Students have not forgotten their efforts last Summer to reappoint President Theresa Sullivan after her mysterious resignation. At the first UVA Student Council meeting of the Spring 2013 Semester, Neil Branch submitted SR 13-01: Resolution Petitioning the General Assembly to Reject the Reappointment of Helen Dragas to the Board of Visitors. Most Student Council legislation is usually tabled for one week and then voted on to give representatives time to talk to the student bodies that they represent. Yet, this was no ordinary resolution. The resolution would be moot if Student Council passed the legislation after the General Assembly approved Helen Dragas’ appointment. Some student council members pressed for a vote that same evening. The majority of student council representatives, including myself, voted to table the vote until we had time to talk to our constituents. Although we knew that many students disapproved of Helen Dragas’ actions last Summer we wanted to ask our constituents if it was in the student body’s best interest for Student Council to speak out against Helen Dragas’ reappointment.
I posed this exact question to the Batten school’s graduate student body: “Do you support Resolution 13-01.” Within two days about 50% of the Batten student body responded. This was remarkably quick! 78% of the Batten student body responded in support for the resolution and 22% voted against. This was similar to other polls across the University. The College of Arts and Science representatives sent out a survey asking students if “Do you feel that Helen Dragas should be reappointed to the Board of Visitors (BOV) at UVa?” Over 1,000 people responded and about 90% of them responded “yes.” Although, this vote sounds overwhelmingly in support of the resolution, I received some very thoughtful insights against the resolution. The most overwhelming reason I received for Student Council to not take action is that action could lead to further bad press for the University. The Student Council should only take action to improve student life so the argument against taking action was extremely relevant.
Three days after our first meeting, Student Council held a special meeting at 11 AM on a Friday to discuss at vote on SR 13-01. The representatives debated for approximately one hour. I reported the results of my survey but I also brought up the arguments against passing the resolution that Batten students had voiced. We discussed the potential negative consequences of voting for the resolution. Yet, in the end we decided that inaction could have more negative consequences than action. For example, inaction would mean students stayed silent and would set a precedent of university governance decisions being made without student input. At 12pm on Friday January 18th, the Student Council voted unanimously to vote for SR 13-01 to petition the General Assembly to reject the reappointment of Helen Dragas to UVA’s Board of Visitors. Subsequently on January 24th, Neil Branch, spoke at a Virginia House subcommittee hearing on behalf UVA’s Student Council, that UVA students do not support Helen Dragas’ reappointment. “We really value the sense of honor and the community of trust, and with that, open governance and a commitment to transparency,” said Neil Branch “We believe neither of which Helen Dragas has shown.”
Despite speaking out against the reappointment, the House of Delegates Privileges and Elections Committee voted 18-2 in support of Helen Dragas’s reappointment on January 25th. Delegates Robert Brink of Arlington and Jim Scott of Falls Church voted against Dragas. Delegate Steve Landes abstained after he made an unsuccessful attempt of remove Dragas’ name from the reappointment list. The bill will now move to the House floor for a final vote.
Even if Helen Dragas is reappointed, I am proud of the Batten student body in their enthusiastic and quick response to my survey on the Student Council resolution. No matter your opinion, I strongly believe in students’ rights to voice them. And that is why I love Batten. Student’s not only care about learning great governance but also demand it.
– Posted by Kelly Connors, Student Council Representative, MPP ’13