By DJ Rippert
Waiting for Godot. A recent article on this blog titled, “UVa Board Backs Ryan on Lawn Signage Issue,” seemed to suggest that The University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors (BoV) was a critical link in UVa’s governance structure. My interpretation of the article was that the author (Jim Bacon) believed the BoV might rise up with indignant fury and put UVa President James Ryan in his place by insisting that a profane sign on university property be taken down. My own thinking was that such a belief was naive. I’ve always viewed UVa’s BoV as a club of well meaning rich people who were appointed to that board in appreciation for the large political donations they make rather than a serious oversight organization.
That view was reinforced in 2012 when the BoV tried to act like an honest to goodness board by ousting UVa’s underperforming president – Teresa Sullivan. Virginia’s political elite would have none of it. Republican Governor Bob McDonnell threatened to fire the entire board for having the temerity to put down their martini glasses and take action. Since that attempt at actual governance the BoV seems to have returned to its roots as an organization willing to rubber stamp whatever UVa’s leadership decides to do. The idea that the BoV might question Ryan’s acceptance of a sign on a university-owned dorm room door saying “F*** UVa” seemed far fetched to me. However, the article’s author – Jim Bacon – is wise in the ways of all things Virginia. Maybe he was right and the Board of Visitors was appointed based on their willingness to actively manage UVa rather than their political donations.
As a starting point, I decided to research the political donations of the board members. I was stunned by what I found. I defined the board by including the seventeen independent board members and the faculty representative. I did not include the student representative in the donation calculations. The 18 members of the University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors, their employers and their spouses have donated $35,252,122 to Virginia politicians since 1997 (when records first started being tracked). The individual board members and their spouses (to the extent I could determine their spouses) have donated $4,859,820 to the state’s political class since 1997. Their employers have donated $30,392,302 over the same period. These totals count donations to Republicans, Democrats and political organizations classified as “other” by VPAP. Continue reading