Internal BOV E-Mails Released

The Cavalier Daily has FOIAd the UVA Board of Visitors’ internal communications—specifically, those sent and received by Rector Helen Dragas and now-former Vice Rector Mark Kington—and it’s good, good stuff. I think everybody could use some help translating them, especially from folks with deep knowledge of UVA, so if you spot anything interesting in them, please post a comment explaining! The short version is that this is all about online education, with Dragas and Kington convinced that if UVA doesn’t change its model immediately to teaching people via the internet, it’ll be a buggy-whip factory in no time.

Over at the Washington Post, Daniel de Vise and Anita Kumar have already provided their own timeline-based interpretation, and at the Progress Bryan McKenzie has summarized what he sees as the interesting bits. Also, the Cavalier Daily—having gotten these e-mails as printouts, which strikes me as a bit malicious—tweeted out the best ones last night as they scanned in the pages.

31 Responses to “Internal BOV E-Mails Released”


  • Is it just me, or does an air of self-congratulation pervade the emails?

  • From WaPo: “May 31: A public relations executive writes to Dragas to discuss pricing for a “Strategic Communication Project” they have previously discussed. The price is $7,500 for the first 10 hours, and $350 for each additional hour. The work will include “drafting press releases and strategy.” Kington replies, “Seems reasonable.” Dragas says the firm was “Ed’s recommendation,” possibly referring to ex officio board member Ed Miller.”

    If they hired this company, was the company inept, or did Dragas and the cabal ignore the advice? Looks to me like any money expended on communications was a total waste. Who paid for that?

  • My favorite part so far is this one:

    Dragas to Kington: “since you are much more familiar with restoring historic building than I, does $3 million seem like a lot for an interior-only renovation of Pavilion X?”

    Kington: “Yes, it does–we did our complete house, [redacted] square feet, interior and exterior plus landscaping, for about [redacted]. The rejection of the facilities building would send a good message.”

    This produces a detailed e-mail from Colette Sheehy explaining just WHY it costs a lot of money to renovate part of a UNESCO World Heritage site. Because, actually, it turns out, the Lawn is not entirely comparable to Mark Kington’s house. Who knew?

    But PR for the Rector? Priceless.

  • It’s good that the Rotunda has a nice convenient round shape – much easier to form a circular firing squad that way…….

  • Follow the money trail, and it will lead back to investors in online learning technology and/or healthcare.

    Most of the articles cited in the BOV emails are written by stakeholders in online learning platforms / LMS.

    Jeff C. Walker was Chairman and CEO of CCMP Capital, the $12 billion successor to JPMorgan Partners, JPMorgan Chase & Co’s global private equity and Chairman of the JPMorgan Chase Foundation.

    Keep digging! My guess: corporate takeover by members of the McIntire and Darden boards.

  • My favorite line, by far …

    “Maybe a modicum of candor is called for … Helen, your thoughts?”
    – Kington to Strine and Dragas in response to an inquiry from a Chronicle of Higher Education reporter.

  • After reading all this I keep thinking that the Dardenites want to turn UVa into The Southern Campus of Greenwich INC.

  • Greg, Mark Kington owns R.E. Lee’s boyhood home in Alexandria. This is a stupid website, but has pictures showing that it may be more like a UVA pavilion than you think.
    http://www.hauntedhouses.com/states/va/robert_e_lee_mansion.htm

  • R.J. Kirk’s name pops up from time to time in there..
    http://www.roanoke.com/news/roanoke/wb/xp-105486
    If this is just act one of some grand scheme I wouldn’t be surprised to see his name on a list of BoV appointments come July.

  • Kudos to the Cavalier Daily for jumping on the FOIA process. Good work Hoos.

  • Boss: thanks for pointing that out, and I take your point. But I still marvel at the breezy way all this is being dealt with. Kington owns a historic house, and his renovation didn’t cost that much, so let’s reject it because it will “send a good message.” These are not thoughtful people.

    Also, it’s interesting that these are described as “not items of huge importance,” but there’s talk of eliminating whole academic programs whose budgets are in the same ballpark.

  • Dragas Construction Confidential

    Dear Interim President Zeithaml,

    Thank you for accepting our proposal to raze the Academical Village. Now that we’re taking UVA online, there’s no justifying the expense to maintain 200-year-old buildings designed to foster face-to-face student/faculty interaction, regardless of what Thomas Jefferson intended (http://www.virginia.edu/academicalvillage/ http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/442/). They’re just a reminder of the past.

    The bulldozers are en route, scheduled to arrive in the middle of the night.

    Regards,

    Helen E. Dragas
    President and CEO
    The Dragas Companies

  • The following link was mentioned in a comment to the washington post article waldo references above.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-18191589

    In short it talks about what top universities are doing to put their courses on-line. But what is missing from the emails between Dragas and others is any mention of the difficulties involved in doing this successfully. The idea is half baked at best and certainly no reason to remove a president. There is more to this story. If it was the real reason President Sullivan was removed then the superficiality of the BOV thought processes calls into question their thoughts and decisions on everything else. They should resign for incompetence. The lack of anyone with an academic or educational background on the BOV is telling.

    Some US universities like Harvard, MIT, and Stanford are in ranking a tier above UVA and many other schools. Being in the top 5 or 10 is not the same as being in the top 25. Looking back on some of President Sullivan’s statements about a reputation gap may have been an attempt to explain that to the BOV. It would seem that this would be a factor in the marketability of UVA on-line classes.

  • According to the WaPo, Mark Kington’s house is Robert E. Lee’s childhood home, which was a museum until Kington bought it, renovated it, and moved in.

    This is why Dragas asks him for advice about renovating Pavilion X.

  • “There is room for carefully implemented online learning in selected fields, but online instruction is no panacea. It is surprisingly expensive, has limited revenue potential, and unless carefully managed, can undermine the quality of instruction.”

    – President Sullivan on online learning

    Amen.

  • http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/07/nyregion/nyu-langone-and-continuum-agree-to-pursue-merger.html?pagewanted=all

    This article in NYT about mergers of hospitals is referenced in one email. Is privatization/merger what they want for the Health System?

  • *****, RJ Kirk is already on the BOV.

  • Good to know that Governor McDonnell is getting back from Europe today. I’m sure he’ll jump right on this and get it fixed.

    Oh, maybe not:

    http://www2.timesdispatch.com/news/2012/jun/20/mcdonnell-heading-to-utah-for-romney-event-with-do-ar-2001704/

  • JWS- I think the next time we will hear significantly from the Governor will be though his BOV appointments

  • And, those will tell the tale.

    His BOV appointments will indicate whether he or his administration were more involved with this than they’ve admitted.

  • Interesting bit in the Gainesville Sun about UF online offerings.
    http://www.gainesville.com/article/20120619/ARTICLES/120619530/1183?p=1&tc=pg

  • In regards to your reaction to the Cavalier Daily receiving the emails via print out as a malicious act, I think you are off base there. FOIA requests usually take weeks and sometimes months to fulfill. Also, they had to be released via printout because of privacy and laws regarding personal and sensitive information that is not for public disclosure that is required to be redacted. You cannot redact electronic content without impacting the authenticity of the file.

    The fact that CD was able to receive the emails so quickly (5 days after the request) demonstrates that there was someone in media relations very sympathetic to getting the info public to turn that request around so quickly. I think it was outstanding work by the CD to file the request so quickly and kudos to the media relations folks who turned this around so fast.

    because of those acts, more heat is being turned up on Dragas and hopefully this will put enough pressure on her to resign before her term expires. She does not deserve the pleasure of quietly leaving this mess behind.

  • Yes, the HuffPo article is really devastating. It makes clear that these two people would have been out of their depth running a car dealership. Yet they were put in charge of what was formerly one of the nation’s premier public universities. Just shameful.

  • In regards to your reaction to the Cavalier Daily receiving the emails via print out as a malicious act, I think you are off base there.

    I said it was “a bit malicious,” which is different than being, in itself, malicious. To be fair, Hanlon’s razor probably applies here: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” Which is to say that whomever was in charge of responding to that request might simply be clueless about how to redact files electronically (not understanding that they can just delete the sensitive portions)

    FOIA requests usually take weeks and sometimes months to fulfill.

    That’s not at all true. Under § 2.2-3704, “[a]ny public body…shall promptly, but in all cases within five working days of receiving a request, provide the requested records to the requester…” I have issued many dozens of FOIA requests to local and state bodies, and I can recall just one time when it took longer than five days (although in that case I knew that the request would be very difficult to fulfill, and said explicitly in my request that I did not expect or need the response in five days).

    Also, they had to be released via printout because of privacy and laws regarding personal and sensitive information that is not for public disclosure that is required to be redacted. You cannot redact electronic content without impacting the authenticity of the file.

    I have absolutely no idea what that last sentence means.

    It is perfectly routine to respond to FOIA requests for e-mails with electronic copies of those e-mails, even when some information has to be redacted. I’ve got more than a bit of experience in this realm—having both received and released redacted electronic materials—and I can tell you that there are many acceptable methods of redacting information while still releasing it electronically. The portion in question can be related with the “[redacted],” although the problem with that is that it prevents one from knowing precisely how much has been redacted (twenty pages or just one word could have been redacted, but one cannot know.) Another method is to replace the redacted text with some repeated character—”X” is a common character. (For example, “I just paid XXXXXX to have my house remodeled.”) And yet another method is to simulate the practice of actually markering over redacted materials—a fancier version of the Xs—by releasing the material as a PDF, and using a program like Adobe Acrobat to replace the text in question with what looks like a black marker line. I’ve used that last method a couple of times, when releasing sensitive materials, and quite like it—it looks good. :)

    The fact that CD was able to receive the emails so quickly (5 days after the request) demonstrates that there was someone in media relations very sympathetic to getting the info public to turn that request around so quickly.

    No, it demonstrates that the University of Virginia was complying with § 2.2-3704. The failure to have done so would have landed them in court, and would have led to terrible press the following day, with editorial boards rightly accusing the university of failing to comply with the law in order to cover up presumed misdeeds.

  • Great news. I just read in the Post- Sullivan willing to return – turn up the heat get rid of Dragas .

    Sullivan willing to return if Dragas is out reporting in Washington Post

    ” Still, Sullivan has let board members know she would be willing to stay on as president of the university if Rector Helen E. Dragas, the board leader who organized the ouster, resigns, according to several people who have been briefed on the conservations but not authorized to speak publicly.”

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/dc-politics/interim-u-va-leader-carl-zeithaml-seeks-to-quell-uproar-over-presidents-ouster/2012/06/20/gJQAAsZ1qV_story.html

  • Window of opportunity. BOV at least three can call for a meeting by end of biz today. If that happens they would meet June 27th, They could have a vote, not accept Sullivan resignation. If Dragas out one way or another, she could come back.

    Email BOVs now to ask them for that meeting.

  • She being Sullivan not Dragas :)

  • Rector Dragas is announcing that she intends to sell the rooms on the Pavilion as condos. Also, she has signed a contract to build a tasteful strip mall on The Lawn. Mr. John Paul Jones has purchased the Rotunda and will be converting it to an ostentatious private residence. Scott Stadium has been renamed Dragas Coliseum. The University has been sold to Phoenix University and will be renamed Discount Online Education (DOE).

  • Are more documents forthcoming? Is there a reason why the current batch is limited to communications between these two and only beginning recently?

  • P.S. Are the FOIA exemptions for privileged communications pierced when non-officials — like mega-donors — are included in receipt by forwarding, etc.?

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