The University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors on Wednesday approved an academic affiliation with Inova Health System and George Mason University — a move that could reshape higher education in Northern Virginia.
UVa has been discussing opening a research partnership and medical campus at Inova for the past year. Its goal has been for medical students to take classes in Northern Virginia and complete rotations at Inova Hospital in Fairfax. The resolution, though, opens the possibility of a full-fledged satellite campus far from the university’s Grounds in Charlottesville.
The resolution was spurred by Inova’s request for a commitment to academic plans as it begins to develop plans for the campus, according to university Rector Rusty Conner.
“At the end of the day, this is a business transaction, and I don’t believe we have the luxury to debate and delay,” board member Jim Murray said Wednesday.
The affiliation does not, however, commit UVa to particulars.
“It’s fair to say we will do something up there; exactly what it will be remains to be seen,” said UVa President Jim Ryan.
The board previously agreed to an affiliation involving just UVa’s School of Medicine in 2017; the partnership has been envisioned as a way to leverage research and precision medicine interests.
“Whereas the University of Virginia sees the partnership with Inova Health System as an opportunity to deliver on a broader academic mission in Northern Virginia, resolved, the Board of Visitors commits to developing plans for a broad academic presence, in addition to the previously approved academic presence of the medical school,” the resolution said Wednesday.
The campus is expected to cost $112 million and be operational by 2021. The university has said it will put in about $45 million to develop the site of a former ExxonMobil campus, with additional funding coming from Inova, the Virginia Research Investment Committee and George Mason.
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The state does not have to approve these types of inter-public and public-private partnerships, according to a university spokesman.
However, before an academic program can begin at the campus, the State Council of Higher Education in Virginia will have to approve it.
“SCHEV does not regulate P3 rules for public universities; instead we approve new academic programs and new instructional sites and locations,” a spokeswoman for the commission, Laura Osberger, said Wednesday. “So, if a university wanted to open a new teaching site in a specific locality, it would most likely come to SCHEV for approval first.”
Osberger said there are no competition issues between UVa and GMU because they are different classes of schools — UVa has a medical school, GMU does not.
In the next months, UVa will develop plans for what its presence might look like. Officials in previous meetings have said they anticipate a 2021 start date for medical students.
“Outside of Palo Alto, there’s no better footprint than where Inova is,” said board member Dr. L.D. Britt.
Public-private partnerships are nothing new in local government or in higher education, but they have gained credence in recent years, especially at cash-strapped public universities.
Last month, the University of California, Davis announced it will work with Kindred Healthcare to build a second hospital on its Sacramento campus. Other schools, such as the University of Kentucky and Ohio State University, have entered into long-term public-private partnerships to offset costs of new facilities or parking lots. Universities agreed to about $3 billion in public-private transactions in 2016, according to a 2017 report from Ernst & Young.
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In other business, Ryan laid out his priorities for the upcoming year, and student representative Brendan Nigro urged board members to take action on Confederate monuments.
Nigro asked board members to continue to work on the removal and recontextualization of Confederate symbols on Grounds and of plaques that mention Thomas Jefferson and slavery.
“We should publicly discuss Jefferson as a public proclaimer of liberty and as a practitioner of bondage,” Nigro said. “We need to address the paradoxical legacy of our founder.”
At its September 2017 meeting, the board ordered the removal of bronze plaques with the names of Confederate soldiers on them from the Rotunda.
Ryan said he was starting to work on a strategic plan for the university. He also hopes to look anew at admissions policies and financial aid offerings, particularly for first-generation students.
Ryan also said he hopes to foster more university-community cooperation and has asked the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service to develop a standing survey on ways the university can improve its work with city and county leaders and community members.
“This is a year where we can collectively catch our breath and raise our sights and think holistically, and if we achieve these in a year, I will consider it a good year,” Ryan said.