Wednesday, February 09, 2005
Colleges approach autonomy
"I think everybody is very optimistic," said a UVa spokeswoman.
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From The Roanoke Times
The two pieces of legislation advanced Tuesday are largely similar on the big-ticket items. Both bills offer three different levels of autonomy in which even the smallest public colleges could gain freedom to manage salaries, purchasing and leasing. At the highest level, Virginia Tech, the University of Virginia and the College of William and Mary - the three institutions leading the charge - would remain public universities but gain the right to negotiate individual flexibilities. Those agreements would be subject to executive and legislative approval.
Under both bills now headed to the opposite chamber, colleges would have to develop six-year plans that detail tuition and fee estimates and enrollment projections, as well as how schools plan to meet statewide objectives and ensure academic quality.
"What we are trying to do is strike an appropriate balance between legislative oversight and legislative meddling," said Sen. Thomas Norment, R-Williamsburg and the Senate sponsor.
Several lawmakers questioned whether the bill gave too much power to the governor-appointed Boards of Visitors, who could enact dramatic tuition increases and open the floodgates to out-of-state students.
"Our colleges and universities don't want to be told anything by the General Assembly," said Sen. Jay O'Brien, R-Fairfax County. "They don't want us looking at what they are doing."
Del. Mitch Van Yahres, D-Charlottesville, said many UVa employees are concerned that the bills will lead to a two-tiered system in which workers hired after autonomy will receive lower salaries and fewer benefits. University officials say their aim is to improve benefit packages.
Supporters, meanwhile, said the six-year plans may effectively give the legislature more oversight on tuition, out-of-state enrollment and other hot topics. Schools that fulfill their goals would receive additional financial incentives, while those that fail may lose independence.
The two chambers will likely work out their differences on areas such as procurement and legislative involvement during conference committees.
"I think everybody is very optimistic," said UVa spokeswoman Carol Wood. "When you look at the compromise that has already taken place ... we've all come too far to walk away at this point."
Virginia Tech officials were also pleased with the 37-3 vote in the Senate and 76-22 vote in the House.
"Those are very, very strong votes of support ... that indicate that the government is looking for a new approach to higher education," said Tech spokesman Larry Hincker.