“Institutional neutrality” as conceived by Bing image creator.
From the latest issue of The Jefferson Independent…
by Lauren Horan
Places of higher education exist to serve as sanctuaries for the exchange of ideas. With diverse student populations, a plethora of ethnic backgrounds and a variety of lived experiences, college campuses are enriched by the students that inhabit them.
However, with substantially sized student bodies, there will undoubtedly be a wide range of opinions regarding the highly contentious political and social issues of our time, with the Israel-Hamas war being one of them. This then presents the question of how higher institutions ought to react. When current events concern the students of these universities, are administrators obligated to issue a statement that demonstrates an ambiguously neutral stance, pacifying the anger of one half of the cohort while only enraging the other?
The Kalven Report, a document stipulating the University of Chicago’s role on institutional neutrality, arose as the creation of a committee by then-University President George Beadle. The purpose of the seven-person committee was to better understand how the University should approach “political and social action.” The committee’s efforts were prompted by the various protests over the social issues of the 1960s, including opposition to the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement.
Led by famous legal scholar Harry Kalven Jr., the committee published areport in November 1967 in which they firmly adopted a position of neutrality in order to best preserve the university’s goal of being a haven for “the discovery, improvement, and dissemination of knowledge.”
“The instrument of dissent and criticism is the individual faculty member or the individual student. The university is the home and sponsor of critics; it is not itself the critic,” the Kalven committee expressed in their statement.
Read the whole thing.
Lauren Horan, a fourth year Government and Spanish student, serves on the Jefferson Council Board of Advisors.
by James A. Bacon
In early October Governor Glenn Youngkin asked Attorney General Jason Miyares for a formal opinion on a seemingly innocuous question: Whose interests are members of Virginia’s public university governing boards supposed to represent? Miyares responded that the “primary duty” of the boards of visitors is to the commonwealth, not to the institutions themselves. The conclusion would seem to be so obvious, so clearly the intent of the state code, that it doesn’t warrant discussion.
But some people espy a vague but malign intent behind the finding.
Speaking to the higher-ed trade journal, Inside Higher Ed, Claire Gastañaga, former director of Virginia’s ACLU and a former deputy attorney general overseeing Virginia’s public colleges and universities, said Miyares’ opinion is a threat to the autonomy of public institutions. In the publication’s words, she “fears it signals an attempt by the governor to justify the removal of board members whose actions don’t align with his priorities” and replace them with appointees who share his priorities. Gastañaga pointed to the Bert Ellis bogeyman as evidence that Youngkin is scheming something nefarious. Continue reading
Rector Robert D. Hardie
by James A. Bacon
A week ago The Jefferson Council publicly questioned the decision to withhold publication of the investigation into the University’s failure to prevent the Nov. 13, 2022, mass shooting. We were particularly perplexed by who made the decision to delay release of the report until after the trial of the defendant Christopher Jones. The decision, announced by Rector Robert D. Hardie and President Jim Ryan, apparently was made without the approval of the Board of Visitors. (See “Will the Public Ever Get to See the Mass Shooting Report?“)
Now, as reported by The Daily Progress, others are asking questions.
The Daily Progress leads with the question, “Who exactly is the University of Virginia protecting?”
The newspaper quotes John Fishwick, former U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia: “Whenever you have a public university with such a tragic event, it’s important for the public to know what happened. I think they should release it immediately.”
“Are they hiding something? I don’t know,” Michael Haggard, an attorney for the families of the victims, told The Daily Progress. “But I know one way you can stop the speculation on it: Release it to the families like you promised.” Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
The primary duty of board members of Virginia’s public colleges and universities is to the commonwealth, not to the individual institutions, Attorney General Jason Miyares wrote Monday in response to an advisory opinion requested by Governor Glenn Younkin.
According to Miyares’ missive, Youngkin asked whether Virginia law imposes upon boards of visitors “a duty to serve the interests of the university or college only, or the Commonwealth more broadly.”
“Although they extend services to non-residents, Virginia’s institutions of higher education exist to fulfill the commonwealth’s commitment to provide education to the students of Virginia,” the AG answered. “It is clear that the boards of visitors serving them, as public officers of the state, have a duty to the Commonwealth as a whole.”
The letter does not elucidate the particular circumstances that led to the request for clarification, but the issue of board members’ primary duty did arise during the September 2023 meeting of the University of Virginia Board of Visitors meeting. Rector Robert Hardie had invited Clayton Rose, former president of Bowdoin College and currently a Harvard University professor, to lead a discussion of “best practices in board governance.” (See our coverage here.) Continue reading
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
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
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
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
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