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Two Top Virginia Education Leaders Lend Support to Charter
Glen DuBois
Glen DuBois

December 20, 2004

By Carol Wood

Last week in Richmond, two prominent Virginia education leaders — Glenn DuBois, chancellor of the Virginia Community College System, and Daniel J. LaVista, executive director of SCHEV, the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia — threw their support behind the Chartered Universities Initiative.

During the second meeting of a joint legislative subcommittee studying the proposal meant to establish a new partnership between the state and three of its top universities, subcommittee chairman Sen. John H. Chichester, (R) Fredericksburg, also thanked the university presidents who drafted the initiative for expanding their work to include all of higher education.

“We need to think broadly about the public agenda,” Chichester said. “The higher-education community heard the message and are here to work with us today to build on Virginia's legacy.”

Daniel LaVista
Daniel LaVista

LaVista and DuBois, who serves as chairman of the Council of Presidents — a working group established by Virginia’s higher education chief executive officers to discuss common problems and issues — continued to make the “increased decentralization case” for the three sponsoring universities — Virginia Tech, William & Mary, and the University of Virginia. At the same time, they laid out the need to address critical issues facing all of higher education in the Commonwealth and suggested plans to address them.

In opening remarks, DuBois said he had been working over the past weeks with members of the council, including representatives of U.Va., William & Mary, and Tech, to create a three-step, system-wide plan that would provide greater efficiencies, accountability and autonomy for every college or university interested in participating. Each step would have clearly defined eligibility criteria, with increasing rigor at each level.

Step one includes:

• a reaffirmation of the authority of boards of visitors to set tuition and fees;

• design-build and construction-management authority for capital projects;

• authority to grant and acquire easements; and,

• authority to dispose of surplus property.

Step two includes:

• additional autonomy in capital outlay projects, leases, procurement and personnel; and,

• procedures and negotiated agreements of understandings to be developed by the secretaries of administration and finance, in consultation with the secretary of education, the Council of Presidents and SCHEV.

Step three — the current Charter Proposal — includes:

• additional autonomy in financial operations, human resources, procurement, information technology and capital outlay.

This third step would reflect the highest degree of management autonomy possible, but with each institution maintaining its public mission.

In exchange, DuBois said, colleges and universities would make firm commitments to accommodate additional students; address the anticipated increase in applications from two-year institutions; ensure that all tuition and fee increases are accompanied by parallel increases in financial aid; reach a statewide total of $1 billion in research funding by 2010; and develop closer ties with Virginia's K-12 educational system.

DuBois added that increased autonomy — regardless of the level — “would not change the relationship an institution has with SCHEV, or the legislature, or how board members are chosen, and like all other public institutions, [those institutions with increased autonomy] would be subject to public audits — and held accountable to the people of the Commonwealth.”

He noted that while these facts were already written into the current charter proposal, he felt they were getting lost in discussion and deserved increased emphasis.

SCHEV's LaVista began his remarks with a quote from Hamlet and higher education's “thorny problems.” He ended with a story about baseball, in which a man was asked how he'd lost his business. His reply: “A little bit at a time, a little bit at a time, then all at once.”

LaVista cautioned the study subcommittee — and the standing-room-only crowd filling Senate Room A — that given the constraints on higher education, the state also was in danger of losing the “tremendous quality of our institutions ... a little bit at a time.”

LaVista focused his remarks on several key areas by giving the committee a snapshot of similar decentralization movements around the country, Virginia's history of decentralization in higher education, and SCHEV's role in serving as both gatekeeper in recommending institutional participation and providing ongoing evaluation of outcomes.

LaVista outlined the successful use of private sector principles elsewhere in higher-education systems and how they might help in Virginia. “Private-sector principles are result-oriented, ... allow for fast decision-making, ... offer incentives for better management, ... and encourage long-term planning,” he said.

“While SCHEV currently aids [the state] in ensuring institutional accountability, we propose, based on what we've seen in other states, that the General Assembly look to SCHEV to be an objective third-party voice. ... You can count on us to be responsible for the greater good of the state and higher education.”

After listening to the afternoon's reports, subcommittee member Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr., (R) Winchester, voiced his concern that things might be moving too slowly, adding that he was convinced something needed to be done, and quickly. “What we have are antiquated, out-dated systems in place. ... [U]nless we take down the barriers [to change], we are going to have a difficult time maintaining the level of excellence of Virginia's institutions of higher education.”

He said he was impressed that the presidents of the three universities sponsoring the charter initiative had reached out to other members of the higher-education community and had brought them into the conversation. “As this continues to unfold, we will have to grant greater flexibility to all institutions. ... We need to fix this Model T Ford that is obviously broken.”

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