Slater Resigns from SCHEV, Citing Political Interference from Governor’s Office

Thomas G. Slater, Jr. Photo credit: Hunton Andrews Kurth

by James A. Bacon

Thomas G. Slater, Jr., a prominent Virginia Military Institute alumnus, submitted his resignation from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) today, citing political pressure from the office of Governor Ralph Northam to bias the outcome of the VMI racism investigation by an outside law firm, Barnes & Thornburg.

The event that precipitated the resignation was a decision by SCHEV Chair Marge Connelly to not allow the Council to discuss VMI’s request to establish a process for achieving a fair and accurate final report.

Marge Connelly. Photo credit: SCHEV

“I can only conclude that the current Chair and Executive Director have decided to bow to political pressure from your office and the attorney general’s office to insure that the final report by B&T supports the unfounded charges in your letter of October 19, 2020 accusing VMI of systemic racism,” Slater wrote in the letter addressed to Northam.

After a series of Washington Post articles last fall, Northam said in that letter that he was appalled by the racism at the military academy. After he ordered an investigation, SCHEV issued a Request for Proposal. As documented by Bacon’s Rebellion, the Governor’s Office was in command of the selection process and chose Barnes & Thornburg, a Washington, D.C., law firm committed to combatting racism and social injustice. VMI officials took issue with the narrative in the firm’s preliminary and interim reports that portrayed the VMI administration as reluctant to cooperate with the investigation.

“We are sorry Mr. Slater resigned. He has been a respected Council member,” said SCHEV Executive Director Peter Blake in a statement released to Bacon’s Rebellion. “However, SCHEV’s authority to require or direct B&T to provide any report to VMI prior to its release is limited by law and contract.” SCHEV must avoid actions that might question the independence and integrity of the investigation, he added.

In a March 22, 2021, communication, VMI Superintendent Cedric Wins and Board of Visitors Chair John William Boland requested a meeting with SCHEV,. Citing what they claimed were numerous inaccuracies and material omissions in the two B&T reports, the VMI officials requested that SCHEV provide regular oversight of the investigation “to guarantee that the process remains focused on its started goals and scope” and that VMI be permitted an opportunity to review and comment on future B&T reports before their public release.

“If the final report is to have any legitimacy or lasting value to VMI and the broader academic community[,] such distortions and incomplete reporting cannot be allowed to exist in the final volume to be delivered by the B&T team in June 2021,” wrote Wins and Boland.

Slater, a former VMI board president who also served on the SCHEV board, acted as an intermediary to make the requested meeting happen. Acting as an intermediary between VMI and SCHEV, he participated in discussions over two weeks in April with Connelly, Executive Director Peter Blake, Deputy Secretary of Education Fran Bradford, and Ramona Taylor with the Attorney General’s office.

“I thought that we had reached an agreement to meet with Major General Wins and Mr. Boland, so that they could explain their views and we could develop a process to address their concerns,” Slater wrote in a letter dated April 13 and addressed to fellow SCHEV members. “VMI is not asking that any person or entity interfere win B&T’s fact-finding activities,” he added.

“In my view, as the entity charged by Governor Northam with supervising B&T’s work, SCHEV has a responsibility to engage meaningfully with the B&T team to understand their findings, and to ensure that our investment in their services leads to sound educational policy and reform,” Slater wrote.

On May 13, only a few days before the scheduled May council meeting, Connelly wrote Wins and Boland, declining their request. “This is based on Counsel’s view that SCHEV does not have the authority to require such an interaction without an explicit request from the initiator of the investigation and our belief that doing so could have a negative impact on the independence or appearance of independence of the final report.”

Connelly said that she was willing to schedule a meeting with VMI leadership after the report is released June 1.

In his resignation letter today, Slater wrote, “Until recently, it was my belief and hope that SCHEV could serve an important role in insuring that the ongoing audit and investigation of Virginia Military Institute (VMI) by the Barnes & Thornburg (B&T) law firm would be conducted in a fair and equitable manner. … Apparently the current Chair and Executive Director decided to take matters into their own hands and forgo any discussion by all members of council regarding VMI’s request. … I cannot in good conscience continue to serve on SCHEV.”

“Once the report is released in June,” said Blake in his prepared statement, “we look forward to engaging VMI, as well as the broader higher education community, to consider issues raised by the report and its recommendations.”

Update: Read the Washington Post’s spin on the story here. Northam spokesperson Alena Yarmoski doesn’t answer Bacon’s Rebellion queries, but she did provide a quote for the Post’s Ian Shapira: “Every person in a leadership role in the Virginia executive and legislative branches called for this investigation. The best way to ensure its independence is to make sure the Institute — the subject of the investigation — sees this report once it is complete. No one other than the independent, third-party investigator will see this report before it is finalized, and that’s how it should be.”

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21 responses to “Slater Resigns from SCHEV, Citing Political Interference from Governor’s Office”

  1. Publius Avatar

    Tom Slater is a good man and a well-respected lawyer.
    I wonder if he should do what Vernon Jones did in Georgia. Jones resigned and then reversed his decision and stayed in the legislature. Could Slater be more valuable as part of SCHEV? Northam and his CRT minions will just replace Slater with another “Yes” Sentient Being (can’t be too careful by saying something sexist like Yes Man!).Un-resign and stay in! Now everybody knows there is some dissent and your mere presence might slow down/stop some of their games.

  2. Carmen Villani Jr Avatar
    Carmen Villani Jr

    Thanks Jim for reporting on this latest development. If there is any doubt that this report will be anything but biased, this development should remove it.

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    Since we do have at BR a former SCHEV person , I’d like to hear his view.

  4. James C. Sherlock Avatar
    James C. Sherlock

    Starring Marge Connelly as the Red Queen.

    1. emjak Avatar

      Yes, seems a bit like the Red Queen’s retort in Alice in Wonderland: “Sentence first — verdict afterwards.”

      Consider an Inspector General investigation of allegations against an individual or an organization. The IG questions the individual or organization as part of the investigation and allows them to offer information relevant to the investigation. The IG does not conduct the investigation w/o getting any input from the the individual or organization and then only talking with them after “completing” the investigation.

  5. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Drama Queens

  6. Baconator with extra cheese Avatar
    Baconator with extra cheese

    Remember the Northam commercial where he calls Trump a “narcissistic maniac”?
    Funny how this action, if true, seems to have a very Orange hue.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      you mean where Northam RECOGNIZED what Trump IS that is obvious to most folks even his supporters! 😉

      What kind of person goes on Twitter and personally attacks people they do not know and have no connection with? Not one or two but one after another? What kind of person does that? Oh of course, the leader of a country, the leader of the free world does that, right?

      1. Baconator with extra cheese Avatar
        Baconator with extra cheese

        Yes, he recognized Trump for what he was…. then he goes and does (if proven) exactly a Trumpian thing…. Gov. Pot please say hello to Former Pres. Black (ok…. Orange).

  7. LarrytheG Avatar

    I can’t tell if this kind of work is in SCHEV’s normal role. If it is, then yes, it looks suspicious. If not, then it looks like Mr. Slater is an advocate for VMI and wanted to use SCHEV for things they normally do not do.

    Clearly, Mr. Slater cannot be considered a truly objective, unbiased, disinterested 3rd party.

    But again, if SCHEV normally does these kinds of roles, then why not this one?

    1. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      The public and noisy resignation of somebody of Slater’s stature is a signal to the entire country that this is a rigged process being run out of the Governor’s Office with the outcome determined in advance. You are, as almost always Larry, totally ignorant when you dismiss him as biased. You’d defend this Governor over anything, anything. It’s like it is your daily task.

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        And VMI’s track record on such matters? There is a process in place. Let it play out and then produce evidence it was biased. T&B dersevres the opportunity to do its job. Kinda like Benghazi hearings, ya know?

      2. LarrytheG Avatar

        I made two points neither of which you recounted.

        1. – does SCHEV normally do this role? yes or no?
        For instance, does SCHEV work with JLARC when JLARC does audits of Universities?

        2. – I did NOT say he was biased. What I said was that he clearly had ties to VMI and it would be hard to see him as an objective participant.

        Finally, VMI has tried several times to try to litigate outside investigations from trying to be in the room with witnesses to being able to dispute and challenge information developed by the investigation. Just imagine JLARC having to operate that way. JLARC typically issues a draft and THEN allows the agency to comment on the findings, then they publish the final.

        That would be appropriate in this case also but NOT for them to be directly involved in the investigation and writing of the draft itself.

        Ignorance here is willful and thyself, self-imposed.

    2. Matt Adams Avatar
      Matt Adams

      “Clearly, Mr. Slater cannot be considered a truly objective, unbiased, disinterested 3rd party.”

      Based upon what? Your lack to knowledge of the matter, or because he had the audacity to go against what your lord and savior Gov. R Northam said?

  8. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    “I thought that we had reached an agreement to meet with Major General Wins and Mr. Boland, so that they could explain their views and we could develop a process to address their concerns,” Slater wrote…

    Well, as Dad used to say, “You throught wrong.”

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      Given that VMI initially wanted to “cross-examine” witnesses , this sounds not that different, i.e. to have another entity involved in the investigation phase so things could be “explained”.

      If this is a normal function of SCHEV , then I would stand corrected but otherwise it walks and talks like another way to have inappropriate outside involvement in an “independent” investigation.

      Reviews, audits, investigations, are, by their nature, adversarial. They are not “hearings” where both sides get to lay out their thoughts.

      If you look at agencies like JLARC and the Virginia Auditor of Public Accounts – they do their thing – independently – THEN they issue their findings and THEN the agency gets to respond.

      And yes, more demonization of individuals , another tactic in use by some these days.

      I’m waiting for the next JLARC study that someone does not agree with and the aggrieved will then attack the head of JLARC.

      1. Stephen Haner Avatar
        Stephen Haner

        If people start resigning from JLARC because they sense the fix has gotten obvious, that should also draw the public’s attention and raise questions. You are just a blind follower, Larry. Democrats = Good and Truth, Republicans = Evil and False. Hell, we don’t even know Slater’s politics.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          Does JLARC work with SCHEV when it does audits of higher ed?

          HAVE people RESIGNED from JLARC because they wanted other entities like SCHEV to join the audit and JLARC refused?

          No we don’t know Slaters Politics, but we DO KNOW his likely allegiances which are obvious.

          But I did ask the basic question which you, as a former person at SCHEV just evaded and instead went personal – AGAIN.

          Talk about “BLIND”. Steve – can you be even slightly rational about these issues?

      2. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        They are inserting themselves in the investigation of themselves. Any cop will tell you that’s a sure fire sign of guilt.

      3. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        What’s that little chestnut the Republicans are always quick to use? Oh yeah, “If you’ve nothing to hide…”

  9. Sounds like a FISA court process……

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