Category Archives: Governance

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

Tie Ryan’s Pay Raise to Free-Speech Performance

Stanley K. Joynes III is a University of Virginia alumnus, College, Class of 1977 and Law, Class of 1981.

I recall the disgust many felt when the University of Virginia Board of Visitors decided not only to restore the modest pay cuts taken by President Ryan and his executive posse in mid-COVID, but then to award a bonus — the disgust centering around the asymmetry of their action in the face of the closures and bankruptcies of dozens (hundreds?) of local small businesses and the loss of jobs principally at the lower end of the pay scale. Continue reading

A Disastrous Week for UVa

Open letter from Bert Ellis, president of The Jefferson Council, to members of the University of Virginia community.

Last week will go down as one of the worst weeks in the history of UVA.

The Honor Code is Effectively Dead

By a margin of over 4 to 1, UVA students voted in a referendum to permanently change the Honor System to eliminate expulsion as the sanction for an honor offense in favor of a two-semester leave of absence… the equivalent of a time out.

A 3rd year law student (who’s next stop on his path to save the world is to study global affairs at Beijing’s Tsinghau University) led this effort. In his view, the Honor System is inherently racist because more people of color or more international students are found guilty of honor offenses than their exact percentage of the UVA student population.

He argued, “we can no longer support a sanction that is historically allowed and could prospectively allow the most severe outcome to fall disproportionately on some communities more than others.” Continue reading

What Was More “Political”: Heaphy’s Firing or His Hiring?

Tim Heaphy, pictured in 2017. Photo credit: The Cavalier Daily.

by James A. Bacon

The Richmond Times-Dispatch ramped up the mainstream media’s criticism of Attorney General Jason Miyares in a story published over the weekend. The headline: “Jason Miyares removed the head lawyer at 3 state colleges. Professors and Democrats say he’s wielding excessive influence.”

The initial wave of Miyares-critical stories, most prominently in The Washington Post and The New York Times, focused on the firing of Tim Heaphy as counsel at the University of Virginia. The articles suggested that the removal was an act of political retribution for Heaphy’s service, while on unpaid leave from UVa, as lead investigator into the Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol last year.

That charge has dissipated in the face of vehement denials from Miyares, the total absence of any corroborating evidence, and the fact that Heaphy was not singled out for removal. His counterparts at George Mason University and Virginia Commonwealth University were sacked as well, suggesting that perhaps a different motive was at play.

Whatever that motive is, the RTD found someone to say it was “political.” Reporter Eric Kolenich quotes quotes Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor: “Universities need to be free, open places and not be politicized by the appointment of counsel who are loyal to the attorney general but not loyal to the university.” Continue reading

DEI for Thee But Not for Me

Ian Baucom. Beneficiary of White privilege?

by James A. Bacon

On Jan. 16, the University of Virginia announced that Provost Liz Magill had been chosen to serve as the president of the University of Pennsylvania. The same day, President Jim Ryan announced her replacement, Ian Baucom, dean of the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.

Baucom had been widely praised within the UVa community for modernizing the College’s curriculum, but his sudden elevation to the No. 2 spot in the administrative hierarchy prompted a strong reaction. Faculty members wondered why the provost position had not been subject to the usual Diversity, Equity & Inclusion hiring practices — advertising the open position, creating a search committee, diligently considering minority candidates — required to fill other job openings.

In the student newspaper, The Cavalier Daily, economics professors Amalia Miller and Sarah Turner addressed Ryan’s circumvention of the normal hiring process in order to hire a White male. They wrote: Continue reading

The Times, Post Mangle the Heaphy Story

Square peg, round hole, mainstream media hammer.

by James A. Bacon

Here is what happens when The New York Times imposes its national narrative upon a Virginia story. We are afflicted with articles with headlines like this: “Top Jan. 6 Investigator Fired From Post at the University of Virginia.”

“Democrats in Virginia,” says the sub-head, denounced the action as “a partisan move aimed at helping former President Donald J. Trump undercut the investigation of the Capitol riot.”

The Times quotes Senator Scot Surovell, D-Fairfax, as saying, “This is purely payback for Jan. 6 — there is no other reason that makes any sense. In our state, we normally leave those decisions to the school’s board of visitors and president.” Surovell presented no concrete evidence to support his speculation. Continue reading

Begun, the College Wars Have

Tim Heaphy, pictured in 2017. Photo credit: The Cavalier Daily.

by James A. Bacon

Attorney General Jason S. Miyares has fired the university counsels of the University of Virginia and George Mason University: Tim Heaphy at UVa and Brian Walther at GMU.

I have no inside knowledge about why Miyares took these actions, but they are, I believe, best understood as the opening salvos in what will be a long-term effort by Miyares and Governor Glenn Youngkin to change the increasingly totalitarian culture of Virginia’s higher-ed system that stifles free speech and free expression.

In Virginia the governor appoints members of the boards of visitors, but the attorney general appoints the university counsels. BoV members serve on a rotating basis, with only a few seats expiring June 30 at the end of every fiscal year. But university counsels serve at the pleasure of the attorney general, as I understand it, and can be replaced at any time. Miyares has lost no time in acting.

AG spokesperson Victoria LaCivita said in a statement to The Washington Post that Heaphy had been a “controversial” hire and that Miyares’ predecessor Mark Herring had “excluded many qualified internal candidates when he brought in this particular university counsel.” Continue reading

Emil Faber Weeps

by Walter Smith

The statue of Emil Faber, founder of Faber College (of Animal House fame), bears a quote, “Knowledge is good.” The reigning philosophy at the University of Virginia, by contrast, seems to be, “Only some knowledge is good.”

By way of introduction, let us note that the University of Virginia Alumni Association this fall conducted a survey that gauged the opinions of UVa alumni on a wide range of topics relating to the university. Of the approximately 25,000 alumni solicited, 1,319 responded. Among other highlights, the survey revealed that respect for university founder Thomas Jefferson and the Honor System has waned among younger alumni. The association published the findings in Virginia magazine.

Now consider a previous survey. In March 2018, in response to a request from a working group of UVa’s deans, the Board of Visitors approved the expenditure of $80,000 to conduct the 2017-18 University Climate Survey. “Climate Survey,” for your edification, has no connection to global warming. It is an academic term of art for measuring how schools are doing in their core missions. Many universities conduct similar surveys and publish them on their websites. Here is the University of Richmond’s. Here is Wake Forest’s. Here is UVa’s 2015 survey conducted shortly after the infamous Rolling Stone rape story.

You will not find a copy of the 2018 survey. The UVa administration has suppressed it. I tried to obtain the summary document through the Freedom of Information Act. UVa denied my request. I filed suit in Henrico County General District Court. I lost the initial round, but the fight is not over. Continue reading

Mr. Youngkin, Pay Heed to Your University-Board Appointments

University of Virginia board room.

by James A. Bacon

Glenn Youngkin’s winning campaign issue in the 2020 gubernatorial election was expunging Critical Race Theory from Virginia’s public school system. An endlessly repeated trope of the Left is that CRT is an academic legal theory not taught in schools. I (and others) have explained that “CRT” is short-hand for policies based upon the precept that the nation’s institutions are systemically racist. Whatever. People will believe what they want to believe. But there’s one place where even the Left acknowledges CRT is taught… and that’s law schools. Indeed, few would dispute that CRT now saturates higher education generally.

Youngkin will have his hands full rolling back “CRT” in Virginia public K-12 schools, where the ideology is deeply entrenched in official policies, bureaucratic processes, and pervasive attitudes among teachers and administrators. It will be even more difficult rooting out this profoundly destructive ideology in Virginia’s public colleges and universities.

Making the job difficult is the governance structure of higher education in Virginia. The system is decentralized, and public higher-ed institutions enjoy tremendous autonomy. Youngkin cannot dictate his policy preferences. State government has only two tools to implement change in public colleges and universities. One is budgetary: the General Assembly provides funding to colleges and universities. The other is the power of appointment. If Youngkin is to have any impact on higher ed during his four years in office, he needs to use that power aggressively. Continue reading

Will Clement Leave His Mark as UVa Rector?

Whittington W. “Whitt” Clement

by James A. Bacon

The University of Virginia Board of Visitors will have some fresh blood tomorrow. Whittington W. Clement will assume leadership as rector July 1, and he will be joined by three new members appointed by Governor Ralph Northam earlier this month on the 19-person board.

The question is this: Will anything change? Will the Board reassert its control over an institution that is run by a self-aggrandizing senior staff with no regard to the interests of students and parents who pay most of the bills? Will it act to protect Thomas Jefferson’s legacy and UVa’s proud tradition of intellectual diversity and free inquiry? Or will the Board acquiesce to President Jim Ryan’s ambition to create a monochromatically leftist faculty while tolerating a student culture of dreary ideological conformity?

I don’t know Clement well, but I can say confidently that he is a dedicated public servant who will do his honest best to balance the many conflicting demands confronting the Board of Visitors. Continue reading