Oct. 15-28, 2004
Back Issues
'Tremendous,' 'Smart,' 'Pragmatic'
Access UVa: The door's open
University presidents make the case for charter
Insurance costs going up, but health coverage to expand
Ann Lee Brown gives $10.5 million to U.Va.
Board in tune with U.Va.-Wise, thanks to Smiddy
Faculty Actions from the October BOV meeting
Thanks to Charlottesville families
Film festival examines reel 'Speed'
NYT columnist, others, to discuss election

Whiteness exhibit to open its only East Coast showing

Gies to speak at fall program
Taking stock of Virginia mountain streams


University presidents make the case for Charter

By Christina Nuckols
The Virginian-Pilot

Key General Assembly leaders signaled Oct. 12 that they are seriously interested in granting three of Virginia’s top universities greater independence from state regulations.

The lawmakers were quick to add that the request for charter status made last month by the College of William & Mary, the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech will require revisions to ensure that the three institutions don’t become too disconnected from the state’s higher education system.

The three college presidents met with state lawmakers on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University to make their case and gauge support for the idea.

Although the presidents received no guarantee that they would be successful, they were encouraged to pursue the proposal when the General Assembly session convenes in January.

“I think it’s a great idea worth exploring, but the devil’s in the details,” said House Speaker William J. Howell, R-Stafford.
The three universities are asking for an exemption from state regulations that govern personnel matters, construction projects and procurement of goods and services. They would also have the power to set their own tuition and fees.

Aims McGuinness, an analyst for the Colorado-based National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, told the college presidents and legislators that the charter proposal is one of the most far-reaching changes in higher education being considered anywhere in the United States.

“It’s extremely important that you handle these issues carefully,” McGuinness said. “Virginia is really in the national spotlight. In other words, people are watching.”

He said Virginia universities must be given more flexibility if they are to compete effectively for research dollars, but he warned against creating a fragmented higher education system by granting special status to a handful of institutions.

Lawmakers said they view the charter proposal as a model that could be adopted by other public colleges in the state.

“It’s got a lot of free market concepts to it,” said Del. M. Kirkland Cox, R-Colonial Heights. “It cuts bureaucracy, which I like.”
Even so, Cox estimated the charter legislation has only a “50-50 chance” of passing the legislature this year.

The proposal also has not won the backing of Gov. Mark R. Warner.
Warner’s spokeswoman Ellen Qualls said Warner hopes to work with lawmakers to set up regional meetings this fall with education and business leaders to discuss the proposal.

“The question of charter universities shouldn’t be considered in isolation,” Qualls said.

“The governor believes it must be part of a broader policy debate about the role and responsibilities of higher education.”

Qualls said Warner remains concerned about how charter status would affect university employees’ benefits and whether community college students would be able to transfer course credits to charter universities in the manner that they would for all other four-year public institutions.

Howell and several other legislators said they’re concerned about a provision in the proposal that would grant the three universities the status of political subdivisions, similar to cities and counties. Doing so would mean that the universities would no longer be considered state agencies.

Their revenues would not flow through the state treasury, and lawmakers said they would likely need a supermajority vote in the General Assembly to make future changes to the university charters under that arrangement.

Howell said many governmental regulations can be lifted while maintaining stronger legal ties between the universities and state government.

Some legislators also said they need reassurances that establishing charter universities would not harm other public colleges in the state.

“What we may be hearing is the aims of these institutions rather than what will benefit the Commonwealth as a whole,” said Del. Leo C. Wardrup, R-Virginia Beach.

The three presidents, he said, “do have the best interests of their universities at heart but I’ve got to look out for all the schools.”

Copyright © 2004, The Virginian-Pilot. Reprinted with permission.


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