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 outside media. And at no point has the sound methodology, direction or execution of the Commonwealth Poll changed.
VCU News, and by extension VCU, has never 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.
The unfounded and unprofessional behavior of VCU News presents a biased conflict of interest because the overwhelming perceptions of Virginians’ of the poll draw negative attention to the failed VCU Health deal.
The language used in the VCU response to the Commonwealth Poll is destructive and damaging not just to the Wilder School’s recognized credibility but also a disservice to the entire VCU community, media outlets, and the VCU brand at large. This attack directly implies a conflict of interest. At no point has VCU President Michael Rao personally addressed the failed real estate deal nor explained how a third-party law firm reported a lack of due diligence on the tanked deal.
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, led by Michael Rao and carried out by Michael Porter, VCU associate vice president for public relations.
An investigation of the actions and behavior of VCU and VCU Health administrators is currently being conducted by the General Assembly’s Joint Legislative Audit & Review Commission’s (JLARC) review of VCU Health. We look forward to its report.
Director of Communications and External Relations
L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs