Open Letter to the Virginia General Assembly

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Below is a letter distributed to the entire Virginia General Assembly by UVA Students United.

On Mar. 29, the University of Virginia’s Rector, George Keith Martin, and its president, Teresa A. Sullivan, sent a letter to the Virginia General Assembly regarding the new Affordable Excellence model. What they failed to mention, however, was the abhorrent lack of transparency in how this model was passed, reminiscent of 2012’s crisis in governance in which the Board unilaterally ousted Sullivan from her presidency.

On Mar. 24, UVA’s Board of Visitors maneuvered back-door dealings to force through a secret proposal. In only one meeting, the BOV introduced, discussed and voted on an unannounced proposal to raise tuition for incoming in-state students by an unprecedented amount over the next two years, expanding the “high-tuition, high-aid” model. Despite objections where Board members Allison DiNardo and Helen Dragas abstained and voted against the model respectively, the Board decided to move forward with this proposal. We have serious concerns about the Affordable Excellence model. Most of all, we are furious at the lack of transparency and the Board’s deliberate efforts to exclude the student voice.

Catching wind of this proposal less than 48 hours before the BOV meeting, students from the organization UVA Students United organized a rally of over 150 students outside of the Special Collections library, where the Board met. At the rally, students held their own hearing to discuss rising tuition, since there is no opportunity for public comment during any BOV meetings. Following the rally, the students entered the library to attend the meeting, where the proposal in question was being discussed. However, all but about eight students were denied access. When students asked the administration to move the meeting to a larger room to accommodate the students, they said it was not possible because any changes to meetings in time or location must be made 10 days in advance, according to the Board’s manual. Yet when students returned to attend the next day of meetings on Mar. 25, the schedule was rearranged so that the open meeting during which the Board passed a tuition hike actually occurred several hours before it was scheduled. During the closed session of the BOV in the afternoon, the whole building was put under lockdown. There were armed police guarding all entrances and exits, and administration entered and exited through alternative doors to avoid students desperate for answers. Sources say Rector Martin deliberately moved the open meeting in order to circumvent concerned students. Whether the BOV has permission to change the meeting schedule or not, what matters is that Rector Martin changed the schedule with the purpose of keeping students and the public from attending. This library lockdown is indicative of the Board’s ongoing trend of obfuscation.

The purpose of UVA has always been to create an active and engaged citizenry to uphold democratic freedom while equipping its students with the knowledge and power to fight tyranny and corruption.  So long as UVA is ruled by an oligarchy of Virginia’s wealthy elite, this university fails to uphold values of self-governance. The Board’s attempt to model our University after private institutions and Ivy League schools is overshadowing our fundamental commitment to the public. They conducted business behind locked doors guarded by armed officers in order to intimidate and threatened students with arrest for trying to peacefully participate in democratic discourse. We as students ultimately failed because we tried to work in a democratic way with what is fundamentally a non-democratic body.

Below are our proposals for how to make the Board of Visitors more transparent and democratic.

  1. Demand that the UVA Board of Visitors re-evaluate the Affordable Excellence Model.
  2. Implement a public comment period of at least one hour during the Board’s regular meeting, open to all constituents of the University.
  3. Establish several elected student representatives to the Board who have voting power.
  4. Mandate student and faculty representation on the Governor’s Advisory Board for Board of Visitors’ Appointments.
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