$8 Million a Year for Higher-Ed’s Non-Lobbyist Lobbyists

by James A. Bacon

When Donald J. Finley retired from the Virginia Business Higher Education Council (VBHEC) earlier this year, Virginia’s higher-ed industry lost one of its most effective advocates in Richmond. As Charles Kelley with McGuire Woods Consulting tweeted at the time: “Don is the best example of a true public servant, and he’s undoubtedly the single-most important factor in silently but masterfully making Virginia’s #highered system the powerhouse it has grown into over the last half century.”

The goal of the Council is to support “higher ed investment” in Virginia toward the goal of building a world-class workforce. Last month the organization issued a press release applauding the General Assembly for its “historic vote” that would provide “more than $1 billion in new state funding focused on college affordability and talent development.”

The higher-ed lobby is one of the most powerful in Richmond. Not only can universities mobilize the support of business organizations such as the Virginia Chamber of Commerce and call upon powerful alumni for assistance, they field a small army of government relations (GR) employees. By one count, Virginia’s public universities alone account for 50 state employees who are compensated (not counting benefits) $8.6 million a year — not counting paid lobbyists.

If you go the the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP), you will not find the names of these operatives. VPAP publishes the names of registered lobbyists hired by Virginia’s colleges and universities, but the GR employees are not included. For example, you will not find any mention of Colette Sheehy, the University of Virginia’s senior vice president for operations and state government relations, whose salary is $419,000 per year, or George Mason University’s Mark Smith, director of state government relations, who gets paid $212,000 a year.

A source who asks to remain unnamed has calculated the cost of Virginia’s public Government Relations apparatus, which is borne primarily by taxpayers, students, and students’ families. The source supplied names and salaries in a spreadsheet, which I reproduce here with formatting modifications to fit the blog. (The shaded names are registered lobbyists hired by the university. No data is available on how much they are paid.)

(Correction: This table has been updated to fix formatting problems (my responsibility, not that of the contributor) that incorrectly conflated the GR employees of William & Mary and George Mason University.)

One might quibble with the methodology used here. Some positions, such as UVa’s Sheehy, Virginia Tech’s vacant vice president of administration and finance, and Peter Blake, executive director of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, have broad responsibilities. Government Relations are only part of their portfolio. But by any accounting, the sum devoted to GR is large — and not very transparent.

There was once a time when one could make the argument that what was good for Virginia’s public colleges and universities was good for Virginia. Citizens count on the higher-ed sector to provide a quality education, and businesses count on it to meet the demand for skilled and educated workers. But citizens are increasingly calling into question the value of a college degree. Who wants to pay $100,000+ to send their kid to school to be indoctrinated in what to think, not how to think?

While the primary purpose of these GR employees may be to canoodle more direct state support to universities, more scholarship money to offset ever-escalating costs of attendance, more state financing for new buildings, and more research dollars, their jobs now touch upon an increasing array of culture-war issues. As Virginia’s elected officials confront matters relating to free speech, free inquiry, and “social justice” emanating from colleges campuses, GR employees are not obligated to represent the public interest. They work for their university presidents, who increasingly see their role as exporting the preoccupations of the progressive elite — social justice and climate change — to their communities and Virginia at large.

It now can be argued that what is good for Virginia’s public universities is bad for Virginia — or at least detrimental to the majority of the population that does not identify as politically progressive. The GR apparatus deserves much closer scrutiny that it has received so far.


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54 responses to “$8 Million a Year for Higher-Ed’s Non-Lobbyist Lobbyists”

  1. Point taken, but the data is crap.

  2. LarrytheG Avatar
    LarrytheG

    Methinks JABs idea of what “lobbying” is – is at odds with others definitions and it looks like it’s an excuse/justification for more outside intervention in the workings of higher ed.

    To me, this is part of the “burn it all down and start over” mindset of some Conservatives these days.

    They totally do not like or trust the status quo and burning it down and starting over is their want.

    1. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      I really, really hate it when I have to agree with you. U.VA in the late 70s was a different place than W&M, and I knew that. But damn I had no idea how stuck it must have been in the 1870s…Sorry folks, you can’t go home again.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar
        LarrytheG

        It leads to a much bigger question. Do we REALLY want Conservatives to run government? It seems to me that they are fundamentally opposed to it.

        1. Nancy Naive Avatar
          Nancy Naive

          Good point. Who wants to fly with Orr?

          1. WayneS Avatar

            Yossarian would have wanted to fly with Orr if he knew what he was up to, but he was too myopic, self-absorbed, and closed-minded to recognize the genius of his methods.

          2. WayneS Avatar

            Yossarian would have wanted to fly with Orr if he had figured out what he was up to, but he was too myopic, self-absorbed, and closed-minded to recognize Orr’s genius.

        2. walter smith Avatar
          walter smith

          Cuz the Libs do such a great job?
          A Magic 8 Ball would do better than you guys…

          1. LarrytheG Avatar
            LarrytheG

            It ain’t Nirvana for sure but when ya’ll are burning down institutions in Va that work the same exact way in Red States , we KNOW you’re not LIb or Conservative but waca-doodle..in la la land.

            NO can do.

            When JAB starts going through the list of folks who operate the College claiming they are lobbyists and need to be booted – we know we’re no longer talking about Red and Blue states, right?

            In his mind and probably yours – we need to burn down the colleges and start over – right?

          2. walter smith Avatar
            walter smith

            Better not tell you now

          3. LarrytheG Avatar
            LarrytheG

            πŸ˜‰

          4. walter smith Avatar
            walter smith

            Concentrate and ask again

          5. LarrytheG Avatar
            LarrytheG

            burn it all down, and start over, right?

          6. walter smith Avatar
            walter smith

            Signs point to yes

      2. DJRippert Avatar
        DJRippert

        Hmmm ….

        Jim writes a column about too much taxpayer / tuition payer lobbying at UVa (among others)

        Larry writes a comment claiming that conservatives want to burn it all down and start over.

        You claim to agree with Larry (who opposes change) by claiming that UVa is “stuck in the 1870s” (and presumably must change).

        I would have loved to read your application essay for UVa back in the 70s.

        Oh, you didn’t apply?

        Probably for the best. Would have just been a waste of your time and UVa’s time as well. Not to mention the postage associated with getting the application and the minimal postage required to send you back a rejection letter.

        When I attended UVa I always found it interesting that UVa students put down Duke. Duke was and is a better school than UVa. I guess it was jealously. Duke, on the other hand, could have cared less what UVa students thought. Now, you put down UVa and to nobody’s surprise, nobody from UVa gives a damn about William & Mary.

        Funny how that works.

        1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
          Dick Hall-Sizemore

          There is a saying among W&M alumni: Thomas Jefferson founded UVa because his kids could not get into W&M.

          1. walter smith Avatar
            walter smith

            That’s funny!

        2. LarrytheG Avatar
          LarrytheG

          not opposed to change at all, in fact, I prefer it to burn it down and rebuild but not surprise the “burn it down” folks call it “change”… πŸ˜‰

        3. LarrytheG Avatar
          LarrytheG

          Naw. Jim was claiming that people who are administrators in the Colleges are de-facto Lobbyists and wants to fire them also…

          that’s burn-it-all-down stuff

        4. Stephen Haner Avatar
          Stephen Haner

          Never applied to UVA because way too few women at that time. Which explains plenty even 50 years later. πŸ™‚

  3. Ken Reid Avatar
    Ken Reid

    No, folks. James is spot on here. When I served on the Loudoun Board of Supervisors, I got into our Legislative Agenda a proposal to require all state colleges to accept no more than 30% of students from out of state. At that time, 2013, UVA and W&M were accepting about 40% out of state. There’s a quota for NoVa Students since there are so many good ones. Bill was introduced by one of our Loudoun delegates and the higher ed lobby killed it. THey did so because they rely on out of state tuition to pay the bloated salaries of these administrators and social science professors who do damage to our society. The lobbyists and their influence on business and politicians is a primary reason Congress, even a GOP congress ,is incapable of putting the breaks on the Leftist cancel culture coming out of the social sciences depts via the Dept of Ed. These professorial cockroaches have an easy life at taxpayer expense and at the expense of student loans (which have a high default rate). They encourage students to be “social justice warriors” and tear down the institutions they get jobs with though many can’t get good paying jobs to pay their debts. It’s why we now have “socially responsible investing” firms and “diversity and inclusion’ bureaucrats to police speech and thought in business and government. Why comedians like Dave Chapelle get “canceled.” Why Asian kids are now discriminated against like Jewish kids were before the 70s. These professors also are protected by Supreme Court decisions upholding academic freedom, which has led to a proliferation of “disciplines” primarily devoted to promoting identity politics and political correctness, and producing b.s. research that has led to things like Dr. Seuss cartoons being canceld and Columbus statues being destroyted. You should see what constitutes a Ph.D. dissertation in today’s social science/humanities depts! James should submit his data to Pete Hegseth at Fox news or Heather McLaughlin at the Hudson Institute, or better yet, a GOP member of Congress who can champion the issue of ratcheting down America’s Fifth Column and the Fifth Column destroyhing democracy and free speech around the globe.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      Excellent contribution from a perch few of us have.

    2. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      Christopher Newport University, aka Southern New Jersey State.

    3. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      The paragraph key is a wonderful thing, Ken. Try it.

      In my observation (former SCHEV member), the lobbying efforts are largely about money and independence (“cake” and “eating it, too.”) That would include shooting down in-state admission mandates, which BTW I do think are legal. Discrimination against Asian kids to prevent them from overwhelming admission is also decades old, and also included Jewish kids, so not a new “woke” issue. My profs pushed their lefty views on me almost 50 years ago and somehow I resisted. I had one actual conservative, in econ. But the massive lobbying efforts they mount are not mainly to protect the liberal ivory towers. Or do I assume the expenditures and muscle applied would be of no concern were they pushing your favored views?

      Of course the many among you who consider me a RINO may think W&M did corrupt my thinking more than I realize. πŸ™‚ They clearly ruined Nancy.

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        He might try some punctuation now and then too.

        Must be one of them thar YooVeeEh? graduates.

        1. Ken Reid Avatar
          Ken Reid

          Virtue signaling, 15 yard penalty. Focus on what I wrote, not the punctuation, spelling, etc. I wrote it fast because I work for a living to pay taxes so professors can sit at home and do nothing.

          1. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            We thank you.

      2. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        Absolutely! And in return, every November, I ruin them, too. My ruination came before W&M in cheap hotels and bars.

        BTW, the number of Taiwanese grad students outnumbered we local bumpkins 2:1 when I were there.

    4. LarrytheG Avatar
      LarrytheG

      yep, more grievance blather from the right… it’s what they do these days.

      “Democracy” means participation which includes “lobbying”.

      and you go off on things like ” Why comedians like Dave Chapelle get “canceled.” Why Asian kids are now discriminated against like Jewish kids were before the 70s. ”

      what the heck does that have to do with anything ?

      geeze.. you guys are 24/7 hair on fire.

    5. LarrytheG Avatar
      LarrytheG

      re: ” THey did so because they rely on out of state tuition to pay the bloated salaries of these administrators and social science professors who do damage to our society. The lobbyists and their influence on business and politicians is a primary reason Congress, even a GOP congress ,is incapable of putting the breaks on the Leftist cancel culture coming out of the social sciences depts via the Dept of Ed. These professorial cockroaches have an easy life at taxpayer expense and at the expense of student loans (which have a high default rate). They encourage students to be “social justice warriors” and tear down the institutions they get jobs with though many can’t get good paying jobs to pay their debts. It’s why we now have “socially responsible investing” firms and “diversity and inclusion’ bureaucrats to police speech and thought in business and government. Why comedians like Dave Chapelle get “canceled.” Why Asian kids are now discriminated against like Jewish kids were before the 70s. These professors also are protected by Supreme Court decisions upholding academic freedom, which has led to a proliferation of “disciplines” primarily devoted to promoting identity politics and political correctness, and producing b.s. research that has led to things like Dr. Seuss cartoons being canceld and Columbus statues being destroyted. You should see what constitutes a Ph.D. dissertation in today’s social science/humanities depts! James should submit his data to Pete Hegseth at Fox news or Heather McLaughlin at the Hudson Institute, or better yet, a GOP member of Congress who can champion the issue of ratcheting down America’s Fifth Column and the Fifth Column destroyhing democracy and free speech around the globe.”

      “insight” into the minds of Conservatives… these days.

      scary to think Youngkin is staffing up with like-minded…

      πŸ˜‰

  4. LarrytheG Avatar
    LarrytheG

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/e2fc227539afad8c427e44f050b2670b322be11c58c0a4c99c4be35c893a539d.jpg Anytime I read in BR of the “terrible” costs of Higher Ed, I think of headlines like this and what that has to do with higher ed:

    1. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      Oh, that was one of my issues at W&M, the subsidies they tacked onto our tuition to support that structure…Not a profit center there!

    2. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      The money… lots and lots of money,… not for the students or the schools, but for coaches and NCAA fat cats.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar
        LarrytheG

        but why a part of higher ed?

        1. Nancy Naive Avatar
          Nancy Naive

          Has been a mystery to me since I got a call from a basketball coach saying if his player didn’t get a passing grade in my class he couldn’t play.

          1. LarrytheG Avatar
            LarrytheG

            so you failed his butt?

          2. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            No. He was passing. What I told him was “study”.

  5. Stephen Haner Avatar
    Stephen Haner

    Yes, some should quibble with the methodology, as many people listed have myriad unrelated responsibilities. No question the real number would still be impressive, especially if you could know the contact lobbyists’ compensation and BTW those contracts are FOIAable. Just list the full contract amount.

    When I think of their lobbying teams I think of the people on the ground at the Assembly. And in that case, the most important members of the teams are the presidents themselves, striding through the halls with their entourage in tow. Long ago I concluded they were the equivalent of feudal barons, and just as dangerous to the governor as the real variety were to their kings. Certainly a measurable amount of their time is spent on “lobbying” at state and federal levels, and local for that matter.

  6. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    In 2020, Virginia ranked 44th in state funding for two-year community colleges per full-time equivalent (FTE) student and 36th in funding for higher education overall despite being among the wealthiest states in the nation.

    https://www.demos.org/sites/default/files/imce/GCS%20VA%20Fig%201.png

    https://www.demos.org/sites/default/files/imce/GCS%20VA%20Fig%202.png

    1. WayneS Avatar

      Do you have any data that is less than 11 years old?

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        That’s 2020. I’d lke to find going back to 1970.

      2. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        Oh shoot! I must’ve snagged the graphs from the wrong window. Once I get more than 1/2 dozen tabs, I get lost nowadays.

    2. LarrytheG Avatar
      LarrytheG

      that’s the WRONG answer for Conservatives messing around with governance…

      can’t be throwing money at the problem and all that leftist rot…

  7. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    There is no question that higher ed has a formidable lobbying presence at the GA. (The GA members themselves are powerful advocates for their alma maters.) However, whoever put together that spreadsheet either has no idea how the various roles function or, and more probably, has a vendetta against higher ed. For example, Colette Sheehy at UVa and Amy Sebring at W&M are the chief financial officers at those institutions. There is no legitimate way they could be regarded as lobbyists or PR folks.

    Jim asks: “Who wants to pay $100,000+ to send their kid to school to be indoctrinated in what to think not how to think?” Sorry to break this news to you, but lots of parents want to do that. Both UVa and W&M had a record number of applications this past year.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar
      LarrytheG

      You are too gracious and polite.

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        Uh yep. For example, my suggestion would have been Prevagen… triple dose.

        1. Stephen Haner Avatar
          Stephen Haner

          Guess who pressured the SCHEV staff years ago to create data that easy to understand….

          1. LarrytheG Avatar
            LarrytheG

            so the irony is that when you do that, you basically are giving ammunition to the burn-it-all-down folks.

            Similar to the SOLs – the opponents of public schools USE that data to “prove” that public schools fail!

          2. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            Intentionally? Well, Dick pointed out two examples of misunderstanding. Given there is at least one such at all institutions, there are more.

          3. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            In my career as a student from 1970 through an Associate Professor, I was interested/affected only twice by budgets. The first was as a student sitting in the Dept. chair’s office as he bitched about how much money we were getting squeezed out of because UVa and W&M were getting so much, and the 2nd was when Trible fired the entire adjunct faculty and put a moratorium on new part time students, aka “cash cows” because he thought they were money losers. Idiot. Oh, and it didn’t stop him from taking his bonus.

  8. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    “There was once a time when one could make the argument that what was good for Virginia’s public colleges and universities was good for Virginia. Citizens count on the higher-ed sector to provide a quality education, and businesses count on it to meet the demand for skilled and educated workers. But citizens are increasingly calling into question the value of a college degree. Who wants to pay $100,000+ to send their kid to school to be indoctrinated in what to think, not how to think?”

    Given that the average BA/BS will earn $1.2M in their lifetime more than a HS grad, at 5.75% that’s $69,000 more in tax dollars to the State alone. That $1.2M is a helluva lot of how to think.

    God! What happened to you? Did your kid cone out of UVa a screamin’ Democrat?

    https://imageio.forbes.com/specials-images/imageserve/61621970fe19f3f1a90b4d79/graduation-cap–university-spending/960×0.jpg?format=jpg&width=960

    1. LarrytheG Avatar
      LarrytheG

      Sorta proves that the “liberal” idea of tax-funded higher ed actually does “work”

      But then it really rubs Conservatives the wrong way and “work” becomes “woke”.

      It’s what happens to Conservatives… most do not get better as they age – they just get more and more radical.

      That’s why I call it “burn-it-all-down” because it’s clear when you listen to their complaints and “solutions” that they believe the institutions are rotten to the core and cannot be reformed.

      I bet I’m not wrong about this even if JAB’s eyes!

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        Radical? Is that another word for angry? When life is zero-sum, it’s an easy emotion to find.

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