Even as Gov. Bob McDonnell distances himself from the debacle roiling the University of Virginia campus since President Teresa Sullivan was forced to resign, he's just weeks away from shaping the board that will be tasked with cleaning up one of the most turbulent periods in the school's storied history.
The terms of four members of the university's governing body expire on July 1, and McDonnell must name people to those seats. If he so chooses, McDonnell can reappoint two of those Board of Visitors members, including embattled Rector Helen Dragas. He must find a replacement for Vice Rector Mark Kington, who resigned last week amid the turmoil.
Lawmakers, faculty and interim President Carl Zeithaml, dean of the McIntire School of Commerce, have called on McDonnell to take advantage of the appointments to reduce the board's focus on money.
"The state of Virginia needs to see a recognition by Gov. McDonnell that he gets it, and this all-business board is slanted," said Sen. Dave Marsden, D-Burke. "He needs to make an appointment that sends a message to people. If he puts [Redskins owner] Dan Snyder on the board, he didn't pick up the lesson to be learned."
McDonnell has criticized the way the board removed Sullivan without a public vote or explanation, and he vowed Friday to call for the resignation of the entire board if a final determination on Sullivan's job status is not reached during a special meeting Tuesday.
But McDonnell has repeatedly insisted he will not micromanage state boards, a philosophy that underscores the importance of the people McDonnell taps to serve four-year terms.
The 16-member board now includes well-connected business executives and big-name donors to the school and political campaigns. They were appointed by McDonnell andformer Gov. Tim Kaine, and Zeithaml said that must change.
"There's a lot of principles that can be applied from private sector into our world, but not all of them," Zeithaml said. "If we have people on the board that were truly independent experts, that might help us navigate."
McDonnell must decide whether to keep Dragas, whom many have called on to resign. It was Dragas and Kington who worked behind the scenes to oust Sullivan, according to emails released by the university.
"Our position is very clear: We think the best thing for her is to step down," said law professor George Cohen, chairman of the U.Va. Faculty Senate. "If she's not willing to take responsibility, the governor reappointing her would not send the kind of message we're looking for right now."