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Helen Dragas disparages without disparaging

Helen Dragas is an amazing piece of work.  She’s the rector of the Board of Visitors that forced UVA president Teresa Sullivan to resign.  A new hearing to potentially reinstate Sullivan is scheduled for Tuesday but leading up to it, Dragas is digging in her heels about the rightness of the board’s original decision.

Yesterday, she released a statement explaining why the board forced Sullivan to resign.  It turned out not to have been written by her.  The geeks unpacked the electronic copy to discover that some hack at the PR firm Hill and Knowlton actually wrote it.  Then the professors weighed in and picked it apart.  Jeez, you do not want to get on a Wahoo’s shit list.  They’re having a field day.

Governor McDonnell laid down an ultimatum: get this issue under control by Tuesday or I will ask for the resignations of the whole board.  I’m not sure this works in UVA’s favor though because McDonnell is a Republican and half of the board members were appointed by Tim Kaine, the previous governor who is a Democrat.  That includes Helen Dragas.  The board actions look like they cross party lines, however.  What the board members seem to have in common is that most of them are in the 1%.  To them, party distinctions are irrelevant.  They’re used to getting their own way.

In response to McDonnell’s ultimatum, Dragas fires back a nasty little ditty of her own.  Here are the money quotes:

I also agree with him on the importance of providing clear explanations of our actions, as I aimed to do in my statement yesterday, while being mindful of the constraints of the confidentiality of personnel matters and the non-disparagement agreements in the President’s contract.

I appreciate the Governor’s leadership in affirming the importance of Board governance, and that we alone are appointed to make these decisions on behalf of the University, free of influence from outside political, personal or media pressure.

I look forward to a respectful and dignified meeting on Tuesday, and to an important discussion of the implications of any decision we make on the ability of future Boards to lead the University.”

Let’s leave aside the sheer chutzpah required to tell the Governor to BTFU, what Helen appears to be saying here is roughly the equivalent of “I am prohibited by law from telling you that Teresa Sullivan is a goat fucker.  If I said that, that would be disparagement.  And anyway, that information is confidential.”

I know I should be blogging about the election or the new, incredibly boneheaded and damaging “Fast and Furious” scandal that provoked Obama to claim executive privilege. That scandal seems to have depressed even Jon Stewart.  But this event at UVA is riveting because it is a microcosm of what is happening everywhere in this country, an easy to digest story of  overreach by the privileged for mysterious reasons that may or may not have to do with making money. It’s happening at a historic university, founded by one of the most famous founding fathers who penned the Declaration of Independence.  Jefferson knew all about the motto Sic Semper Tyrannis. There is a lot of Americana and symbolism. The 1% have been doing this very same thing to this country for decades now to different segments of our economy and society.  And the privileged class started crossing party lines to take over the Democratic party in 2007 as well.  But never mind that right now.

What is it that drives Dragas?  There’s a timeline convergence happening in July where the board members are up for renewal.  It doesn’t look like Dragas will be reappointed*.  Is Dragas taking one for the team?  Is she trying to accomplish something before her term is up? Is something big at stake here for her to assert the board’s sovereignty?  Is that why she won’t resign?  Her statement of reasons why Sullivan was “fired” from yesterday seems to be superceded by the statement from tonight where she implies that there’s a blot on Sullivan’s permanent record.  What is this all about? There must be a strategy, because I can’t believe someone would go this far out on a limb without one.  Maybe it only appears to be a Komenesque self-destructive event.

And what are we to make of Sullivan’s confidence?  If she’s been fucking goats, she doesn’t seem to mind anyone finding out about it.


*Update: @cvillnewscom tweets that a reliable source in the Governor’s office says that Dragas will be reappointed.  If true, the board is determined to get its way and this is going to be a very ugly power struggle.

I saw this quote on twitter in a tweet on #UVA:

“When wrongs are pressed because it is believed they will be borne, resistance becomes morality.”

14 Responses

  1. That quote is pretty good, “When wrongs are pressed because it is believed they will be borne, resistance becomes morality.” I might take it for my personal motto.

    • Yep, pretty much sums it up. Also:

      “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”

      People will put up with a lot of crap before they resist.

  2. I certainly hope the governing board does not prevail. Perchance,the peasantry might take torches unto the castle and in, ahem, churlish, righteous anger cast out the monsters.

  3. Perhaps if hundreds or thousands of “potentially recruitable professors” and also “potentially recruitable university president candidates” from all over the country made an organized point of saying everywhere and loudest that they would never consider working at UVa unless Sullivan is able to march to triumphant return on a road of Draga’s bones ( and the rest of the board’s bones too);
    that might get the attention of the Governor and others powerful enough to pressure-wash the Yeltsinizers off the board and out of the University.

    All the students who are “good enough” to “get into other universities” should perhaps look into how to do so, and those who really would do so if UVa becomes a “Phoenix University 2.0” should
    organize to show their ability, intention, and plans to do just that.
    If the traditional powerbrokers of Virginia Society realize that the Yeltsinization plan will give Virginia a smoking hole in the ground where a famous university used to be; they might start pouring fire into Draga’s (and the Board’s) position from all kinds of unexpected gun emplacements.

  4. In the most recent “links” post at Naked Capitalism, secondary co-poster Lambert Strether has put up a large paragraph with many embedded links about the UVa affair. I will try cutpasting the whole thing here:

    VA. UVA putsch: “The board announced today it will meet at 3 p.m. Tuesday in the Rotunda, ‘to discuss possible changes in the terms of employment of the president’” (i.e., Sullivan). Faculty Senate chair: “I think we’re very excited by the presumption that President Sullivan would be reinstated.” Head counting: “The Board [of Visitors] will need a minimum of eight votes to reinstate Sullivan, or a majority of its 15 voting members. A Board coalition seeking to re-instate Sullivan held eight votes at one point during its Monday evening meeting, WaPo reported, but the Board eventually voted 12-1 to appoint McIntire School of Commerce Dean Carl Zeithaml as the future interim president.” “A source who has been conferring with a member of the BoV says that the resignation of Kington proved instrumental, that the board had been firmly deadlocked on reinstatement until Kington dismissed himself. The source says that the Board member can’t guarantee a majority on Tuesday, that some members have gone ‘hiding,’ but that whatever vote is taken will need to be in open session forcing the attendees to abstain or reveal their stance to the public for the first time.” The Deans throw putschster Rector Dragas under the bus: “We, the deans of the Colleges of the University of Virginia, respectfully request that the Board of Visitors (BOV) reconsider their decision of June 8, 2012 and restore Teresa A. Sullivan to the position of President of the University of Virginia.” Because: “As reported by WaPo, Sullivan has indicated that she would be willing to remain in the presidency if Rector Helen Dragas were to resign.” New Dragas statement: “However, as much as our action to effect a change in leadership has created a wave of controversy, it was motivated by an understanding of the very stiff headwinds we face as a University, and our resolve to push through them to forge a future that is even brighter than imaginable today.” (“Headwinds,” like “pivot,” and “racing to ______”, is one tell of a bullshit narrative.) Governance: “The UVA BoV includes a real estate developer, a coal company magnate, a Wall Street professional, a top lawyer for General Electric, a nursing home executive, a beer distribution entrepreneur and other business elites. Only four have professional experience in higher education.” Governance: “Vice Rector Kington, who resigned several days ago, served a previous term on the board after donating tens of thousands of dollars to Governor Mark Warner. Then he backed the opponent of Warner’s successor, Tim Kaine, and was kicked off. Then he donated over $100,000 to current Governor Bob McDonnell, and was reinstated.” Governance: “The AAUP has authorized an investigation into the situation at the University of Virginia, where the board of visitors abruptly sought the resignation of president Teresa Sullivan earlier this month.” Should help with recruiting! Siva Vaidhyanathan: “Virginia is for Incrementalists. #UVA” Heh. Snark watch, of Cavalier’s FOIA-ed email trove:” On the bright side, let me complement [sic] you on your font choice and the formatting of your emails. Further, they feature some unusual words, and a spirit of verve throughout.”

    Note that the article mentions some of the bussiness or employER interests of the “Visitors”. Could a nationwide academic/student based movement be somehow whipped into existence fast enough to organize a strangulation boycott against these persons’ bussinesses or income streams until these persons either quit the board . . . or are driven into personal destitution?

  5. Is the seal of UVA really a scary feminist with a “spear” AND a giant dildo quoting John Wilkes Booth standing over the inert corpse of Abe Lincoln, Vampire Slayer?

    I mean, it kind of makes me wish I went to school at such a wacky post-modern institution, but it might be reflective of deeper issues.

    Wait, that’s the seal of the entire state? Hoo boy. This might take a while to work itself out.

  6. Meanwhile, Colonel (Ret.) Pat Lang weighs in on this subject:

  7. RiverDaughter writes:

    But this event at UVA is riveting because it is a microcosm of what is happening everywhere in this country, an easy to digest story of overreach by the privileged for mysterious reasons that may or may not have to do with making money. It’s happening at a historic university, founded by one of the most famous founding fathers who penned the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson knew all about the motto Sic Semper Tyrannis. There is a lot of Americana and symbolism. The 1% have been doing this very same thing to this country for decades now to different segments of our economy and society.


    But I disagree with her assessment that the Democratic Party went over to the dark side only in 2007. Rather, I think they have been involved in a good-cop/bad-cop game with the Republicans since time immemorial. See Walter Karp’s book Indispensable Enemies: The Politics of Misrule in America. The USA has always been ruled by and for the 1%.

    • If that is true, they at least had to be substantially nicer to us during the Roosevelt-Nixon period. As I have seen pointed out on other threads, the Democratic Party starting really becoming the so-called “Democratic” Party for real beginning under President Carter who began laying the foundations for the pro-OverClass deregulationism to come, what with the repeal of Regulation Q and the pressure to repeal the various state-level anti-usury laws, and the forced deregulation of the Airline Industry as a template for destructive deregulation all over the economy and so forth.

      So if the only reason they were nicer to us during the New Deal was because they had to be, why did they feel they had to be? Can we replicate updated versions of the conditions which made them feel they had to be nice to us then? So we can make them feel they have to be nice to us now? How can the 99% torture the 1% into being nicer to the 99%? And make no mistake, only torture and the credible threat of extermination will have the necessary effect. So how do we create the atmosphere of “social and economic torture” directed upward which would make a credible threat of extermination . . . credible?

      • Oh . . . and the pursuit of Treasonous anti-American Free Trade Agreements. Until those are all abolished and destroyed, the only further “progress” America will make is “progress” all the way down to a hybrid MoldovaUkrainian–Haitian existence.

  8. Dragas needs to go — the typical corporate speaking my-way-is-the-only-way power wielder.

    What is also at play here is McDonnell can’t be seen as letting a college brouhaha besmirch the application he filled out on Monster.com for Romney’s VP. While the usual Rep background vetting might not uncover this skirmish, he can’t take any chances.

  9. Do people get on the Board of Visitors in part by having given tons of money to UVa? That would explain why things are so one-percenty.

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