This morning, I was a guest on the WRVA Richmond’s Morning News with John Reid. I spoke about the criticism of the Wilder School Commonwealth Poll by VCU.

I encourage you to listen to the complete interview.

That VCU administrators, including President Michael Rao, have failed to confront this issue directly and have not made any intention to do so comes as no surprise. 

The issue here is the lack of attention to spending nearly $100 million dollars of VCU funds (and, correspondingly, taxpayer dollars) with no explanation. 

To put this tremendous number in context, the VCU Board of Visitors notes that “typical in-state undergraduate students enrolled in 15 credits per semester will pay $16,233 in tuition and mandatory fees in the 2023-24 academic year.”

This $100 million dollars could have funded 6,160 undergraduate students to attend one semester at VCU. The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) lists the 2023 undergraduate population at 22,183 students. 

Following this math, approximately 28% of undergraduates could have attended VCU at little to no cost with the $100 million dollars. 

This wasteful spending is unparalleled and unheard of ANYWHERE and is a significant destruction of value in VCU’s history. 

I am calling on all who value education to make their voices heard. We demand that President Rao, who has remained completely silent and unwilling to address the issue, do the job he is required by law to perform and provide direct accountability and transparency. 

Below is the formal response by the L. Douglas Wilder School, reproduced in whole, about the recent poll.

Stay tuned.

“VCU administration negates Virginians’ voices, maligns Wilder School Commonwealth Poll credibility in conflict of interest over failed VCU Health development deal”

“This message is a direct response to the damaging and factually inaccurate attacks on the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs Commonwealth Poll, published on January 22, 2024

VCU top administrators and VCU News have challenged Virginians’ candid concerns about the failed Clay Street VCU Health real estate deal, the exit of which has thus cost VCU more than $83 million dollars and has the potential to exceed $100 million by the time all fees have been paid to developers and the City of Richmond.

The Wilder School Commonwealth Poll data revealed that participants familiar with the Clay Street deal reported the following. “When asked if they agree or disagree that the VCU Health Systems Board should be responsible for explaining more details about the deal to Virginia taxpayers, 92% of those familiar with the reports agreed and 5% disagreed. 65% of those familiar agreed that these events indicate that information about the deal has been concealed and kept from the public.” 

Additionally, respondents were asked whether they thought there was a cover-up when Art Kellermann, former CEO of VCU Health, advised VCU President Michael Rao and VCU leadership that the outcome was “a bad deal,” though he was forced to sign the contract and was then subsequently fired. Of those familiar, around six in ten respondents agreed (65%).

The Commonwealth Poll, led by the Wilder School Office of Research and Outreach, is a tested bellwether of public opinion and serves as a principal source of perspectives and opinions of the citizens of the Commonwealth. The poll has operated for more than 15 years, and during that time, it has been a vital source of public perception to leading media in Richmond, Virginia, and across the nation.

CNN Politics recognizes The Commonwealth Poll as an official Presidential Election Poll. It is a scientific and non-partisan source respected by journalists across major radio, TV, and online media outlets. At no point has the methodology of the Commonwealth Poll been challenged by anyone. And at no point has the sound methodology, direction or execution of the Commonwealth Poll changed. 

VCU News, and by extension VCU, has never before refuted the Commonwealth Poll in its methodology nor challenged the quality of its content. This track record is evidenced by the multiple polls released by VCU News each year. As the primary distributor of media releases by VCU, it is further discouraging that VCU News delayed the release of the Commonwealth Poll by two days in order to craft a formal response from the VCU administration, which was released directly on the tail of the publication of the Commonwealth Poll. In a review of the poll media release draft, VCU News did not indicate to the Commonwealth Poll authors that there were challenges to the methodology nor that it would issue a statement in response. 

We all deserve the right to know the perceptions of Virginians, even if these opinions disagree with the official VCU narrative of the failed project. We should not be stifled or discredited to divert attention from the compounding mistakes of the VCU administration.

An investigation of the actions and behavior of VCU and VCU Health administrators is currently being considered by the General Assembly’s Joint Legislative Audit & Review Commission’s (JLARC) review of VCU Health. We look forward to its report.”

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