by James A. Bacon
In past posts the Jefferson Council has highlighted a recently published screed, “We’re Pissed Off; You Should Be Too,” that criticizes the governance structure of the University of Virginia. Among other grievances voiced, the authors note that state government provides only 11% of the funding for UVa’s academic division, yet the state controls the appointment of 1oo% of the board seats. The governance structure should be more “democratic,” they contend. Students and faculty should be given voting seats on the board.
“Currently, the BOV oversees 28,361 employees, as well as 23,721 undergraduate and graduate students. There are only 3 ways a BOV member can be removed, and none of them involve us,” laments the tract. (Emphasis in the original.) “The only apparatuses that have power over the BOV are other BOV members and the governor.”
Message to UVa lefties: The Board of Visitors is accountable to the citizens of Virginia — not you. You are employees, not owners. The Commonwealth of Virginia owns UVa, and the governance structure is designed to serve the citizenry, not university employees. Continue reading →
by James A. Bacon
Earlier this month, an anonymous group distributed a pamphlet, “We’re Pissed Off: You Should Be, too,” on the University of Virginia grounds that issued a broadside against the university’s governance structure. Although Board of Visitors member Bert Ellis was the primary object of their ire, the authors criticized the Board generally as “an undemocratic institution.”
“Seventeen people who are appointed by the State, which only provides 11% of UVA’s academic division’s funds, are deciding where 100% of it goes as the BOV gets the final say over approval of the annual budget,” states the pamphlet. “The Board of Visitors (BOV) as an institution is inherently undemocratic. It does not have enough checks and balances put into place to protect students, as well as faculty, staff, and UVA’s administration.”
This is a useful conversation to have. From the student’s or graduate student’s perspective, I suppose, the Board does seem undemocratic. Board members are appointed by Virginia’s governor. Neither students nor faculty get to vote on who serves on the board. But, then, the taxpayers of Virginia don’t get a direct vote either. Neither do parents paying tuition. Neither do alumni who collectively contribute as much to UVa’s funding as the Commonwealth of Virginia does. (Philanthropy and endowment income have surpassed state contributions as a revenue source.)
UVa, like other higher-ed institutions, is a strange beast. Its rules of governance are unlike those of government, or corporations, or charitable organizations. UVa is more like a feudal institution. It has an academic division and a healthcare division. The academic division has 13 colleges and schools, each with its own dean and varying degrees of autonomy and philanthropic funding. Students have a significant role in self governance. So do faculty. Affiliated with the university is a bewildering assemblage of autonomous groups that carry out important functions, each with their own boards.
Nominally, the Board of Visitors governs this feudal kingdom. But in reality it does not exercise much power. It is easily manipulated by the administration. This is not unique to UVa or a rap on President Jim Ryan. It’s the way almost all universities work. Continue reading →
by James A. Bacon
Last week an unidentified group distributed a pamphlet addressed to the Board of Visitors: “We’re Pissed Off. You Should Be Too.” The tract argued that the governance structure at UVa is undemocratic, that faculty and student workers are underpaid, and that Board of Visitors member Bert Ellis (and Jefferson Council president) is an abomination who should be expelled from the board or, at the very least, be removed from his board committee assignments.
The authors did themselves no credit when referring to Ellis as “a known racist, homophobe, and bigoted asshole of a human being.” (The bold face is in the pamphlet.) That is not an invitation to a creating a dialogue and working out differences.
Having countered the slanders against Ellis elsewhere, I will not address them here. Rather, my intention is to take seriously the “We’re Pissed Off” critique of UVa’s governance structure. As puerile as its language is, the pamphlet is the only analysis we’ve seen (other than our own) that questions how UVa is run.
You will never see the issues raised by “We’re Pissed Off” in UVa Today, the mouthpiece of the Ryan administration, or in Virginia, the house organ of the University of Virginia Alumni Association. Such perspectives are rare even in the pages of the Cavalier Daily, which fixates on issues of racial, sexual and gender identity rather than how the university is governed.
We think the authors of “We’re Pissed Off” are wrong on almost every count. But occasionally they make a valid point. And other than their unhinged personal attacks on Ellis, they address important matters that warrant an open and honest discussion. These include such questions as: Continue reading →
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 →
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.
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →