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University Pres. Rescinds Criticized Nondisclosure Agreements

Until last week, interactions between Virginia Commonwealth University President Michael Rao and employees working in his office were subject to a rather unusual restriction, namely, a complete prohibition on the latter concerning any discussion about Rao or his family members inside or outside the office.

That understanding, as set forth in a written nondisclosure agreement that Rao had each employee sign as a prerequisite to employment, was quite clear: Employees were simply not to make mention of any Rao family interactions they observed anywhere at any time to third parties, including family friends, the media, other colleagues, clergy "or to any other person not otherwise identified." They acknowledged that disclosure "could result in irreparable damage and harm to VCU, President Rao, and/or his family." The agreement provided that any violation on the part of an employee would entitle Rao to seek injunctive relief against the employee in court.

Both the agreement itself and its substance raised enough eyebrows to merit the attention of the university's governing board of visitors, which met last week to evaluate Rao's performance as president. Following its meeting, Rao rescinded all the confidentiality agreements he had signed with employees.

"The confidentially agreements ... have been misinterpreted in terms of what I sought to be accomplished," Rao stated. He stressed that their overriding focus was on protecting the privacy of his children at home.

A person specializing in higher-education governance stated that a nondisclosure agreement such as the one Rao's employees signed is uncommon anywhere, and especially so in an academic environment, where candor and transparency are typically valued and sought to be practiced.

Related Resource: "VCU's Rao rescinds unusual confidentiality agreement" December 3, 2010

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