Freitas Introduces Higher-Ed Transparency Bill

Delegate Nick Freitas

by James A. Bacon

Delegate Nicholas J. Freitas, R-Culpeper, has introduced a bill, HB 1800, that would bring much needed transparency to the governance of Virginia’s public higher-ed institutions. The bill was cited in a list of priority legislation backed by Attorney General Jason Miyares.

The bill contains several elements:

  • Governing boards of public colleges and universities must report the number and salaries of diversity officers and government-relations officers employed by their institutions;
  • Governing boards must report the total value of contracts with outside individuals engaged in lobbying on the institution’s behalf;
  • Boards must record videos of their meetings and post them prominently on their websites on a timely basis;
  • Boards must hold public meetings to solicit public input before approving the renewal of a university’s chief executive officer;
  • Boards must post an annual report on university-affiliated foundations that detail expenditures on Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, lobbying, and CEO compensation.

One can only surmise what incidents gave rise to the Freitas bill. However, some informed speculation is in order.

With no public input the University of Virginia Board of Visitors approved an extension of UVa President Jim Ryan’s contract years before it was due to expire. The Freitas bill would have required a public hearing.

The Virginia Military Institute Board recorded video of one of its meetings, provided a copy to a Washington Post reporter, but denied access to alumni who have been critical of VMI policies, according to dissident VMI alumni. I have not independently verified their claim, but the allegation might have inspired the video requirement in the Freitas bill.

Dissident VMI alumni also have charged that VMI funded the hiring of a DEI director with private funds, thus circumventing restrictions in the state budget. The Freitas bill would make such expenditures transparent.

A recently released study by the Virginia Association of Scholars (VAS) has highlighted the swelling costs of the DEI bureaucracy in public colleges and universities. Salaries for DEI administrators alone in 2020 exceeded $15 million, according to VAS, and that was almost certainly a low estimate. DEI hiring surged in 2021 and 2022, and total expenditures could easily be double that. No official figures are available because Virginia colleges and universities have never broken out the numbers.

Bacon’s bottom line: each of these measures is worthwhile. However, there could be complications. Given the political incentives universities have to minimize reported expenditures of their DEI staffs, it is questionable how accurate any self-reported numbers would be. VMI and its dissident alumni have gone back and forth, for example, over the definition of which employees should be classified as “DEI.” It might be advisable for a state entity — perhaps the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission — to draw up definitions that apply to all.