Sen. Marsden urges McDonnell to take action on U.Va. saga

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Local,Virginia,Steve Contorno

Count Virginia Democratic Sen. Dave Marsden among those lawmakers now urging action in the ongoing saga on the University of Virginia campus.

Marsden, of Burke, wrote Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell on Thursday asking the Republican executive to support the reinstatement of President Teresa Sullivan and not appoint Board of Visitors Rector Helen Dragas to another term leading the school's governing body.

Marsden also called for an investigation in the board's decision to abruptly oust Sullivan after just two years at the helm, sparking campus demonstrations, alumni outrage and calls by faculty to remove Dragas, who led the charge to remove Sullivan.

"In acting behind closed doors, and without a clear reason for her dismissal, the Board of Visitors at UVA has cast a negative light on our exemplary public higher education system," Marsden wrote. "I worry what the board's decision will do when it comes to recruiting and retaining the best and brightest faculty and administrators to The University of Virginia."

McDonnell has said he found the process by which Sullivan was dismissed troubling, but insisted it was not the governor's role to micromanage actions of state boards.

Del. Joe Morrisey, D-Highland Springs, also asked for a legislative inquiry this week into what prompted Sullivan's forced resignation and even offered to pay for it.

Multiple reports indicate some board members are recruiting support to reinstate Sullivan. The 16-member board shrunk to 15 this week when Vice Rector Mark Kington resigned his post, meaning eight, not nine, board members are needed to take action. There's a deadline of 5 p.m. Thursday to call a meeting that would put Sullivan's future on the agenda.

When Kington and Dragas are replaced, Marsden asked McDonnell to buck recent trends that promote well-connected alumni and high-level executives to the Board of Visitors over individuals with backgrounds in higher education.

"There has been a significant shift in recent years to awarding these appointments to those people whose main experiences are in the business community," Marsden said. "While this is important when dealing with institutions with large budgets and complex business responsibilities, we need qualified people looking out for the best academic interests of the entire university community."

scontorno@washingtonexaminer.com

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