More than 1,500 people have signed a petition started by a University of Virginia student calling for the state's general assembly to block the appointment of Helen Dragas to the school's Board of Visitors because of her role in the controversial ouster and reinstatement of the institution's president, Teresa Sullivan, this summer.
Suzie McCarthy, a political science Ph.D. student at UVA, started the petition after the university's accreditation was put on warning by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools' Commission on Colleges.
According to NBC Washington, SACS was concerned about the Sullivan affair and said UVA had broken a rule meant to prevent a minority of board members from calling the shots, and a rule requiring faculty involvement in governance.
Dragas and another board member were instrumental in forcing Sullivan out of her post in June. After three weeks of protest and mass outrage by students, faculty and alumni, Sullivan was reinstated. But shortly after, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) reappointed Dragas as head of the university's governing board. That reappointment for another four-year term, however, is subject to confirmation by the state legislature, which convenes next month.
"Post-reinstatement I adopted a 'wait-and-see' attitude with regard to the Dragas reappointment issue," McCarthy told The Huffington Post. "Personally, I wanted nothing more than to see her immediately removed, but President Sullivan made it clear that she wanted to move past the June events and work with the BOV including Dragas to put UVA back together."
Virginia state Sen. Dave Marsden (D-Fairfax) told McCarthy in an email he'd prefer to see Dragas leave of her own accord, and called for votes against her confirmation.
"Regardless of her intent, it is now very clear that procedurally this was handled very badly in a conspiratorial fashion," Marsden said. "The lack of transparency and the lack of fundamental fairness to Doctor Sullivan cannot be remedied unless Rector Dragas steps down or is not approved for re-appointment in the General Assembly."
An alumni group, the UVA Alumni for Responsible Corporate Governance, said it is also working to persuade lawmakers to stop Dragas's reappointment.
Dragas told HuffPost she knows the position of rector "is not a popularity contest and sometimes calls for thick skin."
"I don't think rehashing serves the University well and the Board and the President have been clear that we are working hard and working well together -- we are looking resolutely forward," Dragas said. "The focus should be on the progress being demonstrated daily."
But McCarthy also pointed to reports that she believes show Dragas and the board didn't feel any urgency to protect the school's accreditation with SACS.
"In June, Helen Dragas demonstrated that as a leader she feels no accountability to the UVA community," McCarthy insisted. "She is willing to act unilaterally to do what she feels will further her own vision of what UVA should be. ... She is a toxic presence within the University and an impediment to our ability to move past the events of June. The General Assembly needs to exercise its power of oversight to protect its flagship University."
The Daily Progress reports emails released under the Freedom of Information Act show Dragas considered resigning during the summer, around the same time the UVA Faculty Senate held a no-confidence vote against her.