Almost exactly one year ago, on December 11, 2012, the alumni, parents and friends of the University of Virginia received notice from the Executive Vice President and Provost John D. Simon, advising them that as the result of a review of UVa's governance issues, the University was being placed "on warning" for a period of one year, by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).
The UVa website which describes its obligations relating to Institutional Accreditation as an accredited member of the SACS indicates that every 10 years, following clear guidelines and principles, the University undergoes an extensive reaffirmation process which it had completed most recently in 2007; and that at the 5-year point between reaffirmations, it is required to submit a Fifth-Year Interim Report. According to this website, that report was to be submitted in March of 2013.
The American Association of University Professors, in March of 2013, also weighed in on these concerns, in a report entitled "College and University Governance: The University of Virginia Governing Board’s Attempt to Remove the President," that appeared in the AAUP.org Bulletin. This report concluded that:
"... the Board ignored its own recently adopted guidelines on Presidential evauation. It was "a failure of those charged with institutional oversight to understand the institution over which they presided and to engage with the administration and the faculty in an effort to be well-informed. It was a failure of judgement and, alas, of common sense."
Writing in the Education Issue of the New York Times Magazine, in his article "Anatomy of a Campus Coup," Andrew Rice provides a timeline of events that took place in the summer of 2012, for those who may not be familiar with what occurred.
The UVa website dedicated to clarifying the SACS decision information includes this note:
Q: Can you be more specific as to why SACSCOC issued this Warning?
A: In an Associated Press (AP) story from Dec. 11, reporting on the SACSCOC announcement to put the University on Warning, SACSCOC President Belle Wheelan said that SACSCOC believes the institution was not in compliance with a rule that a minority of governing board members can’t be in charge and another rule that institutions should have a policy that clearly identifies the faculty’s role in governance. In the AP report, Wheelan said the commission sent the school a letter in June saying it might be out of compliance, and the school’s governing board sent a response “that we didn’t feel sufficiently responded to our inquiry.”
Clarifying further, relating to the steps the University has now taken, is this:
Q: What are some of the changes that the Board of Visitors has already made regarding governance issues?
A: The Board this summer created the Special Committee on Governance and Engagement, charging it to review board governance policies. In November, the Board approved three new policies designed to promote greater accountability and transparency.
Revisions to the Board of Visitors Manual provide clarity on procedures for electing and removing presidents. Resolutions passed by the board also set up comprehensive guidelines for evaluating a president’s performance and provide for more direct involvement by faculty in board deliberations.
Presidential election, appointment and removal: The board’s manual now stipulates that actions related to the employment status of a president will require a publicly noticed board meeting and a vote of the full Board of Visitors.
The manual now states: “Appointment, removal, requested resignation, or amendment of the contract or terms of employment of the President may be accomplished only by vote of a majority (or, by statute, two-thirds in the case of removal) of the whole number of Visitors at a regular meeting, or special meeting called for this purpose.”
Presidential evaluation process: The board also voted to institute quarterly evaluation meetings. The meetings provide an opportunity to “review progress on goals and established benchmarks, and to advise the president on current priorities of the Board.” Those involved in the quarterly reviews will provide input to the annual Presidential Assessment Committee and will measure specific progress made toward meeting benchmarks spelled out in the University’s strategic plan. The Quarterly Review Committee includes the vice rector and the chairs of the Educational Policy, Finance, and Advancement and Communications committees. The Presidential Assessment Committee includes the rector, vice rector, and the most recently retired-from-office former rector still on the board, or in the absence of such, a senior member of the board appointed by the rector.
Shared governance: The board also unanimously approved a resolution to more closely involve the faculty in its work. The resolution authorizes the rector to consult with the president to appoint one non-voting consulting member from the faculty to each standing committee that doesn’t already have faculty representation.
In a letter sent yesterday to the University community, UVa President Teresa A. Sullivan noted that the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges made this decision "following its determination that U.Va. was not in compliance with Core Requirement 2.2 regarding board governance and Comprehensive Standard 3.7.5 regarding faculty role in governance of the organization's Principles of Accreditation."
Mr. Simon's letter had specified the particular nature of the concern indicated by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, as having been related to the Core Requirement regarding Board governance (Requirement 2.2); and the other is the Comprehensive Standard (Requirement 3.7.5) regarding the "Faculty Role in Governance of the organization’s Principles of Accreditation."
Fortunately the quality of the academic programs was never in question, nor did this action affect the University's eligibility to receive federal aid -- as President Sullivan noted again today -- and no financial aid programs or federally-sponsored research was affected.
President Sullivan wrote yesterday:
I am pleased to inform members of our community that the SACSCOC Board of Trustees voted to remove the University from "warning" status. The decision was announced at the organization's annual meeting in Atlanta earlier today.
The University community should be pleased with the outcome of the commission's thorough review. While the warning designation did not question the quality of our academic programs nor affect our ability to receive financial aid, unblemished accreditation remains an important stamp of approval on the integrity of the institution.
We have very important work ahead of us as we begin to implement key initiatives associated with the University's five-year strategic plan. I look forward to partnering with you as we collectively advance the mission of this great institution.