University presidents make the case for Charter
General Assembly leaders signaled Oct. 12 that
they are seriously interested in granting three
of Virginia’s top universities greater independence
from state regulations.
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
three college presidents met with state lawmakers
on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University
to make their case and gauge support for the idea.
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.
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.
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.
extremely important that you handle these issues
carefully,” McGuinness said. “Virginia
is really in the national spotlight. In other words,
people are watching.”
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.
said they view the charter proposal as a model
that could be adopted by other public colleges
in the state.
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.
proposal also has not won the backing of Gov. Mark
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.
question of charter universities shouldn’t
be considered in isolation,” Qualls said.
governor believes it must be part of a broader
policy debate about the role and responsibilities
of higher education.”
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
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.
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.
said many governmental regulations can be lifted
while maintaining stronger legal ties between the
universities and state government.
legislators also said they need reassurances that
establishing charter universities would not harm
other public colleges in the state.
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
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.