Senate Votes to Reappoint Embattled UVa Rector

January 21, 2013

The vocal minority in the state Senate could not garner enough opposition, so Helen Dragas' journey to keep her seat on the University of Virginia Board of Visitors has crossed another hurdle.

"We are going to reward bad behavior," said Sen. Toddy Puller (D-36th District). "I never did that to my children."

Puller was one of a few state senators speaking out in the Capitol against Gov. Bob McDonnell's reappointment of Dragas to the UVa. board.

"I don't think Helen Dragas really exemplified the model that we should endorse," said Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31st District).

"The disservice in Charlottesville wasn't necessarily about the decision," said Sen. Creigh Deeds (D-25th District), who represents the area where the university sits. "It was about the process."

Despite the vocal minority, Dragas' reappointment easily passed the state Senate with a final vote of 29-9. A handful of senators spoke in support of the rector, who is accused of being the mastermind of the failed attempt to oust UVa. President Teresa Sullivan last summer.

"I have seen absolutely no reason to question the honor or integrity of this appointee," said Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-26th District).

State Sen. Tommy Norment (R-3rd District) said it's not the place of the Senate to second-guess the governor's appointment decisions.

"That will only be the beginning of the second-guessing that this legislative, deliberative body will begin to take on the governor's issues of the public colleges and universities," Norment argued.

Many of those against Dragas, including state Sen. Janet Howell (D-32nd District), said they're not only voting on their own ideas of honor, but also their constituents' ideas.

"Those of us in elected office are not held in high regard by the students, and sadly, I fear, by confirming Ms. Dragas, we'll justify their cynicism," Howell said.

The Senate's vote is one likely to be unpopular with many at the university, but it's one that could have an impact over the next four years.

From here, Dragas' reappointment must be confirmed by the House of Delegates. A date for that hearing has not yet been set.

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