- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 5, 2003

NORFOLK (AP) As they struggle with state budget cuts, three Virginia universities are seeking ways to sever some of their ties to state government.
Officials at the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech and the College of William & Mary say outright privatization is not an option. But as the flow of state money dries up, they think it's only fair that they be given more autonomy.
"All of us are working very hard to find new ways to manage a situation that financially is without precedent in the history of the commonwealth since World War II," William & Mary President Timothy J. Sullivan told the Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk.
Mr. Sullivan, UVa. President John Casteen and a representative of Virginia Tech met last month with state Sen. John H. Chichester, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, to discuss the initiatives under consideration.
Since the mid-1990s, William & Mary, UVa. and Virginia Tech have participated in a pilot project that gave them more freedom to make decisions in purchasing, hiring and capital spending.
Mr. Sullivan said the project has saved time and money, and eliminated red tape. He said he expects legislation to be introduced in the General Assembly this year to make those changes permanent.
Mr. Chichester, Stafford Republican, said he advised the university presidents not to pursue any broader initiatives during this year's legislative session, which begins Wednesday, and they agreed.
"I suggested that because of what was on our plate this year, we may be better able to continue our discussion sometime in the spring or the summer," he said.
Mr. Chichester said the presidents wanted a "significant change" in the relationship between the state and the three universities, but they did not discuss specific trade-offs.
Gov. Mark R. Warner, whose staff has been involved in the discussions, said Friday that he is reserving judgment until he sees more details.
The biggest state budget crisis in half a century has forced the Democratic governor and the Republican-controlled legislature to slash nearly $6 billion from the $51 billion, two-year budget. The cuts have fallen heavily on state-supported colleges and universities, leaving them short an estimated $385 million a year.
As state aid declines, the schools are increasingly dependent on tuition. The state lifted a tuition freeze that had been in place for most of the 1990s. As a result, in-state tuition and fees have increased this year by an average of 15 percent.
College administrators say they hope control of tuition levels will stay in the hands of their individual governing boards. Mr. Sullivan said he does not expect this year's legislation to address the tuition issue.
The diminishing state support, which in UVa.'s case stands at 9 percent of the university's budget, has led some critics to suggest outright separation from the state. But officials at the schools rejected that idea.
"The University of Virginia was founded by Thomas Jefferson with a public mandate to educate the citizens of the commonwealth and the nation, and we have no plans to back away from our founding roots," said UVa. spokeswoman Carol Wood.

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