Category Archives: Governance

Day One

Photo Credit: WTVR

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Comments and ruminations on “Day One” actions:

Executive Order 1—”Inherently divisive” concepts. The headlines will have gotten this one wrong. The Governor has not prohibited the teaching of critical race theory in public schools, not that anyone was actually doing that. He has directed the Superintendent of Public Instruction to purge the Dept. of Education’s policies, directives, guidelines, etc. of any items that advance “inherently divisive” concepts or practices. As long as they stick to the fairly narrow definition of “inherently divisive” concepts laid out in the Executive Order, I don’t have any problem with this. Those definitions do not conflict with the traditional definition of critical race theory, anyway. If the administration goes after teachers who may be pointing out Virginia’s segregationist and racist past and the lasting effects of those past policies and practices, that would be going too far.

DOE overdid it with its Diversity, Inclusiveness and Equity campaign. It was just a little too much of beating people over the head. However, that message and approach has resonated and probably sunk in with a lot of areas and institutions and, much to the consternation of some commenters on this blog, likely will be difficult to turn back. Continue reading

A Price of COPN — Sentara Pleads COVID Capacity Shortages

Sentara Norfolk General Hospital

by James C. Sherlock

Sentara Health, once described by The Washington Post as “playing COPN like a violin,”  yesterday went statewide with an acknowledgment that its system is out of capacity for many who seek its help.

On a Zoom press conference yesterday, Sentara reported seeing a huge surge in hospital admissions. Hospitalizations have more than tripled since Dec. 26. That is combined with a depletion in hospital staff caused by illness.

Dr. Jordan Asher, Sentara’s chief physician executive, said:

We take care of people that are sick. You’re coming around unvaccinated versus vaccinated does not come into play as we think about it. As resources get scarce, do you triage differently? Obviously the answer to that is yes … but we have a very strong way of going through all that, of looking at that. We’re used to that.… How we think about the utilization of resources and how we think about triaging is part of our everyday work. (Bolding added by author)

So you might find yourself on the down side of emergency room triage. Not good being you. Continue reading

Emil Faber Weeps

by Walter Smith

The statue of Emil Faber, founder of Faber College (of Animal House fame), bears a quote, “Knowledge is good.” The reigning philosophy at the University of Virginia, by contrast, seems to be, “Only some knowledge is good.”

By way of introduction, let us note that the University of Virginia Alumni Association this fall conducted a survey that gauged the opinions of UVa alumni on a wide range of topics relating to the university. Of the approximately 25,000 alumni solicited, 1,319 responded. Among other highlights, the survey revealed that respect for university founder Thomas Jefferson and the Honor System has waned among younger alumni. The association published the findings in Virginia magazine.

Now consider a previous survey. In March 2018, in response to a request from a working group of UVa’s deans, the Board of Visitors approved the expenditure of $80,000 to conduct the 2017-18 University Climate Survey. “Climate Survey,” for your edification, has no connection to global warming. It is an academic term of art for measuring how schools are doing in their core missions. Many universities conduct similar surveys and publish them on their websites. Here is the University of Richmond’s. Here is Wake Forest’s. Here is UVa’s 2015 survey conducted shortly after the infamous Rolling Stone rape story.

You will not find a copy of the 2018 survey. The UVa administration has suppressed it. I tried to obtain the summary document through the Freedom of Information Act. UVa denied my request. I filed suit in Henrico County General District Court. I lost the initial round, but the fight is not over. Continue reading

Protecting Stable Governance — Virginia vs. the Federal Government

by James C. Sherlock

James Madison

An opinion piece by Catherine Rampell in The Washington Post was headlined, “No one in their right mind would design a government that works like ours.”

She meant that her preferred changes to American governance were stymied by Senate rules. The “no one in their right mind” was a tell. Anyone who disagreed with her was not sane. I don’t think I abuse the term by calling her dogmatic — carried forward by a religious zeal.

The target of her outrage, though she did not name him, was James Madison. See The Necessity of the Senate in the Federal Government, James Madison, Federalist 62, 1788. Continue reading

Add Affordability to List of Higher-Ed Priorities

Higher-ed governance is a Rubik’s Cube of complexity.

by James A. Bacon

Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin has an opportunity to restore Virginia’s public universities as beacons of free speech, free inquiry and intellectual diversity by making strategic appointments to Boards of Visitors over the next four years. As he refines his vision for higher education, he should also prioritize making Virginia colleges and universities more affordable and accessible — through productivity and cost-cutting, not bigger state subsidies.

Both of these goals — freedom/intellectual diversity and affordability — are inter-related. A major reason higher-ed institutions have become so expensive is the profusion of costly bureaucracy over the years. Increasingly, Virginia’s four-year higher-ed institutions are run by unaccountable, self-perpetuating oligarchies that have allowed administrative positions to proliferate. As it happens, many of those positions are designed to advance a social-justice agenda that enforces stifling ideological conformity.

Traditionally, the political class has addressed the affordability issue by increasing financial aid: making it easier for students and parents to borrow and providing targeted financial aid for lower-income students — in other words, by dumping more money into the system. Universities have never been forced to engage in spending discipline, and as a result the cost of attendance — not just tuition but fees, room and board — has escalated far faster than the cost of living. The massive accumulation of student debt has created a national social crisis, and college remains as unaffordable as ever. Continue reading

What Higher-Ed Reformers Are Up Against

Source: “Virginia” magazine, University of Virginia Alumni Association

by James A. Bacon

The incoming Youngkin administration didn’t campaign on reforming “woke” public colleges and universities in Virginia, but I am getting plenty of signals that pushing back against the leftist indoctrination and conformity on campus follows close behind fixing Virginia’s public schools as a priority.

The first step will be appointing board members sympathetic to conservative goals. Youngkin hasn’t talked much publicly about how he would define his objectives. But he needs to give this careful thought. If he aims to convert the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, and other state institutions into secular versions of Liberty University or Regent University, he will fail spectacularly. If he sets an agenda that appeals to a broad range of the ideological spectrum, he stands a good chance of succeeding.

The first thing to consider is that Virginia’s public universities are dominated by the left and are becoming intolerant intellectual mono-cultures as the baby boomer generation of scholars, which leaned liberal but included many moderates and conservatives, retires. On college campuses today, faculty members are almost all shades of blue, administrators are shades of blue, and  the most vocal students who dominate the campus culture are shades of blue. Red-hued Boards of Visitors will meet furious resistance if they adopt ham-handed tactics. Continue reading

Bacons Bits: Personnel Is Policy Edition

Is Charlottesville ungovernable? In the latest example of revolving-door leadership in the People’s Republic of Charlottesville, Marc Woolley has withdrawn from his appointment as interim city manager just a day prior to his start date. According to the Daily Progress, Woolley had faced questions from the newspaper about his resignation from two previous jobs and multiple lawsuits in which he was named when working in other states. Woolley’s withdrawal, notes the newspaper, follows the departure of five city managers in three years. It’s bad news when a city can’t hang onto a city manager. It’s downright dysfunctional when a city can’t even appoint an interim city manager.

Don’t let the door hit your butt on the way out. As the Northam administration winds down, Virginia Secretary of Education Atif Qarni has left his post to take a job managing the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice at Temple University. A Richmond Times-Dispatch article published today emphasizes Qarni’s efforts to “solve modern-day school segregation,” particularly his efforts to “diversify” the state’s 19 elite Governor’s Schools. “Former Secretary Qarni has served Virginia’s students well, and I am proud of the work we have done together to support public education and raise teacher pay,” said Governor Ralph Northam. 

Neither Northam nor the RTD took note of the fact that under Qarni’s leadership, Virginia schools experienced among the lowest rates of in-person learning among the 5o states during the COVID epidemic, that Virginia students saw unprecedented drops in the Standards of Learning test scores, or that the gap between Asian/White and Black/Hispanic test scores got worse during his tenure.

What Criteria Are We Looking For In University Board Members?


by James A. Bacon

As Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin selects cabinet members and other key members of his administration, he has more pressing concerns to occupy his attention at this moment than replacing members on Virginia’s public university boards whose terms don’t expire until June 30. But as soon as he has the opportunity to do so, he needs to give serious thought to the criteria he will use to select these new board members.

I argued recently that Youngkin should look for individuals willing to support academic freedom and oppose the excesses of the “social justice” movement in Virginia’s system of higher education. He needs pugnacious advocates willing to endure controversy, hostility and ostracism to change campus cultures that are evolving into intellectual monocultures harmful to free inquiry, free speech, and free expression.

Since posting that column, I have received feedback that I thought was worth sharing from a prominent board member of a Virginia university. He made the case that Virginia has a system in place to take some of the politics out of the selection process. With the caveat that colleges and universities have become so politicized that appointing “non-political” board members itself has the political implication of maintaining the status quo, I think my correspondent has a point. Enthusiasm for reforming a decadent academic culture is not, in and of itself, sufficient to qualify someone for a board seat. Continue reading

Why Is UVa Hiding Its Campus Climate Survey Results?

… but you can’t see them! (Image credit: scwgl.org.uk)

by Walter Smith

Jim Bacon recently posted an article urging Governor-elect Youngkin to take full advantage of his higher-ed Board of Visitors appointments if he wishes to remain true to the education reform momentum that played a big part in his election. Bacon’s bits (pun intentional!) on the Boards as political plums with a go-along-to-get-along chumminess seemed dead on to me. In truth, academia is a different world. A far different world.

I came out of the corporate world. I worked as counsel in an NYSE company and a private equity company for large insurance brokerages. Governance in the academic world is something I intend to address in a complete, and fair, manner later, after gathering a great deal more info. In the meantime, permit me to share one example of how governance works — or doesn’t work — in academia.

After the 2017 Unite the Right riot in Charlottesville, the University of Virginia took many actions in response. One result was the Racial Equity Task Force report. Another was the formation of the Deans Working Group, headed by Risa Goluboff of the law school. Goluboff made four proposals to the Board in March of 2018, all of which were approved.*

One of those approvals allocated $80,000 to a “university-wide campus climate survey.” This survey, paid for with public money, has never been released. Why? Given the BoV approval, does it not belong to the public? Continue reading

Mr. Youngkin, Pay Heed to Your University-Board Appointments

University of Virginia board room.

by James A. Bacon

Glenn Youngkin’s winning campaign issue in the 2020 gubernatorial election was expunging Critical Race Theory from Virginia’s public school system. An endlessly repeated trope of the Left is that CRT is an academic legal theory not taught in schools. I (and others) have explained that “CRT” is short-hand for policies based upon the precept that the nation’s institutions are systemically racist. Whatever. People will believe what they want to believe. But there’s one place where even the Left acknowledges CRT is taught… and that’s law schools. Indeed, few would dispute that CRT now saturates higher education generally.

Youngkin will have his hands full rolling back “CRT” in Virginia public K-12 schools, where the ideology is deeply entrenched in official policies, bureaucratic processes, and pervasive attitudes among teachers and administrators. It will be even more difficult rooting out this profoundly destructive ideology in Virginia’s public colleges and universities.

Making the job difficult is the governance structure of higher education in Virginia. The system is decentralized, and public higher-ed institutions enjoy tremendous autonomy. Youngkin cannot dictate his policy preferences. State government has only two tools to implement change in public colleges and universities. One is budgetary: the General Assembly provides funding to colleges and universities. The other is the power of appointment. If Youngkin is to have any impact on higher ed during his four years in office, he needs to use that power aggressively. Continue reading

Key Fiduciary Duties of School Boards and Superintendents

by James C. Sherlock

My frequent columns on Virginia schools bring up the same lines of arguments and agreements every time.

I hope it will help if I explain what I expect of school boards and superintendents. I try to align my writing with those expectations.

School boards and superintendents hold their positions first as trustees for the children, but then also for the interests of parents, school employees, and taxpayers.

So what are their primary duties? I will write of only five:

  • provide a quality education to every child;
  • provide safe and welcoming schools, excellent learning environments and equal access to education for all;
  • listen to parents;
  • be good stewards of public funds;
  • manage professionally.

There are more, but I will stick to those because they are missing in some Virginia schools and districts.

While I have praised a few school systems, failures in those duties provide the underlying themes of much of my writing. I hope to write more about successes in the future. Continue reading

Candidates Matter

by James C. Sherlock

Glenn Youngkin and Terry McAuliffe proved that candidates matter, even in blue states like Virginia.

Jack Ciattarelli and Phil Murphy in yet bluer New Jersey have proven it again, no matter how that dead even race turns out.

I wrote here in early May that Glenn Youngkin and Jason Miyares would not only win the nominations, but go on to win the general election because of the education policies of the Northam administration.

I was proven right about that.

In the same column, however, I predicted that Terry McAuliffe would “read the room” among Virginia voters and ask Northam to fire his education leadership team.

I was wrong. McAuliffe doubled down. I am very happy he did not take my prediction as advice. Continue reading

Biden and McAuliffe to Complete the Roundup of Toddlers by the State

Terry McAuliffe. Photo credit: The Virginia Star

by James C. Sherlock

Updated 26 October 1:48 PM

The progressive dream of government control of children from birth is approaching reality in Virginia.

Terry McAuliffe shares that dream and wants to lead Virginia to that promised land.

Governor Ralph Northam and the Democratic General Assembly have established state control of our youngest children, but will struggle to fund it. And if a progressive government could pass those new laws in 2020, future state governments can repeal them.

McAuliffe wants to be Governor to opt in for Virginians to the early childhood education provisions of the federal “Build Back Better” program.

To complete the government control of children from birth with federal money. Under federal regulations and requirements. Wrench control of toddlers from their parents with two sets of laws.

Who says progressives don’t like walls.

Every parent in Virginia should pray he never gets the chance. And vote to prevent him from being in position to do so. Continue reading

Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI+) Pilot – Hidden Data, Disappearing Value — Thanks for Nothing

by James C. Sherlock

This is a follow-up to my Monday report on VPI+, a federally funded four-year pilot program to assess the value of the Virginia Preschool Initiative.

Today we will discuss what was not reported to the public. We will also assess the dreadful results of the pilot participants after those kids graduated and went on the kindergarten and first grade.

Clearly, SRI International (main report) and RAND (cost-benefit report) were directed not to disaggregate the results of the data they collected by division and school. Those, of course, are the levels that give parents enough information to evaluate the program.

What was revealed, at the very end of the main report, was that disadvantaged kids participating had made learning gains compared to their disadvantaged peers who did not attend, but

“like other state public preschool programs, by spring of first grade the differences were no longer statistically different.”

That heart-breaking outcome was left un-assessed.

The mandarins at VDOE (and perhaps the federal DOE) appear to believe that pre-school is too important for parents to get involved.

If given full information, some might challenge the program or decide it is not appropriate for their own children in their local school district.

Like the domestic terrorists some of them are considered in certain circles to be. Continue reading

Virginia Preschool Initiative Pilot – Political Conclusions Belied by the Data

by James C. Sherlock. Updated Oct 18 at 5:38 PM

Those who have followed my reporting know that I am passionate on the subject of helping poor children do better in Virginia’s schools. They also know of my disdain for Virginia’s hyper-political education establishment.  

Well, the Northam administration has turned the Virginia Preschool Initiative Plus pilot into a full fledged program.

In doing so, it has finessed the needs of the children by ignoring the results of that pilot to satisfy the political desires of the progressive education establishment. Continue reading