David Ramadan | Ramadan is a former Republican member of the House of Delegates from Loudoun County. | Posted 8 hours ago
They say the third time is a charm, but the covert trifecta at the University of Virginia is shameful.
In 2015, I wrote about UVa’s tuition cover-up, in which the administration rammed one of the highest tuition increases in the country through with no public notice.
In 2016, The Washington Post finally confirmed that the UVa administration had worked to cover up the details of systemic rapes and abuse that were about to be reported by the U.S. Office of Civil Rights. That, I said, was over the top, too.
So it’s no wonder that I’m angry as Charlottesville tries to deflect attention from the latest revelation, which is that the University of Virginia is sitting on a $2.3 billion —yes with a “B” — pile of money they would only discuss behind closed doors.
Once, the university called it “operating” funds. That is, until a second round of double-digit tuition increases had been approved and the General Assembly was safely out of session.
Now we know otherwise. Citing a conversation in which pet project spending was discussed and the board of visitors was implored to keep mum about the money, one member called it “slush.”
Responding to the uproar, the university calls it “transformational.” I’ll say. Using $50 million for yoga and meditation would transform any taxpayer’s level of anger at what I’d call a Charlottesville version of Three Card Monte.
All of which brings to mind my version of an old Middle Eastern proverb: If the king says it’s night in the middle of the day, look for the stars. In other words, don’t be diverted. Or to quote Deep Throat of Watergate fame, “Follow the money.”
I have no doubt that the money has always been “reported” —after all, a $2.3 billion nest egg isn’t something you can hide easily —but they did! The question now is how and what was it reported as to the board of visitors?
Equally troubling is how much effort has gone into making everything seem normal when it hasn’t been.
Rather than engaging — rather than talking about how this $2.3 billion windfall could secure the futures for a generation of Virginia’s kids who only want the chance to get an affordable education at a world-class school — we’ve been treated to a lecture about process.
Rather than coming clean — rather than having a conversation about how even a modest portion of Virginia’s newest pot of gold could be used to roll back tuition— we’ve been given a seminar with statistics to justify the status quo.
And rather than listening to the silence of thousands of students for whom the admissions door is closed every year, we’ve been treated to a lecture on excellence by one of the few for whom it opened.
As a former member of the House of Delegates, I am proud that many with whom I served have taken steps to get answers and clear the air.
They want to know why in-state tuition continues to skyrocket, even when they were told it would not. They want to know why out-of-state students are receiving “excessive” financial aid. And they want to know why a conversation about the university’s newly renamed “strategic investment fund” took place in secret.
And lest anyone thinks this is a partisan issue, rest assured that it is not.
Two senators who could safely be described as politically polar opposites —Chap Peterson a Democrat from Fairfax and Bill DeSteph a Republican from Virginia Beach— have jointly called out the University for running an apparent “covert surplus” that is significantly larger than the Commonwealth’s own cash reserve, and asked for a forensic audit of the books.
More scrutiny is needed. I urge the General Assembly to reconsider its position regarding Freedom of Information Act exemptions for those who lead Virginia’s colleges and universities. All university business should be conducted in public — presidents of Virginia public universities should not be treated differently than leaders of other public institutions just because of their friendships with some members of the General Assembly.
Further, I urge the General Assembly to create an ombudsman position at each of our public colleges and universities. By hiding a $2.3 billion —remember with a “B” — fund and then covering it up via discussions at closed board meetings, which could be illegal; it is evident that the taxpayers’ interests have been violated at UVA. Virginians need advocates at our schools —especially those universities that have forgotten that they are owned by the taxpayers and instead operate as if they are private institutions.
Last but not least, I urge the General Assembly to change the term “board of visitors” to “board of trustees.” Those appointed to boards are called upon to lead our public colleges and universities — they are expected to “govern” not “visit” campuses once every other month to watch football games and rubber-stamp administration decisions. Their loyalty must always be to the Commonwealth as trustees charged with protecting public assets, not hiding them. They are there to serve, not to be cheerleaders!Read More