Category Archives: Board of Visitors

UVa’s “Agency” Problem

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

Serve the University’s Interests, UVa Board Members Told

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

Ryan Ignored Board of Visitors in Formulating Admissions Policy

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

Info-Wars at UVa: Who Decides What the BoV Needs to Hear?

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

Jefferson Council Welcomes Four New UVa Board Members

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

Instead of Red Brick, a “Warm Red Drum”

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.

Continue reading

UVa Board Trims Next-Year Tuition by 0.7%. Big Whoop.

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

Team Ryan Defends UVa Commitment to Free Speech

Leslie Kendrick (wearing a mask and recovering from a cold) and Melody Barnes address the Board of Visitors.

by James A. Bacon

Jim Sherlock, a Bacon’s Rebellion columnist, offers his take on the Diversity, Equity& Inclusion presentation to the University of Virginia Board of Visitors scheduled to take place this afternoon. Based on the PowerPoint deck to be used as the basis of the presentation, he concludes that the administration intends to deflect the conversation from the main issue, which, he maintains, is using the DEI bureaucracy to impose political and ideological control.

Read his essay here. You might want to check out the comments section in which Ryan administration sympathizers and critics engage in a lively (and mostly civil) back and forth.

Sherlock published his essay yesterday before another important presentation took place. Anticipating criticisms like Sherlock’s, the administration stressed the value it places on “free speech,” “free inquiry” and “diversity of viewpoints.” Continue reading

Empty Gesture? UVa Board Endorses Diversity of Thought.

by James A. Bacon

The University of Virginia Board of Visitors did more than endorse free speech on university campuses Friday when it voted to adopt a Council of Presidents statement on free speech: It endorsed the principle of viewpoint diversity.

In 2012 the Board had embraced a 2021 statement on free speech by a commission appointed by President James Ryan. But that statement alluded only vaguely to the value of “exposure to a range of ideas.” If the ideas discussed at UVa consisted only of different strains of leftism, the declaration on free speech wouldn’t amount to much.

The statement of the Council of Presidents, which was crafted at the request of Governor Glenn Youngkin, made it clear that the exercise of free speech and the diversity of ideas are intertwined, and it implied that a wide range of ideas should be encouraged. (My emphasis added below.)

As presidents of Virginia’s public colleges and universities, we unequivocally support free expression and viewpoint diversity on our campuses. Free expression is the fundamental basis for both academic freedom and for effective teaching and learning inside and outside the classroom. Our member universities and colleges are bound to uphold the First Amendment. We are committed to promoting this constitutional freedom through robust statements and policies that are formulated through shared governance processes and through actions that reflect and reinforce this core foundation of education. We value a scholarly environment that is supported by a diversity of research and intellectual perspectives among our faculty and staff. We pledge to promote and uphold inclusivity, academic freedom, free expression, and an environment that promotes civil discourse across differences. We will protect these principles when others seek to restrict them.

Ryan told the board that he wants the Council of Presidents statement to “inform what we do at UVa.”

The challenge for Ryan and Provost Ian Baucom will be implementing those principles in an institution marked by a left/right ideological imbalance of roughly ten-to-one; in which a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion bureaucracy suffuses university policies with a leftist understanding of “equity” and requires employees to express their views of DEI in “diversity statements”; and in which many students and the faculty self-censor for fear of igniting a social media storm, sparking social ostracism, or suffering administrative punishment. Continue reading

The Bert Ellis Feeding Frenzy

Piranhas

by James A. Bacon

Virginia has now entered the feeding frenzy stage of the assault on Bert Ellis’ character. Abandoning all journalistic standards of impartiality and fair play, mainstream media outlets compete with another to publish anything they can find to compromise Ellis, a member of the University of Virginia Board of Visitors appointed by Governor Glenn Youngkin and narrowly confirmed by the General Assembly.

Following a Washington Post piece yesterday that highlighted such transgressions as referring in private correspondence to a UVa employee as a “numnut,” Virginia Public Media has joined the fray. Among the new affrights uncovered through the Freedom of Information Act is the scoop that Ellis also referred to UVa administrators as “schmucks”!

It is laughable that anyone would deem such language used in personal communications to be worth publishing — as if no one else in public service speaks this way in private. Ironically, the only thing remarkable about Ellis’ use of language is how restrained it is. It is less vitriolic, for example, than the language used by Jeff Thomas, the leftist author who filed the FOIA request and peddled his findings to the media. VPM reporter Ben Paviour quotes Thomas as accusing “these people” of “lashing out with these venomous personal attacks at innocent people.”

Venomous? Really? Ellis didn’t “lash out” or “attack” anyone — these were private communications. The victims never knew about them…  until Thomas uncovered them and persuaded Paviour to publicize them!

Such are the New Rules of woke journalism.

But there’s more. Paviour included one exchange in his piece that had no business appearing in any article. The fact that he chose to include it exposes the shoddiness of his journalism. Here is what he wrote: Continue reading