  The Stafford County Republican is taking a wait and see attitude before determining whether such a hearing would be productive. Howell had that a decision on holding a hearing is “not a question of cost.”

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College Costs

Tuition at public universities across the Commonwealth will go up again during the next academic year.  But the increases are not as steep as in the recent past.

Tuition and fees will rise about 4% on average for Virginia’s public universities and colleges this fall—less than the almost eight percent increase last year.  Officials say the injection of an extra $258-million from the state budget helped keep a lid on rising tuition and fees. State Council for Higher Education Director Peter Blake told the House Appropriations Committee that varied state funding levels have had a direct impact on the price students pay.

“Mr. Chairman, this is a good news story. The good news is that because of the investment you made in higher education during the last General Assembly session, not only are tuition and fees half of what they were last year, the increase half as what it was last year, they are also the lowest tuition and fee increase in Virginia in 10 years,” said Blake.

Students will pay $70 more a year at Norfolk State compared to an extra $651 at VMI.  As state general fund support declined over the last decade, tuition rates rose, pushing more of the cost onto students.  However, Blake says the total cost of higher education in Virginia has remained flat.

–Amanda Iacone

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UVA: News from the Rotunda

More than a thousand people rallied on the lawn outside the Rotunda at the University of Virginia today, as the board of visitors met to hear from President Teresa Sullivan and to choose a temporary successor.  Sandy Hausman was on hand and filed this report.

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Concern over the Redskins Deal

Members of the Virginia House Appropriations Committee roundly criticized a major economic development project the McDonnell administration currently has in the works. Delegates were critical of the state’s promise to give millions in incentives to the Washington Redskins and questioned whether the team might have stayed, anyway, even without a taxpayer handout.

The Delegates shredded the state’s $4-million concession to the Redskins to keep the team’s offices in Loudoun County.  They said they rejected an incentive package during the legislative session.  Chairman Lacey Putney questioned the governor’s chief of staff, Martin Kent, on the rationale for sending tax dollars to one of the most profitable NFL teams.

Q-Chairman Putney: “When this matter was soundly rejected by this legislative body, explain to me why that didn’t count?”
A-Martin Kent:  “Why, Mr. Chair, of course it counted. Obviously the governor is very, very concerned about making sure that particularly our appropriations committees are supportive of a lot of the deals that we do.  In this situation, we felt like, given the dynamics of this deal as it changed dramatically in very short order, lended itself to a far more lucrative deal than we initially thought it would be.”

Kent says the incentive is smaller than the $12-million the Redskins asked for. And the income and sales tax revenue the team generates will recoup the investment within a year.

–Amanda Iacone

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UVA Board of Visitors Meets; Faculty Senate Makes Demands

The Board of Visitors is meeting behind closed doors at the University of Virginia this afternoon.

Earlier today, the faculty senate’s executive council had a private meeting with Dragas to discuss Sullivan’s resignation.

In a written statement, faculty representatives described their meeting with Rector Helen Dragas as cordial – an opportunity to ask questions about recent events and to hear the board of visitors’ perspective.  Faculty members also wanted to know what role Dragas saw for them in governing the university and why the board of visitors acted in what the statement called a “speedy and secretive way.”

The executive council representing teachers and researchers then shared a list of possible actions.  First, the faculty proposed a delay in naming of an interim president, so they could be consulted on the decision.  Second, they asked that President Sullivan be reinstated and that the board recommend adding UVA faculty as voting members.  Finally, the group suggested Dragas and Vice Rector Mark Kington resign in the best interests of the university.

About 13% of the nation’s public universities include faculty as voting members of their boards.  Another 10% have representatives as non-voting members – among them Virginia Tech, George Mason, Virginia State and Radford universities.
— Sandy Hausman

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Board Reform

In light of the chaos caused by a few members of the board of visitors at the University of Virginia, Delegate David Toscano has announced plans to introduce a bill that would change the way board members are chosen.  Sandy Hausman has that story.

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UVA Faculty Gather

The University of Virginia’s board of visitors  meets this afternoon (06/18) at 3:00.
Rector Helen Dragas has promised a statement, and University President Teresa Sullivan will address the board in closed session.  Last night, more than 500 people came to a meeting of the faculty senate to affirm their strong support for Sullivan and their lack of faith in the board.  Sandy Hausman was there and filed this report.

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Continuing Care Conversation

Over the last several years across Virginia, residents of continuing care retirement communities have expressed concerns about the fiscal health of their facilities and their ability to have an active role in their governance. Now, through a legislative work group, these citizens are representing themselves.  And as Virginia Public Radio’s Tommie McNeil reports, they have begun the process of improving services in both independent living retirement communities and nursing homes.

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Tribute to Virginia Women

Visitors to the Virginia State Capitol will find tributes to presidents, senators, and governors, as well as civil rights and Civil War icons.  But whether it’s Pocahontas, Dolly Madison, or Maggie Walker, the contributions of women in the state’s history are not depicted.  As Virginia Public Radio’s Tommie McNeil reports, a state commission working diligently to fill that void has reached one of the most crucial stages: finding and funding the right artist.

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College & Career Readiness

Today’s employers complain that not only do students entering the workforce lack the reading, math, and science comprehension needed to perform basic duties, but also the social, communications, and problem-solving skills that help make them resilient, well-rounded leaders.  During a State Council of Higher Education for Virginia meeting, educators discussed how a Liberal Arts education could address those problems, but not without doing a better job of preparing students before they leave high school.  A new state initiative tackles that problem within a revised Standards of Learning curriculum.

While all phases have not been fully implemented, many educators know about the College and Career Readiness Initiative.  Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Linda Wallinger says it aligns college and career-ready performance expectations to national and international college and career-ready standards in reading, writing, and math.

“We have developed optional capstone courses during the senior year—one in Reading and one in Mathematics. These courses are for students who will graduate. They’ve completed all of their graduation requirements, they’ve passed all the SOL tests that they need to pass, but for some reason, either they or some of their teachers feel that they may not have the skills necessary to be successful,” says Wallinger.

These non-traditional, elective courses don’t repeat previous content, but instead allow students to apply what they know in a performance-based manner.  The state also implemented new “College Path” mathematics SOL assessments and will do so next year for English.  All will help measure whether students have mastered the skills they need for college or the workforce without remediation.

–Tommie McNeil

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Counting Contractors

An estimated 40,000 Virginia businesses are improperly classifying workers as independent contractors instead of employees. That’s according to a new Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission report—which also says the practice shorts the state of tax revenue, gives the companies an unfair competitive advantage, and deprives workers of benefits. As Virginia Public Radio’s Amanda Iacone reports, the study recommends that the state make such practices illegal and penalize those companies.

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UVA President Resigns

Less than two years after her selection, the University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors has accepted Teresa Sullivan’s resignation and is calling for a bold new leader who can resolve tough financial issues.

When Teresa Sullivan was chosen by a unanimous vote of the board of visitors, there were rave reviews.  Rector John Wynne called her a person of integrity, experience and vision, while board member W. Heywood Fralin said, “She is as knowledgeable about the issues facing higher education as anyone I’ve met in the last 20 years.  She will be an outstanding president in every respect.”

On Sunday, the curtain came down on Sullivan’s show, and the critics were not so kind.  Rector Helen Dragas held a quickie news conference on the steps of the administration building to explain why the well-liked leader of UVA was leaving.

“We had a philosophical difference about the vision of the future of the university.  We are living in a time of rapidly accelerating change in both academia as well as in healthcare.  That decision has – excuse me – that environment has — we believe calls for a different approach to leadership.  We know that the university has exceptional potential, and the board of visitors wants – believes that we need a bold, strategic, visionary leader to take us to the next level.”

Reporters asked Dragas to explain what had changed so much, in less than two years, to warrant Sullivan’s departure.

“There’s lots of news that you can read about the external environment.  Can you be more specific?  I believe I’ve answered the question.”

And she was equally evasive when asked when this decision had been reached:

“It’s been something that’s been evolving over a period of time, but I won’t speak to the specifics, and I do need to go to a 2 o’clock meeting, so thank you all for your time.”

Students, faculty, alumni and staff were notified by e-mail, and in a statement to deans and vice presidents, the board of visitors said, “We know this news is a great shock to the institution.”  Still, the board offered only vague explanations.  “We have calls internally for resolution of tough financial issues,” the statement said, citing declining federal support, state support that will be flat at best and pressures on health care payors.”

The president of the faculty senate at UVA, law professor George Cohen, was on vacation in San Diego when the e-mails began to fly.  Cohen said he was greatly surprised:

“The faculty has been very supportive of President Sullivan.  We’ve been very excited by the changes that she has implemented and the direction that she seemed to be going.”

And while he was aware of financial problems, Cohen added, he thought Sullivan was taking care of business.

“We just had a new provost who just came in in the fall, we have a new chief operating officer, and so we had a new administrative team, and we thought that there would be time for them to work toward a strategy for dealing with these issues.”

In its statement, the board of visitors listed a range of concerns: lagging pay for faculty and staff, the need to make star hires as senior professors retire, the possibility of expanding the university’s educational mission online and the need to effectively obtain gifts. UVA fell $400 million short of a $3 billion fundraising target last year.

Observers also note substantial turnover on the board.  With new appointments every four years, nearly half of those who chose Sullivan are no longer there.

Rector Dragas said an interim president would be in place when students return this fall, and UVA would begin the search for a new president as soon as possible.  Sullivan issued a statement acknowledging philosophical differences with the board and expressed gratitude to the faculty, students,  alumni and administrators.

— Sandy Hausman


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June 12th U.S. Senate Primary Information

Senate Candidate Websites:

Republican candidates in the U.S. Senate primary:

George Allen:

E.W. Jackson:

Bob Marshall:

Jamie Radtke:

Democratic candidate (no primary needed):

Tim Kaine:

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Roasting the Reporter

Photo: Virginia Public Access Project

There’s a quote that, “The odds are against getting even with people because the odds are they’ll get even with you”. It’s hard to say whether “roasters” at a Virginia Public Access Project fundraising event honoring one of the most outspoken names in Virginia politics were keeping that in mind, but political reporter and columnist Jeff Shapiro may have gotten off easy. Or perhaps just one hour of payback from some of the state’s leading politicians just wasn’t long enough to rebut 30-years of Shapiro’s scrutinizing stories and editorials.

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Election Next Week

Next week, Virginia voters will choose among four GOP candidates for the U.S. Senate and in some districts, Democratic and Republican candidates for Congress.  The lack of competition in other districts could dampen voter turnout there, but as Virginia Public Radio’s Anne Marie Morgan reports, all voters statewide have an opportunity to help decide who will face off in November against the unopposed Democratic Senate nominee, Tim Kaine.

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