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This paper presents a case study of the origins, politics, and preliminary outcomes of Virginia's "restructured" relationship between public colleges and universities and the Commonwealth. The initially proposed "charter" status for the state's three historically important universities became the vehicle fora reform that imposed more substantive accountability in exchange for procedural independence—a different outcome than the institutions expected. Was this difference the result of a misestimation of the political realities that could have been anticipated? This reform's long-term impact remains uncertain as the terms of highly complex legislation remain to be translated into clear operational policy.