The Republican leader of the Virginia Senate plans to vote to confirm Helen Dragas to a controversial second four-year term on the University of Virginia board of visitors.
In announcing his support Monday, Sen. Thomas K. Norment Jr., R-James City, cited comments by U.Va. President Teresa Sullivan that it wouldn't "be productive to continue to re-hash the events of June."
But he also said refusing to confirm Dragas would weaken the governing boards of public universities.
The Senate Privileges and Elections Committee is expected to take up Dragas' confirmation this afternoon.
Dragas, initially appointed to the board by Gov. Timothy M. Kaine in 2008, as rector led the board's unsuccessful attempt to fire Sullivan. Gov. Bob McDonnell reappointed her to the board days after Sullivan was reinstated. Some lawmakers and alumni have protested her reappointment.
"In considering whether to confirm this reappointment, I put great weight in the judgment of the leadership of the University of Virginia," Norment said in a statement. "For me, President Sullivan's remarks to a legislative forum held at the university in December were particularly instructive on what is the best course of action in this circumstance."
He said it is clear that Sullivan believes it is in the best interests of "the university to move beyond last summer's controversy."
But Norment also said state universities must have a leadership dynamic "of cooperation between boards of visitors in a supervisory role and the schools' administrations in an executive role."
"Failing to confirm this reappointment would send the wrong message to those who serve on Virginia's boards of visitors," he said. A rejection "would effectively weaken the boards in their necessary mission of providing guidance, direction and oversight of our colleges and universities."
However, Norment's announcement was followed by an email to state lawmakers from a group of U.Va. alumni urging them not to misinterpret Sullivan's comments.
"President Sullivan must try to minimize conflict under the governance structure in place," the message from U.Va. Alumni for Responsible Corporate Governance said.
The message said that while senators are concerned about maintaining the board's responsibility for oversight of U.Va.'s finances and curriculum, "so are alumni. Accountability, however, requires a properly functioning board that does not squander its legitimacy." ___
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