Saturday, June 23, 2012

UVA's Presidential Business

Near the end of my call home for Father's Day my father said, "Something's going on at UVA.  They fired the President.  You should check it out."  I avoided his advice until yesterday  My cursory review concluded the conflict to be the result of PEU/corporate memes being imposed by University Board members.  PEU is my abbreviation for private equity underwriters, whose memes include:

The belief that programs should pay their way from tuition/fees and be self sustaining (there is no intrinsic knowledge worth preserving through social/economic cycles).  

The drive to the lowest common denominator on costs, usually headcount and/or worker pay/benefits  (executive pay and political donations are exempt from this drive).

The unending demand to do more with less (based on whim, not on an understanding Dr. Deming's teaching). 

The notion that people are like rats and pigeons and must be extrinsically motivated to do a good job (If I am greedy, then you must be too, only extrinsic motivators cause great harm in organizations).  

After reviewing e-mails between UVA's Rector Helen Dragas and Vice Rector Mark Kingston, it appears the pair micro managed University President Teresa Sullivan, at least in the facility arena.  The e-mails start with both Board members wanting to drive down the cost of historical building renovation to condo construction or home renovation levels.  They shift to hiring a public relations firm and efforts to sell the firing.

Rector Dragas is President and CEO of a real estate development corporation in Virginia Beach, while Vice Rector Kington is Managing Director for X-10 Capital Management LLC, a "long-short hedge fund."  Kington is also President of Kington Management Corporation and a former PEU Managing Partner for Columbia Capital LLC.  In the small world of corporate boards, Dragos and Kington serve on the board of Dominion Resources. 

The insular corporate/PEU world has founders and partners querying affiliates outside the public eye.  There would be zero chance of involving legislators or garnering access to e-mails.  Teresa Sullivan had the fortune to work for Thomas Jefferson's University, steeped in tradition and a certain nobleness.

UVA's Faculty Senate stated in a letter to  the Board:

“We believe that this abrupt and, from our point of view, opaque decision will deeply threaten the way UVA is perceived by prospective as well as current faculty, students, and donors.  We strongly urge the Board of Visitors to reopen discussion with President Sullivan and the faculty.”
Politicians hate to be made the fool by people they appointed.  Vice Rector Kington resigned quickly, even though he was in line for the top spot.  Rector Dragas' train continues to wreck.  Will the PR firm find a way through the maze?

Governor Bob McDonnell charged the board with a final answer on Tuesday  My father, a former MCV faculty member, predicted Dr. Sullivan will be reinstated this week. I'm not so sure. Nevertheless, the stakes are sufficiently raised.

Update 6-24-12:   Some 1,500 people rallied on the Lawn in support of President Sullivan.