In the late afternoon on Tuesday, June 18th, The Cavalier Daily electrified the UVA community by releasing FOIA’d emails obtained between Rector Dragas and former Vice Rector Kington.
For a movement that had become discouraged following the 2am vote that morning to appoint MacIntire School Dean Zeithaml as the interim president of UVA, these emails provided a much needed energy boost. The next day, planning for the Rally for Honor began. Less than a week later, President Sullivan was reinstated.
On September 12th, with far less fanfare, The Washington Post announced that they had procured a new batch of FOIA’d emails. Compared to the June 18th release, these emails have received very little coverage and understandably so. They seemed to simply further confirm the overall lack of transparency with which the BOV acted.
But UVA English Professor Bruce Holsinger begged to differ. On September 14th, he published a column in the Chronicle of Higher Education provocatively entitled, “The UVA Rector’s Peculiar Approach to Free Expression.” He states that two emails in particular, “raise new questions about the rector’s suitability for her office”.
The first is from Rector Dragas to noted UVA professor of politics Larry Sabato in which she asks him to write an op-ed in support of her. When Sabato responded that he was under a tight schedule at the moment, Dragas asked him to delegate it to a staffer. She states, “Time is of the essence… the resistant forces of change are still lodged within the administration.”
Holsinger argues that this request goes beyond inappropriate to downright “unethical”.
Leaving aside the paranoid tone here (and the managerial hubris of suggesting that a subordinate write the requested piece), the mind reels at the spectacle: The rector of a great university urging a faculty member to write an opinion piece expressing her own opinion.
He goes on to discuss the “even more disturbing”, email written by Rector Dragas to Hilary Hurd, a rising fourth year and the student representative on the Board of Visitors. On June 12th, she asked, “Do you know of students on grounds who might be willing to assist with a communications effort by engaging constructively in the blogs as guided by a communications consultant?”
Holsinger notes that such a request that a student pass off someone else’s words as their own, conflicts with the values of the UVA Honor Code.
They are bound, under threat of expulsion, by the assumption that any work presented as theirs is independently conceived and written. That assumption holds true both within the classroom and in any forum in which students “represent themselves as University students in order to gain the trust of others”—such as student-produced blogs.
Time will only tell whether these emails will have any overall effect. Yet one thing is certain, no matter how much the BOV states to the contrary, the events of June 2012 will continue to cast a shadow over the UVA community until answers are received.
This is the opinion of Suzie McCarthy and may not reflect those of TJ’s UVA