Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Open Letter to Virginia Delegates RE: #UVa Rector #Dragas

Here is my open letter to the Members of the Appointments Subcommittee of the Virginia House of Delegates.

Dear Honorable Appointments Subcommittee Members:

Tomorrow morning, you will be visited by several of the University of Virginia's brightest and most idealistic students. They will arrive with much weight on their shoulders, to address you with regard to their concept of Honor at the University. Inspired by this concept, the students will sincerely represent the case against the reappointment of Rector Helen Dragas. I implore you to listen carefully to their comments and study their intentions.

While a faculty member at the University, I saw firsthand the severe consequences of the actions orchestrated by Rector Dragas last year. Within mere hours, the University's reputation and special relationship with its Alumni were dealt a severe blow. I have never witnessed such capricious and damaging executive misjudgment.

Frankly, I believe that I understand the Rector's original intent with regard to seeking leadership more dynamic than it has enjoyed in past decades. However, Ms. Dragas methods were injurious and remain a constant and festering insult to the entire community of the University. Truly, Ms. Dragas' only impressive accomplishment has been her ability to coalesce opposition to herself... among a broad community composed of many diverse interests. And yet, Ms. Dragas remains, somehow unaware or unimpressed that she has become the most divisive character in the University's entire history. One wonders what competent executive would let this happen to the organization they lead.

At this moment, we are faced with the disheartening possibility that Ms. Dragas' managerial incompetence and disregard for community consensus will be overlooked because she has certain financial ties to various interests on both sides of the political aisle.

Please consider what the University needs most at this juncture, as financial pressures continue to rise on our students and their families. These are difficult times for higher education, for the University, and for many families who sincerely believe in the value of an excellent college education. To move forward on its path toward affordable excellence in the Commonwealth, the University very much needs a solid relationship with *you* in Richmond. Clearly, Ms. Dragas is not the right person to mediate that relationship: she cannot capably represent your concerns to the University, nor the University's concerns to you. Ms. Dragas simply isn't the right person to mediate that important conversation.

I ask that you listen very carefully to the students tomorrow. You will identify in their voices the idealism that brought you to Richmond to work for a better future for your constituencies. Please respect the ideals that they express, and recognize within yourselves those similar ideals. And please consider the egregious affront to those ideals that Ms. Dragas has come to represent.

Most Sincerely,

Keith Williams
Visiting Professor
University of Virginia

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