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Dragas considered leaving UVa board, emails show

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Posted: Friday, August 10, 2012 7:25 pm | Updated: 3:35 pm, Tue Jan 22, 2013.

The University of Virginia’s rector, Helen E. Dragas, appears to have considered leaving the school’s Board of Visitors during the crisis surrounding this summer’s temporary removal of President Teresa A. Sullivan, but ultimately rejected the notion.

On June 19, the same day Vice Rector Mark J. Kington resigned, Dragas received two draft statements from a public relations expert she was working with, newly released emails show.

In one, she expressed regret at Kington’s resignation.

The draft read: “It’s unfortunate that Mark felt the need to resign over an action that was taken with general Board consensus, and one that I am confident will clearly improve the strategic direction of the University. His service on our Board was outstanding, and he will be missed.

“We are excited at [t]he appointment of an interim President and are looking forward to beginning a formal institutional review process relative to our peer institutions, and developing a robust and fully inclusive strategic plan under his successor.”

The statement she released was: “It’s unfortunate that Mark Kington personally felt the need to resign over an action that was a Board decision, and at a time when we are excited at the appointment of Carl Zeithaml as interim President. Mark’s service on our Board was outstanding, and he will be missed.”

In the other draft statement, which she never opted to use, Dragas would have asked the governor not to reappoint her.

The statement said:

“Today I have asked the Governor not to reappoint me to a second term as Rector.

“As much as I’m certain that changing leadership will clearly improve the strategic direction of the university, I simply believe that the actual selection of U.Va.’s next President should go forward under the fresh perspective of a new Rector.

“I deeply appreciate the opportunity to join so many others in service to this great University, and look forward to remaining engaged in the community going forward.”

Asked about the drafts Friday, she replied in an email:

“That day, my middle child celebrated her 16th birthday, sharply reminding me how much time I’ve spent away from all three of my children and the impact that continued vitriolic attacks on their mother might have on them. After considering all options, as thoughtful people do, I decided to stay because I believe the issues at stake are very important and I want to work with the President and others to find solutions that will benefit UVA.”

The vast majority of the newly released emails are messages from alumni asking Dragas to resign. They range from thoughtful, civil and reasoned to rude and abrupt.

One email, from a sender identified as William Garrard, had the subject line “Screwed the pooch.” The entire body of the message was: “Resign!”

The emails were released Friday as the result of a Freedom of Information Act request from The Hook, a Charlottesville weekly newspaper.

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