by James A. Bacon
In early October Governor Glenn Youngkin asked Attorney General Jason Miyares for a formal opinion on a seemingly innocuous question: Whose interests are members of Virginia’s public university governing boards supposed to represent? Miyares responded that the “primary duty” of the boards of visitors is to the commonwealth, not to the institutions themselves. The conclusion would seem to be so obvious, so clearly the intent of the state code, that it doesn’t warrant discussion.
But some people espy a vague but malign intent behind the finding.
Speaking to the higher-ed trade journal, Inside Higher Ed, Claire Gastañaga, former director of Virginia’s ACLU and a former deputy attorney general overseeing Virginia’s public colleges and universities, said Miyares’ opinion is a threat to the autonomy of public institutions. In the publication’s words, she “fears it signals an attempt by the governor to justify the removal of board members whose actions don’t align with his priorities” and replace them with appointees who share his priorities. Gastañaga pointed to the Bert Ellis bogeyman as evidence that Youngkin is scheming something nefarious. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
As the Board of Visitors ponders how much to raise tuition & fees in the next two academic years, the University of Virginia is grappling with strong inflationary pressures and a long-term shortfall in state aid, senior university administrators said Wednesday.
Even so, administrators told the Board’s Finance Committee, UVa offers a great “value proposition” compared to other Top 50 universities. Its in-state tuition is lower than that of top private universities, and its four-year graduation rate is the highest of any public university in the country.
The Finance Committee meeting yesterday marked the beginning of a two-month decision-making process. The purpose of the initial meeting, said Committee Chair Robert M. Blue, was to provide “context” for the discussion. A November hearing will allow students and others to express their views about college costs. The Board is scheduled to adopt a new tuition structure in December.
Although university officials did not say explicitly that a tuition increase is justified, the “context” presented was geared to supporting such a conclusion. Board members offered no pushback during the one-and-a-half-hour session, asking only a few questions for purposes of clarification. They did not drill into the data proffered by administrators, nor, despite assurances that UVa was working assiduously to achieve efficiencies and reduce redundancies, did they ask for specifics. No one addressed faculty productivity, administrative overhead, or other drivers of university costs. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
The primary duty of board members of Virginia’s public colleges and universities is to the commonwealth, not to the individual institutions, Attorney General Jason Miyares wrote Monday in response to an advisory opinion requested by Governor Glenn Younkin.
According to Miyares’ missive, Youngkin asked whether Virginia law imposes upon boards of visitors “a duty to serve the interests of the university or college only, or the Commonwealth more broadly.”
“Although they extend services to non-residents, Virginia’s institutions of higher education exist to fulfill the commonwealth’s commitment to provide education to the students of Virginia,” the AG answered. “It is clear that the boards of visitors serving them, as public officers of the state, have a duty to the Commonwealth as a whole.”
The letter does not elucidate the particular circumstances that led to the request for clarification, but the issue of board members’ primary duty did arise during the September 2023 meeting of the University of Virginia Board of Visitors meeting. Rector Robert Hardie had invited Clayton Rose, former president of Bowdoin College and currently a Harvard University professor, to lead a discussion of “best practices in board governance.” (See our coverage here.) Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
Last week the Ryan administration presented a graph to the Board of Visitors showing how tuition & fees for undergraduate Virginia students is lower at the University of Virginia than at any other Top 50 higher-ed institution in the country. As we noted in our post last week, the comparison comes with so many caveats as to be useless. But the implication was obvious as the Board undergoes the three-month process of setting tuition & fees for the next two years: UVa is a bargain.
But maybe not. UVa officials have long basked in the university’s reputation as one of the “best values” in higher-ed. That reputation takes a beating in a new Wall Street Journal ranking of “best values” based on a calculation of how many years it would take for someone earning the median earnings 10 years after graduation to pay off the net cost of attendance over four years. UVa ranks 74th nationally.
Rankings vary widely depending upon how they are constructed, so the WSJ exercise in calculating educational value should be taken with a grain of salt. Public universities, which draw their student bodies disproportionately from smaller pools of talent in the states they serve, are at an inherent disadvantage compared to elite institutions that recruit nationally. UVa fares better in rankings using different methodologies. But the Journal’s ranking should puncture any illusions that UVa offers a uniquely compelling educational proposition. Continue reading
Clayton Rose addressing the University of Virginia Board of Visitors
by James A. Bacon
In their 2020 book on higher-ed governance, “Runaway College Costs,” James V. Koch and Richard J. Cebula elaborate on how university presidents manipulate their boards. Flattery and the bestowal of small perks is one ubiquitous tactic. Controlling the presentation of information is another. Isolating troublesome board members under the guise of maintaining collegiality is yet another.
Write Koch and Cebula:
Nonconforming board members are … often urged by their colleagues to offer support for the institution and to “show respect.” Public unanimity is encouraged at most board meetings; contrary trustees usually are advised to air their grievances in private and not to “disrupt” board meetings.
Such calls for civility and solidarity were heard Friday at the University of Virginia Board of Visitors meeting. Clayton Rose, a Harvard business school professor and former president of Bowdoin College, led a discussion on what Rector Robert Hardie described as “best practices in board governance.”
In his framing of the discussion, Rose argued, among other things, that “high functioning boards” have “respectful” discussions with the president and other board members on key issues, listen well to colleagues, acknowledge differing points of view, speak with one voice and, once a decision has been made, support it. Continue reading
Screen capture from UVa’s “Common Application” form. UVa no longer has a checkbox for race — but it does ask if applicants belong to a Virginia-recognized Indian tribe and if they identify as a “sexual minority.” The applications also invite applicants to share their “personal or historic connection with UVa,” including legacy status and descent from “ancestors who labored at UVa.”
by James A. Bacon
When University of Virginia President Jim Ryan and Provost Ian Baucom announced the university’s new admissions policy last week, they made a point of saying that they had sought input and guidance from “leaders across the university,” including members of the Office of University Counsel.
But one key group was not consulted: the Board of Visitors.
That’s noteworthy because state code says the Board of Visitors sets the university’s admissions policy.
Describing the powers and authorities of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV), state code notes that the SCHEV shall prepare enrollment projections for Virginia’s public colleges and universities. However, “the student admissions policies for such institutions and their specific programs shall remain the sole responsibilities of the individual governing boards.”
Not university presidents — the governing boards. Continue reading
Provost Ian Baucom
by James A. Bacon
Last October University of Virginia Provost Ian Baucom briefed the Faculty Senate executive committee about a package of four multimillion-dollar academic initiatives that were in the works. The camera angle in the video recording shows him as a tiny, barely discernible figure at the far end of a long conference table. But his fast-clipped, staccato voice comes through loud and clear.
One initiative would address society’s “Grand Challenges” while another would build the university’s R&D infrastructure. Two others, largely geared to the pursuit of diversity, would set up a $20 million fund to aid the recruitment of graduate students and a $20 million fund to boost recruitment of “under-represented” faculty.
Members of the Faculty Senate were on board with the diversity programs, and Baucom felt at ease talking about them. “Behind [the faculty-recruitment initiative],” he said, “is the reaffirmation of the Audacious Futures Report to double the number of under-represented faculty. The president and I have been very clear that he stands by that goal.”
Four months later when the initiatives had moved further through the administrative pipeline, though, the Provost was less forthcoming with the Board of Visitors than he had been with the faculty. He described the Grand Challenges and R&D initiatives in considerable detail, but barely acknowledged the other two strategic priorities. He never explained that the faculty and graduate-student initiatives were designed in part to advance diversity.
The dichotomy in Baucom’s presentations raises important questions of governance at UVa. At a time when racial preferences in admissions and hiring are coming under increasing scrutiny, how much information about those practices is the Ryan administration withholding from the Board of Visitors? Who decides what to tell the Board? What power does the Board have to demand a fuller accounting? Continue reading
CHARLOTTESVILLE (June 29, 2023)—The Jefferson Council applauds Governor Glenn Youngkin’s appointment of four fresh faces to the University of Virginia Board of Visitors. With Youngkin appointees now numbering eight on the 17-person board, we look forward to changes at UVa that reflect the Governor’s priorities and address the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on racial preferences in admissions.
The four individuals include:
- Paul C. Harris of Richmond, Executive Vice President, Chief Sustainability and Compliance Officer, Huntington Ingalls Industries
- Paul B. Manning of Charlottesville, Chairman and CEO, PBM Capital Group
- John L. Nau, III of Houston, Texas, Chairman and CEO of Silver Eagle Beverages
- Rachel Sheridan of McLean, Partner, Kirkland & Ellis
The Governor offered no comment on the logic behind his selections, and we are not privy to his thinking. Manning and Nau are both generous benefactors to UVa as well as major donors to Republican candidates and PACs. Harris and Sheridan bring welcome diversity to the Board.
Presumably, the appointees share the Governor’s philosophy of reframing “Diversity, Equity & Inclusion” as “Diversity, Opportunity & Inclusion” in state government, and are comfortable with the statement by his chief diversity officer Martin D. Brown, who declared DEI to be “dead” at the Virginia Military Institute. In a ruling that appears to be consistent with the Governor’s vision, the U.S. Supreme Court has just declared that higher-ed institutions may not use race as a criterion in admitting students. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
Among its other actions last week the University of Virginia Board of Visitors approved a revised design for the $80 million Karsh Institute for Democracy building. In March several Board members had criticized the original design for conflicting with the red-brick motif of Thomas Jefferson’s architectural masterpiece on the Lawn.
The Karsh building is scheduled to open 200 years after construction was completed on the Rotunda, a symbolism not lost on the architects. The new design still won’t have any of Jefferson’s signature red brick, but, as UVa’s chief architect Alice J. Raucher described it, the building will have “echoes” of the Rotunda even as it makes its own statement about democracy and transparency.
In the two main changes, the architects envision a base of white brick and an auditorium wall of red wood behind a white portico. Raucher described the auditorium as a “warm red drum.” The effect, as seen in the juxtaposed images below, show strong parallels when the buildings are lit up at night.
by James A. Bacon
Responding to a Youngkin administration request for Virginia’s public colleges and universities to curb tuition increases, the University of Virginia Board of Visitors voted this morning to reduce a scheduled 3.7% tuition hike next year to 3.0%.
As explained by Chief Operating Officer J.J. Davis, the shaving of $5.5 million from the budget represents a “good faith” effort to comply with the administration’s request. But in response to a question, she acknowledged that it only “partially” complied.
“This is very late in the budgetary cycle,” which closes June 30, said former Rector and the board’s financial guru James Murray. “We’re supposed to have a budget number in March. It’s very difficult in this point the year to say, ‘Go find millions of dollars.'” He described the partial rollback as “a concession to political reality.”
In other business, the Board also approved a $5.4 billion operating budget for Fiscal 2023-24, which begins July 1. The budget encompasses the academic divisions of the University of Virginia main campus, the campus in Wise, and the UVa Health System. The UVa main-campus operating budget amounts to $2.3 billion.
To an outside observer, the proceedings were remarkable — for the lack of oversight. Board input into what is arguably the most important vote of the year was inconsequential. Aside from praise for the UVa financial staff and a few requests for clarifications, board members had little to say. They offered no substantive questions. They provided zero pushback. Continue reading