Questionable reappointment

Published 9:03 am Saturday, July 7, 2012

Until last week, Gov. Bob McDonnell had deftly navigated the controversial ouster and reinstatement of University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan.

He initially butted out when the Board of Visitors announced Sullivan’s forced resignation as U.Va.’s first female president.

The governor was smart to resist any urge at that stage to micromanage the university’s affairs.

When the Board of Visitors began to backtrack in the face of a faculty and student uprising over Sullivan’s ouster, McDonnell wisely pushed the board to a final resolution, threatening to remove all board members if they did not act decisively amid the growing chaos. A couple of days later, Sullivan was reinstated by unanimous vote.

McDonnell did the healing process no favors, however, with his decision last week to reappoint to the Board of Visitors Hampton Roads businesswoman Helen Dragas, who led the effort to oust Sullivan.

Even though Dragas, who has served as the board’s rector since 2011, was part of the vote to reinstate Sullivan, Dragas’ authority — not to mention her standing with other board members and with Sullivan – has been badly undermined by the events of the past month.

Whether she was right or wrong in her actions, the fact is that Dragas asserted herself in the battle over who should lead the university and lost.

Notwithstanding the lip service paid by both sides to unity going forward, Dragas is a damaged, weakened board member.

Her presence will only complicate the tenuous relationship between Sullivan and the board. McDonnell should not have put Dragas in that position.

If he felt so strongly about Dragas’ leadership, he should have publicly come to her defense when the rest of the university, including colleagues on the Board of Visitors, began to turn on her.

On a related note, we commend McDonnell for asking Franklin native Bill Goodwin, one of this state’s most successful business leaders, to serve as a senior adviser to the Board of Visitors. Goodwin will offer strong counsel and be a steadying influence for a body that is floundering.