Bumbling Governance: UVA Part II

By Alan Rudnick

Students at the University of Virginia often refer to themselves as “Wahoos,” – e.g., the fish that can drink twice its weight. The University’s Board of Visitors, its governing body, more aptly resembles the Yahoos, the creatures whom Jonathan Swift used to lampoon English governing society of approximately a century before the University of Virginia opened its doors.

Over the last few days, the Rector finally issued an explanation for the BOV’s actions in pushing out its popular president. The BOV announced it would meet next week to reconsider the president’s firing, and Virginia’s governor said he would call for the resignation of every BOV member if the BOV did not resolve the situation, one way or another, by next Wednesday. Regardless of how the situation is resolved, the BOV has come across as an inept group that has lost credibility with the public and the university’s stakeholders.

None of this had to happen. The Rector’s belated explanation raises very important issues. Good governance would have dictated that the BOV follow normal governance procedures – meet as a group, consider issues, and determine course of action. For something as important as firing a president before her contract expires, a formal vote, followed by clear explanation to the public is basic. Simply by sticking to governance basics, the BOV could have focused the public’s attention on the issues at hand; instead the BOV itself became the issue.

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