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Chartered universities would improve education, quality of life
Charter plan would give universities needed flexibility

Date published: 1/30/2005

BLACKSBURG--After reading the commentary by University of Vir- ginia professor Jeffrey Rossman ["Charter initiative would harm students, parents, employees," Jan. 2], I worry that your readers may be even more confused about the chartered-university legislation than before.

The primary reason this proposal for improving the quality of Virginia's colleges and universities has come forward is to provide more and better opportunities for our residents.

People are clamoring to gain admission to Virginia schools, including the three universities proposing this new relationship, because of quality. And quality costs.

The concept is admittedly complex. And opponents have attached themselves to one facet or another. One can deconstruct or attack the separate points but, in the end, the proposal has been designed to enable schools to be managed like institutions of higher education, not state bureaucracies. (Bureaucracies have a purpose, but they are quite different from universities.)

Let me address a few of professor Rossman's arguments. He contends that institutional employees will have less protection under the charter plan. Phooey. There are no guarantees, and none currently. Over the past decade:

State employees went several years without a pay raise.

The state has twice reduced compensation by raising medical insurance premiums.

In the early 1990s, the state significantly reduced retirement benefits for the more than 7,000 faculty members who don't participate in the Virginia Retirement System by reducing annual contributions by almost 2 percent. That amounts to a lot of money over a lifetime of work.

Forget the guarantees.

Luckily for faculty members like Rossman, U.Va. was able to provide faculty salary increases larger than those authorized by the state because it had the financial capacity to maintain competitive salaries. By law, it could not do the same for staff employees. The charter plan would allow that.

Tuition would be less volatile under the charter system because, over the long run, the universities would be less dependent on the state for the lion's share of operating costs.

Thus, they would be less susceptible to the vagaries of the political process and swings in state funding. The charter plan would help stabilize tuition and enable long-term planning for families. Tuition has risen 67 percent over the past five years at U.Va. precisely because it is still heavily dependent on state funding and concomitant reductions.

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