A Look at Two Boards of Visitors

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The boards of visitors of the Commonwealth’s colleges and universities have been taking some hits on these pages. To read these posts, one would come to the conclusion that the boards of visitors are comprised of mediocre “woke” personalities who have few leadership or business skills. One correspondent of Jim Bacon’s even charged that these institutions have “second rate boards” composed of “political hacks, ideologues, and rabid sports fans.”

My curiosity was aroused. Who were these people on these boards? I decided to look at the composition of the boards of visitors of the two institutions that have been most in BR’s crosshairs: the University of Virginia and Virginia Military Institute.

The composition and short bios of the UVa Board of Visitors members:

  • Whittington W. Clement (Rector)–Former member of the Virginia General Assembly, past president of the Virginia Bar Association, and Special Counsel, Hunton Andrews Kurth, a large, multi-state law firm with over 800 lawyers.
  • Robert D. Hardie–Co-chair and CEO, H7 Holdings LLC, a private investment company.
  • Robert M. Blue–President and CEO, Dominion Energy
  • Mark T. Bowles–Chairman, McGuireWoods Consulting and Partner, McGuireWoods, probably the most influential law firm and lobbying outfit in the state.
  • D. Britt, Surgeon–Eastern Virginia Medical School; President, American College of Surgeons
  • Carlos Brown–Senior Vice President and General Counsel, Dominion Energy
  • Frank M. Conner, II–Partner, Covington and Burling LLP, an international law firm and one of the top law firms in the country
  • Elizabeth Cranwell–real estate professional, Roanoke
  • Thomas DePasquale–Private investor, executive management and founder of several private ventures
  • Barbara J. Fried—owner, Fried Companies, a real estate and development company in the Charlottesville area
  • Louis S. Haddad—CEO and President, Armada Hoffler Properties, a real estate building, acquisition and management company for office, retail, and multifamily properties. Listed on the New York Stock Exchange.
  • Barbur Lateef—Physician/Ophthalmologist
  • Angela Mangano—Former soccer star for UVa and member of two Olympic teams. Real estate in California.
  • James B. Murray, Jr.—Managing Partner, Court Square Ventures. Investment banker and venture capitalist.  At one time, his net worth was estimated at $125 million.
  • F. Payne—former Congressman. President, Three Ridges Group.
  • Evans Poston, Jr.—Director of Government Affairs, Hunton Andrews Kurth
  • James Reyes—Director/Principal, Reyes Holdings. Food and beverage distributors in Washington, D.C. area.  Family firm; father and brother are listed as billionaires.
  • Joel Hockensmith—Faculty representative. Associate Professor, Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics

The member of the VMI Board of Visitors:

  • Lara Tyler Chambers—Founder and co-owner, Tyler Development Group, an engineering and real estate development company
  • Gen. Charles Dominy (Ret.)—Director of Government Affairs, IAP Worldwide Services; previous positions with Halliburton and Kellogg Brown and Root companies
  • Hugh Fain—a principal in the Richmond law firm of SpottsFain; past president of Virginia Bar Association
  • Conrad Garcia—Chair of tax section of Williams Mullen law firm, a multi-state law firm with more than 240 attorneys
  • Conrad Hall—former Executive Vice President and CFO of Landmark Communications; later President and CEO, Dominion Enterprises
  • Michael Hamlar—funeral director
  • Richard Hines—Senior litigation partner with Atlanta law firm. Fourth generation in family to attend VMI.
  • Lester Johnson—owner and managing partner, Mama J’s, a Richmond restaurant (one of my favorites!)
  • Sean Lanier—After serving as Army officer, currently real estate agent in Alexandria
  • Gussie Lord—Lawyer, represents Indian tribes and Indigenous communities in efforts to protect environment. Member of first co-ed class to graduate from VMI.
  • Scot Marsh—Presiding Partner of Marsh and Legge Surveyors
  • David Miller—Until his retirement (2016), served as President and COO of Community Health Systems, a national operator of acute care hospitals. In 2016, the company had $18 billion in net revenue.
  • Joe Reeder—attorney, former Under Secretary of the Army
  • Gene Scott—Until retirement, worked in management for numerous IT firms, including Verizon
  • Thomas R. Watson—until retirement, President and CEO of Unum, provider of financial protection benefits in the workplace. Previously served on the board of directors of Sun Trust Bank.
  • Damon Williams—regional community reinvestment officer, First Citizens Bank of Roanoke
  • Gen. Timothy Williams—current Adjutant General of Virginia

With a few exceptions, both boards seem to be comprised of well-qualified members with solid backgrounds in business and leadership—hardly groups of “political hacks, ideologues, and rabid sports fans.”

Finally, the posts and comments on BR would lead one to believe that the alumni of these two institutions are in open rebellion. However, of the 17 members of the UVa Board of Visitors, 11 are alumni of the school. For VMI, 12 of the 17 board members are alumni. It would seem that the alumni are well-represented on the governing bodies of both institutions.

Many of the criticisms of boards of visitors, such as too much deference to administration and not enough background in the management of higher education institutions, are legitimate concerns. Also, disagreements with policy are valid. Many commentators on this blog don’t like what they perceive as an overemphasis on social justice being manifested on many campuses and supported by the boards of visitors. That’s fair game. What’s not valid is the questioning of the credentials or qualifications generally of the members of those board members. Steve Haner hit it on the head: Some folks want their qualified cronies on the boards of visitors as opposed to the other side’s qualified cronies.