Governor, Pick Fighters for the UVA Board

Note: The Jefferson Council released this open letter to Governor Youngkin today. He released his nominations for university board seats shortly after. — JAB

28 June 2024
Glenn Youngkin
Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia

Dear Governor Youngkin,

You are getting close to the June 30 deadline for announcing five new nominees to the University of Virginia Board of Visitors. As of July 1, your appointees will comprise a Board majority for the first time in your two-and-a-half years in office. To leave a lasting legacy, however, you cannot nominate business-as-usual candidates.

UVA’s rector, Robert Hardie, is a Northam-era holdover, and he works with President Ryan to set the agenda, frame the discussion, and control the flow of information of the Board. Both men support the status quo, and both will have the backing of administrators, faculty, and student leadership who are hostile to your vision for the University.

You need to nominate fighters willing to ask hard questions and shrug when their names are dragged through the mud. Don’t appoint passive candidates to avoid stirring up controversy. They will accomplish nothing.

You also need to set clear priorities.

The Jefferson Council offers the following:

Address astronomical tuition cost and administrative bloat. The cost of attending UVA is pricing out the middle class, especially for out-of-state students. You have called upon all Virginia universities to cut costs and tame tuition. Cosmetic, one-time cuts won’t accomplish your goal.

The Board members you appoint must do the hard work of digging deep into UVA’s cost structure. Step one: dismantle the vast administrative apparatus erected to pursue “social justice” and “racial equity,” loosely referred to as Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). The Board of Visitors committed in 2020 to carrying out the recommendations of the Racial Equity Task Force, which called for spending between $700 million and $950 million to rectify historical wrongs. The Board must scrutinize that spending.

But that’s just a start.

Reduce spending on feel-good initiatives. Does UVA really need more guidance and emotional-wellness counselors? Does being “Great and Good” necessitate building social-justice partnerships with the community? Why do the highest-paid professors teach the fewest courses? How aggressively does UVA reallocate resources from low-enrollment departments to high-enrollment departments? There are many areas to consider cutting costs, and The Jefferson Council is prepared to sit down with you and the Board of Visitors to identify the low-hanging fruit as well as long-term solutions.

Advance free speech and intellectual diversity. You have asked every Virginia university to devise a plan for advancing free speech and intellectual diversity. UVA’s website may boast a high free speech rating, but actions from administrators and faculty alike increasingly contradict that label and demand your attention. Faculty and staff are marching relentlessly to an ideological extreme, utilizing “DEI statements” to filter out candidates with different views. Departments have become self-perpetuating cliques of the like-minded. The Board needs to lay bare the intellectual monoculture that prevails at UVA and devise strategies to change it. The Jefferson Council would like to partner with you in this effort in various ways, including by providing diverse perspectives from among our membership and network of UVA alumni and donors.

Preserve Jefferson’s legacy. Thomas Jefferson was a man like few others produced by history. He was not a saint, but today at UVA, he is often portrayed as a slave-holding rapist. A Youngkin-appointed Board needs to preserve his legacy. There are many ways we are ready to work with you on this, but here are two quick and easy wins that can signal the new priorities:

First, protect the dignity of the Lawn, part of a UNESCO world heritage site visited by tourists around the world, by forbidding student residents, in their terms of lease, from placing posters and flyers on their doors. No one’s free speech rights will be violated. Lawn residents have numerous other options to express their views.

Second, sever relations with the Student Guides club that provides student and historical tours. Student administrative-sanctioned events must have a welcoming script and guides willing to deliver it. However, these tours have degenerated into discourses on slavery, segregation, racism, and the persecution of indigenous peoples. Many students and parents have been turned off and never return.

Your next Board of Visitors appointments assume their seats at a critical time for Mr. Jefferson’s university, and for your legacy. Nominate individuals who will have the grit to fight for the university, its history, its legacy, and its students. Nominate men and women who are capable of making the hard decisions to lead UVA back to a position of great character and excellence.


The Jefferson Council
Executive Committee

Thomas Neale, President
Sam Richardson, Executive Director
Peter Bryan, Treasurer
Chip Vaughan, Secretary

James A. Bacon is former executive director and currently contributing editor of the Jefferson Council.

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17 responses to “Governor, Pick Fighters for the UVA Board”

  1. Stephen Haner Avatar
    Stephen Haner

    So we now have the names. Satisfied with the choices?

  2. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    One can't know for sure, of course, but, from their bios, the appointees seem to be cut from the same cloth as Board members in the past. Summary:

    Daniel Brody–CEO, Health Data Services in Albemarle County. Chairman of State Medicaid board 20 years ago, member of UVa 2020 Strategic Planning Comm.

    Marvin Gilliam–retired owner of coal company in Southwest Va. big donor to Republicans, appointed to Virginia redistricting committee and soon resigned from it

    David Okonkwo–prof of neurological surgery, University of Pittsburgh

    David Webb–executive of CBRE, a national real estate management company

    Porter Wilkinson–lawyer; clerk for Brett Kavanaugh when he was on Court of Appeals and then for Chief Justice John Roberts. Currently head of staff and counselor for Board of Regents, Smithsonian Institute

    If Youngkin had really wanted to bring some reform to the Board, he would have appointed Jim Bacon or someone like Don Rippert.

    In fact, in perusing the list of the appointees for boards of visiors of other higher ed institutions, they seem to be the same types of people appointed by other governors. For example, none of the leaders of the alumni who have been highly critical of the current VMI administration were appointed to the VMI board of visitors. It also does not appear that any members of the Jefferson Council, other than Bert Ellis, will be on the UVa board of visitors.

    I predict little, if any, major changes.

    1. walter smith Avatar
      walter smith

      So why the incessant fear? Can we get back to nobody caring about BOV appointments? An apology for the Bert Ellis orchestrated, unfair smear job?
      I know one person. They seem pretty solid. We’ll see.

      1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
        Dick Hall-Sizemore

        Fear? I really don't care that much, although I have gnoe on record as advocating closer examination of higher ed administrative structures and spending. So many of you have been waiting breathlessly for Youngkin's appointments to be in the majority. Then great things would get done. It has been my feeling all along that Youngkin is not really interested in making great changes. I did not say these appointees were not qualified or comptent, They obviously are all very accomplished. They just do not seem to be the types that would come in and rock the boat. I could be wrong. As you said, we'll see.

        1. walter smith Avatar
          walter smith

          you are not wrong, and Youngkin is, at most, an incrementalist.
          Still, there might be the willpower to look strongly at costs and returning a focus towards education. But supplanting the internal resistance? Doubt it – Trump term 1…

    2. LarrytheG Avatar

      What is the convention with respect to whether they are UVA grads?

      Or perhaps they all are? If so, would they add that to their bios?

      If they are not, what is their relationship to UVA?

      1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
        Dick Hall-Sizemore

        By law, 12 of the 17 members have to be alumni. I did not read in detail all their bios that I found on the internet, but at least 3 of this group are alumni, either undergrad or grad (law and medicine),

        1. walter smith Avatar
          walter smith

          and 1 has to be a doctor with teaching credentials at a Va med school. Also, I think 12 of the 17 have to be residents of the Commonwealth. So an alum resident is a twofer. The required doc can be a threefer

        2. LarrytheG Avatar

          Good. I would hope that being an alumni would be a good thing – for ANY BOV for any school.

    3. VaPragamtist Avatar

      Interesting that (unless they forgot to denote it in the usual way), none of the appointees are reappointments. Even across parties, isn't there usually at least one across IHEs reappointed each year? Someone who was there less for political reasons and more for their service to the university and subject matter contribution?

      Two observations of things that stuck out to me: first, 3/4 of the ODU appointees are in healthcare policy.

      Second, even though Bill Janis has moved to Florida, he still keeps showing up in Virginia politics. I still hold a bit of a grudge after the party decided the Republic nominee for Henrico CA, Matt Geary, wasn't pure enough and asked then-Del. Janis to run against him as an independent. When he lost to Taylor, McDonnell gave him a soft place to land in DVS. Geary later committed suicide. An all-around black mark on the history of the RPV.

      1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
        Dick Hall-Sizemore

        It looks like all of the new appointees replaced members who were not eligible for reappointment.

    4. DJRippert Avatar

      "If Youngkin had really wanted to bring some reform to the Board, he would have appointed Jim Bacon or someone like Don Rippert."

      Wow. I'm flattered.

      Unfortunately, I agree with your premise of little, if any, change.

      The new board is likely to lock horns with UVa's management about a variety of social issues.

      In my mind, one question should be paramount – Why do the costs of higher education rise faster than the rate of inflation (or wage growth) year after year?

      I hope the new board focuses on that question.

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    I am curious. Is what the Jefferson Council asking for – something that is done in other Virginia Colleges? Is UVA somehow different with less BOV influence than other Virginia colleges with BOVs?

    1. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      What Jim and his friends have done in organizing an activist group to apply pressure on UVA, and others who have formed a similar group of VMI alums, seem to be the only two. If there is a W&M effort, it hasn't reached my attention. At other schools the traditional alumni associations exist, and individual donors certainly can get the president to take their phone calls, but at UVA and VMI groups formed out of dissatisfaction have taken root. I remain curious if any of those new UVA visitors were among the names they were recommending.

    2. VaPragamtist Avatar

      At first glance the letter looks like an "ask", but it's really just a way of adding their voice to a news story. They could have achieved the same thing by responding to Youngkin's announcement.

      Appointments are generally announced on Fridays, with the most sought after (BoV positions), closest to July 1 (when the appointees take their positions). The decisions are made weeks, if not months ago. Candidates are nominated, vetted, decided upon, informed, and asked not to say anything until the official announcement.

      Then "ask" made on the same day as the announcement isn't a coincidence.

      1. Stephen Haner Avatar
        Stephen Haner

        Well, yes and no. The deal ain't done until it is done sometimes, and the lists can change near the announcement. But the basic point that an effort to get on these boards should start way in advance, and may take more than one cycle to succeed, is quite true. They are among the most sought after plums in the Governor's gift.

  4. Teddy007 Avatar

    Once again, to too many people, Virginia only has two universities. And focus on smaller universities instead of the universities that have the largest number of students.

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