Category Archives: Board of Visitors

Team Ryan Defends Closed Board Session

by James A. Bacon

University of Virginia officials have responded, albeit obliquely, to questions raised by the Jefferson Council about the legality of a closed session called during a Board of Visitors meeting March 1.

In a column posted in the “So Hoos Asking” feature of UVA Today, University spokesman Brian Coy walked readers through the basics of closed sessions under Virginia state law. In that piece, he cited the real-world example of the Board’s vote last month to go into closed session to discuss the safety of Jewish students on Grounds in the wake of allegations of antisemitism.

Coy’s description of the session reveals details not previously available to the public. I’m not entirely satisfied with his explanation, as I shall explain in due course, but even if I were, another issue arises: If the topic of the closed-session discussion was as narrowly focused as Coy says it was, it drives home the fact that Rector Robert Hardie and President Jim Ryan have shut down any discussion in open session of the larger questions of UVA’s hostile climate to Jews.

In the cause of promoting open and reasoned dialogue, we are duty-bound to inform our readers fully and fairly of the views of the Ryan administration. Here follows the full passage from Coy’s column. Continue reading

Ellis Honored by White Rose Society

Bert Ellis, co-founder of the Jefferson Council and a University of Virginia board member since 2022, has been awarded the White Rose by the White Rose Society, for his stand in defense of Jewish students at UVA.

The White Rose Society honors and thanks “individuals who have become beacons of hope for the Jewish people by recognizing those who make a difference through their actions.” The organization’s name pays homage to the Weiße Rose (White Rose), a resistance group founded by non-Jewish students at the University of Munich in 1942.

“The BOV is now well aware of the antisemitic activities that have happened/are happening at UVA,” Ellis said. “I intend to keep antisemitism front and center until we can bring this issue under control. There is no reason why students and faculty at UVA cannot debate the issues of Israel and Palestine and the Middle East in an open and civil manner without the need to vilify or verbally abuse or threaten one side or the other.” Continue reading

Did the Board of Visitors Illegally Meet in Closed Session?

by James A. Bacon

Last week the University of Virginia leadership dodged and weaved and did everything it could to suppress an open, wide-ranging discussion at the Board of Visitors meeting of how Jewish students are treated at UVA.

Most pointedly, Rector Robert Hardie called a “hard stop” on board member Bert Ellis’ bid to focus on how the administration was allowing Jewish students to be subjected to hostile and discriminatory treatment. Hardie declared that the points raised by Ellis fell under the rubric of “student safety issues,” which the Board would discuss in closed session.

Was “student safety” a legitimate reason to reject Ellis’ call for open debate about one of the most contentious set of issues to afflict UVA in years?

I’m not a legal expert in government transparency, but it looks to me like UVA violated state open-government law in calling the closed session. I’ll make that case below. But I would welcome feedback from anyone with an expertise in this area to guide the Jefferson Council as we ponder whether to escalate our criticism of what was — whether legal or illegal — a grotesque lack of transparency at an institution supposedly committed to open inquiry. Continue reading

UVA Leadership Squelches Debate About University’s Antisemitism Problem

Provost Ian Baucom and Academic & Student Affairs Chair Elizabeth Cranwell: Antisemitism issues best addressed “in another setting.”

by James A. Bacon

During the University of Virginia Board of Visitors meeting Thursday, Provost Ian Baucom briefed board members on what the administration was doing to defuse tensions in the UVA community between Jews and the vocal pro-Palestinian faction over the Israel-Gaza war.

He mentioned “sustained academic programming” to illuminate sources of the decades-long conflict. He took note of the mental health services provided those experiencing mental anguish. He assured the Board that the University was working to bring opposing parties together in dialogue and to understand “the reality of Jewish, Muslim and other religious minorities.” UVA, he said, was committed to “deep engagement” and “freedom of expression.”

The Provost reiterated the administration’s support for free speech. UVA, he said, was a place where “people are free to disagree” but where “everyone belongs.” “We need to listen to people we disagree with,” he added, and concluded by thanking the Board for its “help and wisdom.”

But when board members began addressing the hostile environment for Jewish students at UVA, there was no sign that the Provost, President Jim Ryan, or Rector Robert Hardie were interested in “listening” to anyone who disagreed with them, much less in “engaging” with them on the most contentious issue to afflict the University in recent years. Continue reading

Alderman Cancelled

The University of Virginia Board of Visitors voted Friday afternoon to rename Alderman Library to Edgar Shannon Library. Other than an abstention by Paul Harris, the tally was unanimous. Stephen Long cast his vote “with reservations” but it counted as a “yes.”

The vote followed an extended closed session, which ran significantly over the scheduled time limit. The session had been preceded by a testy exchange between Hardie and Bert Ellis, who wanted to talk about the treatment of Jewish students at UVA, Hardie cut him off, saying, “We will discuss this in closed session.”

There is much more to be said about the Board’s discussion — or the stifling of discussion — about the treatment of Jews at UVA, and your humble correspondent will tell that story in the near future. For now, he will order a daquiri, retire to his hammock, and enjoy the fading moments of his Costa Rica vacation.


Board Shows No Interest in Israel Divestment (Updated)

by James A. Bacon

University of Virginia students this week voted two-to-one in favor of a referendum asking the University to “divest its stocks, funds, and endowment from companies that profit from any and all acts of human rights violations across the world.” The referendum specifically asked for UVIMCO, which manages the university’s $14 billion endowment, to audit its holdings and identify corporations financially “implicated” with Israel’s “apartheid regime.”

Thirty percent of the student body participated in the referendum in a process starting Monday and concluding Wednesday. The referendum generated significant publicity on Grounds.

The Board of Visitors had the perfect opportunity this morning to address the divestment issue when it met with UVIMCO’s Chief Executive Officer and Chief Operating Officer. But the topic never came up.

UVIMCO officials reported on their 2023 investment results, and board members did inquire about the investment group’s relationship with the university, its philosophy toward ESG (environmental, social and governance), and its ability to pick specific stocks, bonds and securities. The subject of Israeli divestment was never broached but the dialogue made it clear that purging individual investments would be exceedingly different under UVIMCO’s business model. Continue reading

Alderman Name Change Contested at Board Meeting

by James A. Bacon

The University of Virginia Board of Visitors took up the controversial issue Thursday of renaming the Alderman Library to the Edgar Shannon Library. Two board members expressed sharp objections to name change, but the Building & Grounds Committee voted to advance a resolution authorizing the change to the full board, which will take up the issue Friday.

Foes of the renaming called into question the process by which the Naming & Memorials Committee reached its decision to jettison the name of Edwin Alderman, UVA’s first president and architect of UVA’s transformation in the early 1900s into a modern university. The name of Edgar Shannon, who led the University through integration and the Vietnam War, has been suggested in Alderman’s place.

Paul C. Harris was the first board member to attack the recommendation. He criticized proponents of the name change for their confidence in their moral rectitude and their “unforgiving culture.” He was disappointed, Harris said, that the committee members spent so much time passing judgment on a historical figure so central to UVA’s history without acknowledging his transformative contributions.

Foes of the name change have assailed Alderman, who served between 1904 and 1931, for perpetuating segregation and supporting the eugenics movement. Under the proposal put before the Board, Alderman’s name would be removed from the building but the original dedication plaque crediting his role would remain in place. Continue reading

Scott Surovell’s End Run Around Jason Miyares

Sen. Scott Surovell

by James A. Bacon

The battle for control of higher-ed institutions in Virginia is boiling over into the state legislature. Senator Scott Surovell, D-Mount Vernon, has submitted a bill, SB 506, that would allow Virginia’s public universities to hire their own legal counsel in place of lawyers answering to the Attorney General.

The bill would give governing boards of every institution authority over the hiring of “outside legal counsel, the oversight and management of any legal counsel, and the appointment of a general counsel to serve as the chief legal officer of the institution.”

Attorney General Jason Miyares

Public universities are classified as state agencies. Like other state agencies, their legal interests are represented by counsel that reports to the Office of Attorney General.

The underlying political conflict is who controls Virginia’s colleges and universities. The issue surfaced last year when former Bowdoin University President Clayton Rose addressed the University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors and suggested that board members owe their primary loyalty to the institution, not their personal agendas. He received pushback from two board members appointed by Governor Glenn Youngkin who argued that the duty of board members is to represent the interests of the Commonwealth of Virginia, not the institution itself. Continue reading

Rubber Stamp Governance

by James A. Bacon

Earlier this month the Jefferson Council noted that the Board of Visitors had virtually no input into decision-making for setting the University of Virginia’s tuition & fees in 2025 and 2026. The three-month process, orchestrated by senior administrators, presented a carefully curated set of statistics and allowed no opportunity for board members to engage in substantive discussion.

Based on my observation of the public meetings I attended, it struck me that Board oversight was a sham, and that the Board’s vote in December to approve 3.0% tuition increases rubber-stamped a decision made by the Ryan administration. But I muted my conclusions in writing because I still had questions about how the process worked.

I submitted several questions to Chief Communications Officer Brian Coy. The administration’s response removes any lingering doubts. Continue reading

UVa Eyes Potential Cost Savings

by James A. Bacon

The Ryan administration defended its record of cost cutting Friday during a presentation to the Board of Visitors and pointed to an ongoing Operational Efficiency and Effectiveness Study as a source of savings in the future.

The study, which commenced in September, has focused on five objectives, Chief Operating Officer J.J. Davis told the Board:

  •  Maximize scalability and efficiency
  • Unlock the power of technology
  • Reduce manual work
  • Minimize duplication
  • Align activities to mission

So far, said Davis, three major themes have emerged: people and organization; optimization and scale; and technology as an enabler. Over the next six months, in the words of her presentation slide deck, the study will conduct a “deeper examination of opportunities warranting further analysis.” She will report back to the Board in June. Continue reading