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.

Rose’s presentation came at a time when the appointment of new board members by Governor Glenn Youngkin threatens to undermine the consensus forged by Northam-era appointees on such contentious issues such as diversity, equity, free speech, the cost of attendance, and the increasingly conformist campus culture dominated by leftist values and priorities.

Due to the system of staggered appointments, Northam-era appointees still represent a nine-to-eight majority on the 17-person board. A year-and-a-half into the Youngkin administration, the Rector and Vice Rector are both Northam appointees, as are chairs of every committee but one. The Rector and President set the Board agenda and control the information presented to board members. Virginia transparency laws prohibit Youngkin appointees from talking to more than one other board member at a time, making it difficult to coordinate discussion of issues not sanctioned by leadership.

In his remarks to the Board Friday, Rose focused primarily on the attitudes and behavior expected of board members in an ideal, high-functioning board. He paid less attention to what should be expected from university presidents and senior administrators. The subliminal message to UVa board members: Feel free to ask questions but don’t rock the boat.

New board members did not rock the boat Friday, but they did raise questions… in a civil, respectful, almost deferential manner. Perhaps the most pointed discussion swirled around Rose’s assertion that board members should “serve the university’s interests,” not pursue personal agendas. As board members Paul Harris and Doug Wetmore pointed out, Rose’s observations might apply to private universities, but the University of Virginia is an agency of the state. What is in the best interest of a public university?”

Board members are appointed by the governor. The UVa budget is integrated with the state budget. The state uses taxpayer dollars to subsidize operations, capital expenditures and financial aid. And UVa operates as one cog in a larger system of higher education that is designed to serve the interests of the population of Virginia. The question is fundamental: Whose interests do UVa board members represent? Those of the Commonwealth of Virginia and its citizens or the institution? And who defines the interests of the institution anyway? The president or the board?

Rose, a former university president himself, opened his presentation by sympathizing with university presidents. “Being a college president is one of the hardest leadership roles in the world today,” Rose said. Despite the challenges, he added, UVa President Jim Ryan’s reputation is “second to none.”

The best organization has a strong leader supported by a strong board in which each understands its proper role. A strong temptation of some boards is to delve too deeply “into the weeds” of day-to-day operations. A board’s job is to define core values, chart long-term strategy, select a strong president, and monitor his or her performance.

University board members should “protect the reputation of the institution,” act as “cheerleaders,” and show solidarity once a decision has been made, he said. “Boards are a single unit, not a collection of free agents with a particular agenda in mind. They focus on the university’s interest.”

Rose posed the question: When can a board go off the rails? His answer: when individual trustees bring individual issues to the table and aren’t interested in making decisions as a group. It is expected that board members will disagree sometimes, and he acknowledged that some issues are never resolved permanently, but once a decision is made, he said, everyone needs to present a common front for the good of the institution. “If it becomes one side versus another, it can become dysfunctional.” (Read his summary of key points here.)

Some were comfortable with Rose’s formulation of board responsibilities. Vice Rector Carlos Brown, a Northam appointee, said the Board should “build the fences” — establish the broad parameters of policy — and then allow the president to “roam within the pasture.”

No one defended the idea of micro-managing the university’s CEO. The more troublesome issue revolved around to whom UVa board members owed their primary loyalty. UVa is not a private institution like Bowdoin or Harvard, and board members of public institutions have different obligations than trustees of private universities. The Statement of Visitor Responsibilities adopted in 2018 puts it plainly (my italics): “Visitors support the University’s broader public mission and promote the values of a public university, including serving as conduits for conveying the interests of citizens and political leaders of the Commonwealth to the University.

“We’re a public body,” said Wetmore. “Our responsibilities are laid out in the Virginia code. We take public oath of office to uphold the state constitution. Our meetings are open to the public. We have FOIA (the Freedom of Information Act). The money we spend is public money.”

While no one disputed that board members should serve the interests of the institution, there was no avoiding the question, as Wetmore put it, “what is the best interest of the university?”

To what degree should the Board consider the interests of taxpayers and the public? Among UVa constituencies — students, in-state and out-of-state tuition-paying parents, faculty, researchers, and the ever-growing administrative cadre — whose interests are paramount?

And who makes that call, if not the Board itself?

Rose spent little time exploring the duties and obligations of the president and his administrative staff. However, in the closing moments of the discussion, he offered an opinion that Youngkin appointees might have found satisfying.

Rector Hardie raised an issue arising from frequent requests by Youngkin-appointed board members for information from the staff. Chief Operating Officer J.J. Davis had previously admonished the Board that her staff did not have time to respond to every request for data or analysis. Board members, she said, need to follow the proper process. Usually, that entails going through the committees.

Hardie asked Rose how he had dealt with ongoing requests for information as president of Bowdoin. “The staff has a day job,” Hardie said. Should staff undergo a “fire drill” every time a board member wants to know something?

He encouraged Board members to engage with senior administrators, Rose responded. It was possible to manage requests “without overwhelming the staff.”

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J B MCCOY III
J B MCCOY III
5 months ago

What else would one expect to hear from a former college president?

Administrators are management. The board members set the agenda for the institution and oversee its implementation by the administration. While collegiality among board members
and between the administration and the board may be convenient; robust debate among all ultimately delivers better outcomes on issues because the issues are thoroughly vetted.

Staff should prioritize board members requests for information;
not prioritize their day to day responsibilities.
.

Lorna Gladstone
Lorna Gladstone
5 months ago

It would seem that the only reason for the Board’s existence is to acquiesce to everything the administration of the university wants. I do not see the reason for a Board other than that it provides a rather dubious prestige to those appointed. They are being rather unpleasantly lectured to it this article is correct.

angela box
angela box
5 months ago

Another clever attempt at control. I hope the right people gain a majority soon. Frustrating to read.

James B Newman
James B Newman
5 months ago

It would seem that Clayton Rose represents yet another attempt to manipulate the Board of Visitors. It is the BOV’s responsibility to serve the Commonwealth and not the University President. It is their responsibility to be active in this regard and seek any and all information from the Office of the President that they need to fulfill this charge. The Office of the President should be eager to provide said information. Certainly, the BOV should work to support the President of the University but when the President acts in a way that is detrimental to the interests of the University and the Commonwealth the BOV is mandated to take steps to ensure a course correction. President Ryan is a talented man but we are fast approaching an inflection point where the BOV needs to step in and ensure that a course correction takes place. In light of the Federal District Court case recently filed in Charlottesville by Morgan Bettinger a course correction should already have taken place.

Walter smith
Walter smith
5 months ago

Even though the presenter was from Harvard, and an “ally” of Jim Ryan, purely as to governance, there was little to quibble about. The elephant in the room and never answered was the Northam/McAwful BOV approving Great and Good. They ceded oversight and embarked on a political, secular humanist manifesto, far removed from educational goals in service to the citizens of the Commonwealth (first duty by Va Law in BOV training).
Does no one else understand that JR’s implication in Great and Good is that UVA wasn’t good until MessiahJim arrived? And that the cost of Good is lowering the Great part, hiding behind the oxymoronic “inclusive excellence?”
In the BOV manual, the first charge is to preserve UVA traditions, most specifically the Honor System, yet all of JR’s appointees are either hostile to Jefferson or conspicuously silent in the face of false accusations. The alumni mag’s survey of the last 12 classes showed their priorities ranking Jefferson’s legacy and the Honor System DEAD LAST. This is by design.
BOV, wake up. UVA should be the #1 ranked University in the world for free speech. THAT would be Great, and Good! It would be honoring and consistent with the Jeffersonian legacy. It would/should end the indoctrination, but that will takes years of pushing…hard! First thing, adopt Kalven Principles to the free speech statement. Second thing, prove the commitment and quit hiding behind FOIA tricks. Do it. Prove it. There are legitimate things that FOIA protects, but 95% of what UVA has claimed as protected is either not protected or documents of legitimate public inquiry where no vital interest is protected by withholding. The vital public interest WOULD BE disclosing, like all of the admissions info. Like pulling teeth and full of game playing.
The UVA admissions system could spit out any report you want – the data is in there, but UVA hides behind you are asking us to create a report. No, we want to know details about the classes that are contained in the system. I have even asked for a list of the reports the system can run…and was denied…of course!

George Richard Connolly
George Richard Connolly
5 months ago

In the WSJ rankings of colleges a couple of weeks ago Virginia Main Campus (Good Grief!) clocks in at #84! Six ACC schools clock in ahead of us! Incredibly one of our lowest scores is for Diversity! ? How can this be? What I learned 40+ years ago in the Comm school is we have “taken our eye off the ball”. Our brand is Mr. Jefferson. Yes it is complicated, but to run away from him, to shun him is missing the real opportunity to have a real and dare I say enlightened discussion about the founding fathers, the greatest nation this world as ever seen and yes at times an imperfect union, perhaps no more so than now. We are not the Ivy League, never sought to be, rather we should be the finest institution in the Nation in pursuit of the truth “wherever it may lead.” We’re running with the wrong “school of fish” and are about to get eaten.

Clarity77
Clarity77
5 months ago

Excellent comments by all, and I would add that this push as to conformity of thought is now in full view top to bottom at UVA and represents at its core IMO the single most existential threat to both a university and a society. Jefferson in so many ways pointed to this very issue as a fundamental cancerous and insidious attitude as to inevitably leading to the death of a constitutional republic. It drove him to leave the comforts of Monticello to become the third president after witnessing Adams and the Federalists employing the same intent as Ryan as to the governing of the new republic. The Federalist-sponsored Alien and Sedition Act allowed for the jailing of newspaper editors that did not fall in with the official narrative.
We now can conclude as I previously warned, the recent administration statements as to free speech as being in fact lip service as the true and actual intent is that free speech will be allowed so long as it adheres to official narrative. Free speech is thus undermined and rendered a useless exercise. Absolutely insane!
Clear at the top and now moving on to the bottom as put into practice. Last week I was able to attend 3 seminars on Grounds in which this attitude is front and center. First, at the Miller Center a panel discussion on a very controversial subject being affirmative action. Led by the “esteemed” Gerald L. Baliles Director of Presidential Studies, Barbara Perry, who has stated that Jefferson was in fact a Democrat even though the party was not even in existence when he lived! Any high school student could readily deduce even if the party were in existence while he lived, that in ideology Jefferson would never have given even a second thought to being a part of such. Back to the event, one would expect a robust discussion on such a subject but it was far to the contrary. As a gentleman sitting next to me concluded with disdain at the adjournment, “a lot of tap dancing.” The Q&A at these events in years past allowed for audience participation without vetting of questions. Now questions have to be submitted on a card to then be chosen. This time a new twist as the only question, a softball, allowed by Perry to the panel originated in her words from an “online source.” The audience physically present who had taken time out of their day to attend be damned! In years past I recall the audience on such a topic would be overflowing with chairs set up in the foyer outside with TV monitors. This time the room was far below normal past attendance. Who would want to attend such an event or even a class of any type with such an attitude of control over participation? Perry concluded with invoking the word that is now code for conformity. With a sappy smile she noted with emphasis the CIVILITY! What a joke and waste of time, and judging by the sparse attendance, not just my conclusion.
So how does this play out as to the “bottom”, that is the student experience?
At the second event that was clearly brought to light by an address by a long time and popular faculty member who pointed to this very issue as to conformity of thought as being the core and root cause of the rise in anxiety on the part of the current student population. And then the concomitant sad and prevalent use of powerful antipsychotic medications to attempt to quell the anxiety. He related his observations as to students now being overly obsessed with their performance especially with the backdrop of social media as to conforming so as to avoid being either shamed or guilted when expressing original thought. He further related a marked and strange tendency for class discussions to begin with and not stray from the opinion expressed by the first student choosing to speak. Of course, civility being the subconscious determinant and unexpressed rule to be brought to bear.
The third seminar began with a rambling introduction as to UVA being built on stolen lands with slave labor. The first speaker went on to note the dark history of America especially as to its employment of colonialism. Yadayadaya. I got up and left. Such is what students are subjected to these days. Would you so choose to attend or encourage your loved ones to pay to put themselves through such?
A fish does in fact rot first at the top. Is there any doubt as to why this guy Rose was brought in to address the BOV as to what is “expected”! Is it not time to draw a line in the sand? Is it not time to present at the next BOV meeting a response? A response rooted in the vision in which the University was first conceived so as to ensure the health of the greatest nation ever seen in the history of the planet. Harm is being done by the Ryan cabal and a sound case can be made as to harm being done, as witnessed personally by the long time professor, as to the mental health of the very students and children whose parents entrust the University with. Is it not incumbent and does it not behoove the governor and all others concerned to act? I spend most of my time in Florida and if there is any doubt as to how to address this issue the governor there and his surgeon general have so acted to protect the health of its citizens, including young and vulnerable university students.
One final point, if I read the article correctly Rose maintains Ryan is a strong leader with a “strong reputation.” I beg to differ as no strong leader has to bring in a guy like Rose to do his bidding. More to the point, to quote Jefferson, “error requires government(i.e. apparatchiks like Rose) to prop it up, while truth stands alone.” And that part about “staff being overwhelmed” as to providing vital requested information by board members. Really?! Especially in light of the TJC’s excellent recent expose’ of bloated staff and costs!

Walter smith
Walter smith
5 months ago
Reply to  Clarity77

Gentlemen may cry “Peace, Peace!,” but there is no peace! Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?
From TJ’s sort of political enemy, but they would be fully “allies” right now. You are quite correct.
I listened to the horrible Miller event. What a joke. And don’t forget the parent events during Covid. All pre-screened questions and all “kissy kissy we love you so much for protecting our children.” I don’t remember any “thank you for saving our democracy” “questions” but it wouldn’t surprise me.

Clarity77
Clarity77
5 months ago
Reply to  Walter smith

Well put Walter as to the point on “peace” and the price thereof. Regarding the UVA COVID propaganda to parents, when it came to alumni, at his address to almost a standing ovation, he touted the amazing success of virtually zero hospitalizations amongst students due to the imposed strict vaccine mandate. This despite quite high numbers of transmissions-more than would be normally expected. I sat there with my UVA undergrad roommate and medical colleague in amazement to witness this bald faced spin on actual truth. Which is as anyone knowing the very basics of vaccinology or virology success is NOT predicated on hospitalizations but rather transmission. Ryan’s vaccine mandate was therefore a dismal failure but he received adoration by alumni! And lest we forget, the population targeted were well known to rarely need hospitalization even without a vaccine.
I actually had lunch with him in Madison Hall the day after he promulgated the mandate and I asked him point blank who did he rely on for vaccine advice. One would think a virologist or vaccinologist over in the infectious disease department but oh no he cited a neurologist friend and an internist.
So just who is Ryan really? Rather obvious and clear especially in light of this TJC article and the in your face approach to the BOV through the use of this Rose dude combined with the recent sidestepping of the BOV as to UVA admission policy? I have yet to see one concrete example of the BOV fulfilling its appointed role as to oversight and confronting Ryan. I guess a bridge too far as that would immediately be called out as an egregious and shocking lack of civility.

Walter smith
Walter smith
5 months ago
Reply to  Clarity77

I don’t mean to hijack this to Covid, but it is the same defect. UVA’s Covid policy was slavish devotion to VDH, which was slavish devotion to CDC, which was based on which political party was in control. I fought hard because my daughter went gapyear for her first year and had Covid twice in that year, only to then be blackmailed into the un-needed shots, plus one!
I FOIAed the “science” behind the decisions and got CDC studies that I, a gentleman scholar history major, could drive trucks through (like Ryan et al are doing with the affirmative action opinion). I also FOIAed the Covid results, which UVA quit tracking and publishing for some reason…like the evil unvaxed kids had Covid at a 10% rate with required weekly testing. But the virtuous triple jabbed students had cases at a 12.5% rate WITHOUT weekly testing. Wonder why UVA Today hasn’t written about this…
Also, try to FOIA Ryan’s emails on the Covid triple shot being accelerated from Feb 1 to Jan 14, which just happened to be the day before Youngkin et al were to be sworn in. UVA FOIA will ask for some ridiculous payment up front to “ingest” Ryan’s mailbox, but not to chill free inquiry cuz UVA’s support for free speech and free inquiry is “unequivocal.”

Clarity77
Clarity77
5 months ago
Reply to  Walter smith

How timely your comments are as reading this morning’s UVA Today, front and center is the latest COVID vaccine propaganda interview with Bill Petri, head of infectious disease department at UVA. BTW, we were Mclean H.S.(northern Virginia)classmates but not socially aware of each other(big class), his father was long time at CIA. In other words roots leading back to government and yes government money. Now head of major dept. at a research university dependent on grants from NIH, etc. You get my drift. As to Petri, the question in a nutshell becomes Hippocratic Oath(i.e. do no harm) vs. the money. And hence today’s UVA Today article most alarmingly pushing vaccines on his very own grandchildren aged 1 and 3. He does tacitly acknowledge the waning efficacy which came to play dramatically in the case of a close medical colleague who against my advice went ahead, got the Pfizer vaccine, contracted COVID(4 months after vaccine), on a Friday afternoon went to the ER tested 0 COVID antibody level(again zero!), was told by the government associated ER to go home and come back Monday for the monoclonal. I happened to call him early that evening, found him a private infusion center and he managed to live. And now thanks me profusely.
Why all this behavior? Simply human nature once again, as creatures of habit, unwilling to take the time to question, conformity as enforced by imposition of “civility” even to the point of disregarding personal safety and health, brainwashed sheep vs. a God given and created prefrontal cortex that when used will easily expose the lying of the left. As exemplified in Petri while disregarding valid studies questioning the jab safety even then choosing to believe their own lies to the detriment of their very own loved ones. BTW, children whether college students or months old have been shown to not be significantly harmed by COVID and in fact long term have shown greater benefit and survival by way of natural immunity rather than vaccine induced. And the latest studies show even the most vulnerable elderly are most susceptible to infection when they choose to jabbed and repeatedly boosted. As exemplified by my sister in law who just returned from touring Israel and brought back a nice souvenir in the form of COVID. Israel is actually the most heavily vaxxed and boosted country on the planet. She long ago disregarded my advice but hey that’s her choice. So again she went there hyper vaxxed and boosted, spent time in the most hyper vaxxed and boosted country on the planet and came back COVID positive. So for the next UVA Today article on COVID will we see another Petri interview addressing my sister in law’s experience? Should we learn to follow the money as to the answer on that one? The Hippocratic oath-does it have any place in all this?

Walter smith
Walter smith
5 months ago
Reply to  Clarity77

Your sister supposedly had a choice. Good, make your decision, maybe even on good info! But to mandate EUA product? When did Nuremberg Code get dropped? (Oh, same time as Hippocratic Oath). And the research corruption is ridiculous. Think any project doubting “climate change” would get through UVA’s IRB, much less then get a federal grant? The rot is so much deeper than anyone knows.

walter smith
walter smith
4 months ago
Reply to  Clarity77

I hope you check back in. In reference to Dr. Petri and his vax cheerleading…
Check out this website on payments…
https://openpaymentsdata.cms.gov/physician/322891

Dennis Hughes
Dennis Hughes
5 months ago

Ryan is a quintessential leftist, never lose sight of that.
They are not accustomed to being questioned.
They change the meaning of words
What they postulate is never supported by hard evidence. Part truths.
Remember Obumer. Hope and change. Transform America Ryan transform UVA “Good and Great”
Ryan wouldn’t last a week if he were subject to the Honor Code.