Category Archives: Governance

Not Gilly Sullivan’s Alumni Association Anymore

Gilly Sullivan

by James A. Bacon

Aiming to address the lamentable decline in state/local news coverage, States Newsroom supports local news operations in 29 states, including Virginia. As Jim Sherlock detailed here, the nonprofit organization was launched in 2019 by the left-of-center Hopewell Fund, which itself is managed by the left-of-center Arabella Advisors. Its Virginia Mercury digital publication has made a valuable contribution to Virginia journalism by breaking many important stories. While the Mercury can credibly profess to be politically “nonpartisan,” its news coverage leans hard to the port side of environmental and social-justice issues.

In a nod to transparency, States Newsroom publishes the names of all individuals and groups that have contributed $500 or more since November 2019. One of the names listed is the “University of Virginia Alumni Association.”

Conservative UVa alumni might ask themselves the question: Why is their alumni association contributing funds to a left-of-center news organization?

I posed that question to Richard Gard, vice president of communications for the association. It turns out that the alumni association did not make the contribution. Rather, it acted as a pass-through for another UVa-affiliated entity.

And therein lies a story illustrating the opaque organizational structure of the University of Virginia and its Oort Cloud of satellite foundations and affiliated groups. Continue reading

Bureaucracy Watch: UVa vs. GMU

In a presentation to its Board of Visitors, administrators at George Mason University showed a graph (seen above) comparing the number of employees per student at Virginia’s six public research universities. GMU shared with Old Dominion University the distinction of having the lowest employee-student ratio of the six. The purpose, of course, was to make the GMU administration look good by comparison.

Perhaps it’s a chart that the UVa Board of Visitors should see as well, though for entirely different reasons. By this reckoning, UVa has two-and-a-half times as many employees per student as GMU. On the face of it, that seems scandalous.

The disparity is so stark that one might legitimately inquire if the GMU functionaries who compiled this data were comparing apples with apples, so I don’t rush to any judgment. However, it would seem reasonable for UVa’s board members to ask for an explanation.


Sorry, Lefties, But Racists Don’t Invest In Black Enterprise

by James A. Bacon

The broadsides against Bert Ellis are going national. Inside Higher Education, the higher-ed trade publication, has published an article highlighting the growing controversy over Ellis’ appointment to the University of Virginia Board of Visitors. The article quotes Eva Surovell, editor-in-chief of The Cavalier Daily, whose articles sparked the furor, as saying that developments at UVa reflect the larger campus culture wars across the country.

That observation is true enough. Unfortunately, Surovell goes on to say this: “We’re just not unique in that really conservative voices are nostalgic for a time when women, when Black people and when other people of color were either banned or much less of a population here at UVA.”

Translation: Ellis and his alumni allies are reactionary racists and sexists.

I’ve got news for Ms. Surovell: Bert Ellis is CEO of Johnson Energy Storage, a developer of solid-state energy storage solutions founded by African American inventor Lonnie Johnson. Racists don’t invest in minority-owned enterprises. Racists don’t serve as CEOs of companies founded by minority entrepreneurs. Continue reading

A Shameful Shallowness of Intellect

by James A. Bacon

The University of Virginia Student Council has called for the immediate resignation of alumnus Bert Ellis from the Virginia Board of Visitors, and chastises Governor Glenn Youngkin’s decision to appoint him as “rewarding behavior that endangers students.”

Ellis stands in a long line of violent racist oppressors, says the proclamation. “From the bondage and abuse experienced by enslaved people, to the violent occupation by Nazis and KKK members, to Bert Ellis — the Lawn is no stranger to racist violence under the guise of ‘Jeffersonian ideals’ in order to maintain power for the white elite.”

No, Ellis hasn’t marched in neo-Nazi rallies. He hasn’t burned any crosses. He hasn’t even used the N-word. His primary offense was a professed intention — never acted upon — to use a small razor blade to cut the infamous “Fuck UVA” sign from the door of a Lawn resident. “Whether or not Ellis used his blade, whether or not Ellis threatened the student directly,” the Council statement declared, “his conduct is reprehensible.”  Continue reading

The Governor’s Tuition Freeze Request and the Board at UVa – It’s Complicated

Signatures from the first meeting recorded in the Minute Book of the UVa board of visitors, May 5, 1817 – ALBERT AND SHIRLEY SMALL SPECIAL COLLECTIONS LIBRARY, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA

by James C. Sherlock

Much has been made of a recent request by Governor Glenn Youngkin to eliminate a tuition increase at the University of Virginia and the Board’s decision not to honor it.

The tensions between means and ends that have to be resolved in producing a budget at any large and complex university are enormous.

UVa has implemented a Responsibility Center Management (RCM) budget model.

An RCM budget model decentralizes decision-making, provides incentives for innovation, and improves overall financial results and stewardship. It couples distributed program responsibility with meaningful authority over resources.

A central RCM budget product is thus fragile, in that changes have far reaching effects unpredictable at the board level. The later the changes, the bigger the disruptions.

The Governor’s request, while appropriate to his goal to help parents deal with inflation, arrived just before the start of the fiscal year. The board judged it to be too late to be accommodated. Continue reading

UVa Board Meetings Should Get a Lot More Interesting

Bert Ellis

by James A. Bacon

Governor Glenn Youngkin has announced his appointments to the boards of visitors of Virginia’s colleges and universities, at least one of which has the potential to be highly consequential — Bert Ellis, a serial entrepreneur and major donor, at the University of Virginia.

Ellis has been a prominent critic of UVa’s leftward drift under President Jim Ryan. He is president of The Jefferson Council, an alumni organization formed a year and a half ago to preserve free speech, promote intellectual diversity, protect the legacy of Thomas Jefferson, and preserve the dignity of the Jefferson-designed “academical village” centered on the Rotunda and Lawn. (Full disclosure: I am vice president-communications of The Jefferson Council.)

The current board has provided little pushback to Ryan’s policies. Rector Whitt Clement has worked behind the scenes to blunt the worst excesses, but he avoids confrontation. His personal style is to be a conciliator. He has achieved some success on free-speech issues, but has been powerless to halt more fundamental changes in university culture.

In an update to Jefferson Council members in December, Ellis noted approvingly that Governor Glenn Youngkin, Lt. Governor Winsome Sears and Attorney General Jason Miyares were are all interested in “re-focusing UVA and other colleges and K-12 schools in Virginia on educating students and not brainwashing them with the Woke/CRT/DEI mantras that have overtaken UVA and almost all other colleges and K-12 schools in Virginia and across our country.” Continue reading

It’s Good to Be King

UVa President Jim Ryan

by Walter Smith

University of Virginia President Jim Ryan has entered into three employment agreements with UVa (technically, the Board of visitors on behalf of UVa). His first agreement was executed in September of 2017, to commence on October 1, 2018, and to last through July 31, 2025. His second agreement, executed as of March 2, 2018, amended his agreement to commence as of August 1, 2018. His third, and current, agreement was executed on March 2, 2022, extending his term of employment until July 31, 2028.

I will summarize its terms for your convenience. This summary will necessarily leave out some of the details, and, if that bothers you, then read the entire agreement yourself! (View the contract and compensation.)

The “term” is set to expire on July 31, 2028, and “renewal” discussions are to commence no later than March 31, 2027, with a desired termination date of discussions by July 31, 2027. In other words, if President Ryan’s employment is not to continue beyond the current term, he desires one year notice of his impending non-renewal. Continue reading

VMI Alumni Open Letter Raises Governance Issues Relevant to UVA

A couple of weeks ago, Walter Smith raised questions about the lack of accountability of the leadership of the University of Virginia Alumni Association. Graduates of the Virginia Military Institute are asking similar questions about the VMI Alumni Association, whose governing rules allow a hermetically sealed oligarchy to perpetuate itself.

Dissident UVa alumni may find the Open Letter penned by their VMI counterparts to be worth reading.

Once upon a time, nobody cared how alumni associations were governed. As long as they held good reunion parties, it didn’t matter. But alumni associations have evolved into adjuncts of university administrations, becoming critical partners in university fund-raising campaigns, purveyors of pro-administration propaganda, and implicit supporters of “progressive” policies pursued by those administrations. Whose interests does UVa’s alumni uphold — those of the alumni, or those of the UVa adminstration?

Who Holds the UVa Alumni Association Accountable?

by Walter Smith

Who owns the University of Virginia? The answer is clear: As an agency of the state government, UVa is owned by the citizens of Virginia. The governor appoints the members of its governing board, the University of Virginia, the General Assembly allots a significant percentage of its budget, and, although it has been granted considerable autonomy, the university must abide by state rules and regulations, such as, to mention just one, the Freedom of Information Act.

But who owns the University of Virginia alumni association — a nonprofit entity that, according to its Form 990, has $582 million in assets? And what mechanisms exist to hold the association’s leadership accountable for its actions?

The answer to that question is less immediately obvious. After digging into the matter, I’ve reached the conclusion that the alumni association is accountable to no one — certainly not to the UVa alumni. It is run by a self-perpetuating clique, which is free to indulge its decidedly ideological preferences largely uncontested. Transparency is minimal. and most alumni are clueless.

The UVa alumni association is not unique in this regard. My findings likely apply to alumni associations across the country and, indeed, to most nonprofit organizations generally. The story of how unaccountable, tax-advantaged nonprofits exercise extraordinary influence over our society is one of the great untold stories of our age. Continue reading

Asleep at the Wheel

Letter to the University of Virginia Board of Visitors from Walter Smith.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

I expect you will ignore me, as usual, but, for purposes of establishing a record when the time for your contextualization comes, I must document your many failures and refusal to do your fiduciary duties, because I believe, if you had any honor, you would resign.

You have the distinct honor of being in charge of one of the world’s premier public universities, with an historic legacy few other schools could match: a UNESCO World Heritage site designed by Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, third President, author of the Religious Freedom statute, and perhaps history’s greatest proponent of free speech. The University of Virginia was Jefferson’s dream, established as a public university to pursue truth wherever it may lead.

Supposedly, you have been trained in your duties as Visitors. I sincerely doubt it. I have reviewed the Board Manual and the Board Basics booklet. The Board Manual’s first two duties list (1) the preservation of the ideals and traditions of the University and particularly encouragement of the maintenance of the Honor System by the student body and (2) the establishment of general education policy. As the recently released Alumni Association survey showed, support for the Honor System has dropped precipitously over the last 20 years, and the “single sanction” was overwhelmingly defeated in a March vote. Continue reading