University of Virginia board appointment changes supported

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) - A University of Virginia survey shows a majority of residents in the Charlottesville area support changing laws that govern the appointment of the school's board members.

Seventy-nine percent of the more than 1,000 residents who responded to the survey said they favor such changes.

The telephone survey was conducted by U.Va.'s Center for Survey Research. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Charlottesville Delegate David J. Toscano tells The Daily Progress that there's no doubt people want change. He says the question is what form it will take. He is preparing legislation that would strengthen the committee that vets proposed board appointees.

His proposal also would change quorum requirements for boards to conduct major business. On June 10, the board unexpectedly announced President Teresa Sullivan's resignation in a move that caused uproar on the Charlottesville campus while most students were away on summer break.

In defending the decision, board Rector Helen Dragas had said the university wasn't acting quickly enough to address state and federal funding reductions, online education delivery and other challenges. Sullivan, the first woman to head the university founded by Thomas Jefferson, was reinstated June 26 after large-scale protests, online petitions and angry calls by faculty, students, donors and alumni from across the country.

Shortly after Sullivan was reinstated, Gov. Bob McDonnell reappointed Dragas, leading to outcry from many in the university community. The General Assembly will consider Dragas' reappointment when it convenes in January.

"I think that there is a sense that there need to be some improvements and some reform," said Del. R. Steven Landes, R-Weyers Cave. Landes said he is working on proposals to mandate greater transparency for members of college boards and strengthen reporting to the General Assembly.

A majority of the survey's respondents, 53 percent, said the crisis over Sullivan's ouster and reinstatement didn't change their perception of U.Va., while 34 percent said they viewed the school less favorably.

Thirteen percent said their view was unchanged.

"It is apparent that the final decision of the Board of Visitors to reinstate President Sullivan is connected with the opinion of those expressing a more positive view," researcher center Director Tom Guterbock said. "All of the respondents who felt more favorably about the university approved of the decision to reinstate her."

Guterbock noted that the survey was conducted before U.Va.'s accrediting body put the university on 12--month warning status.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools' Commission on Colleges announced the warning status Dec. 11 at its annual meeting.

The accrediting body said it found indications that U.Va. broke governance rules in the failed attempt to oust Sullivan.