Youngkin Appointees Now a Majority in Virginia University Boards

by James A. Bacon

With the announcement of his third round of appointees to the governing boards of Virginia’s public universities, Governor Glenn Youngkin has ushered in a new era for higher education in Virginia. For the first time in his two-and-a-half years in office, he will enjoy board majorities to back his priorities of free speech, intellectual diversity and affordable cost of attendance.

However, the nominees face confirmation by the General Assembly early next year, and more forceful advocates for change could face resistance from within universities and their Democratic Party allies in the legislature.

Developments at the Virginia Military Institute and the University of Virginia, where Youngkin appointees enjoy support from well-organized alumni groups, especially bear watching. Old Dominion University could prove to be a wild card as well.

At VMI the appointments represent a clear victory for traditionalists, building on the election of a new slate of board officers in May. John D. Adams, a McGuire Woods attorney from Richmond and 2017 Republican candidate for Attorney General, replaced Tom Watjen, a Northam appointee. Watjen had been a stalwart supporter of Superintendent Cedric T. Wins and the contentious effort to re-make VMI after former Governor Ralph Northam accused VMI of being systemically racist. The new board wins plaudits from alumni offended by the racism epithet, the implementation of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI), and what they view as a relaxation of standards.

The implications of a Youngkin-appointed Board at the University of Virginia, by contrast, are unclear. UVA Rector Robert D. Hardie, a Northam appointee, has not stepped down, and there is uncertainty about how committed the new Board will be to challenging the administration of President Jim Ryan. Although Youngkin and close advisers have signaled their unhappiness with the politicized social-justice agenda at Virginia’s flagship university, the Governor declined to appoint Joel Gardner, a UVA alumnus whose passionate advocacy and deep knowledge of the University would have made him a force to be reckoned with on the Board.

Also worth watching is Stanley Goldfarb, a University of Pennsylvania alumnus and founder of the Do No Harm organization opposed to “gender-affirming” care, DEI and racial preferences at hospitals and medical schools nationally. His appointment at ODU comes on the heels of the university’s merger with the Eastern Virginia Medical School.

Virginia Military Institute. Nowhere has the battle for the soul of a public university in Virginia been more contentious than at VMI. With the support of board leadership, Superintendent Wins implemented policies to expunge alleged racism and implement a kinder, gentler culture at the military institute. The changes outraged traditionalists committed to VMI traditions such as the drum-out ceremony for Honor Code violators and the character-building institutions of the Rat Line and Barracks system. Policy disagreements morphed into battles over process as traditionalists fought over transparency, autonomy of The Cadet student newspaper, and governance of the alumni association.

The past year has seen a change in tone at the top, however, as Thomas “Teddy” Gottwald, CEO of the Richmond-based New Market Corp., showed himself to be unafraid of confrontation and willing to ask penetrating questions. Acknowledging the political realities of the impending Youngkin majority, the Board voted May to pass on the torch of leadership.

Watjens was gracious in the hand-off. “I’ve been fortunate to have served as the president of VMI’s Board of Visitors these past three years and I am very proud of what our board has accomplished during this time,” he said. “It’s clear to me, though, it is time to pass that responsibility along to the next generation of board leadership and I fully support the board’s decision to elect John Adams ’96 as our next president. I look forward to serving the remainder of my term on the board and supporting the Institute in any way possible.”

The newly appointed board members include:

  • Kate Comerford Todd of McLean, Attorney, Torridon Law
  • Quintin Elliott of Urbanna, Owner and CEO, QE2 Consulting
  • Clifford Foster of Richmond, Manager, Raymond James & Associates
  • William R. Janis of St. Petersburg, Florida, former member, Virginia House of Delegates, 56th District.

Janis, a forceful conservative voice in the General Assembly during his legislative career and critic of the VMI administration, will be especially interesting to watch.

“I could not be more pleased,” said Matt Daniel, legislative liaison for the Spirit of Virginia PAC, representing conservative VMI alumni. VMI had been moving in the right direction even before the new appointments, he said. All the new board nominees are solid. There was no drama in the leadership turnover, and the new members make the board even stronger.

University of Virginia. Although Youngkin appointees now dominate the UVA Board 13 to 4, Northam holdovers Robert Hardie and Carlos Brown stay on as rector and vice rector respectively. Unlike Watjen, Hardie has not stepped down to “pass responsibility to the next generation of board leadership.” Hardie has clashed publicly with Board member Bert Ellis over the issue of antisemitism at the University, and he remained silent this spring when outgoing Northam appointee Tom DePasquale shared a draft of a letter calling for Ellis’ resignation and, after input by the Board secretary, distributed the letter to the Board. Hardie has suppressed serious discussion of critical issues facing the University such as runaway costs, rising cost of attendance, racial preferences, antisemitism, the creeping intellectual monoculture, and the size and scope of the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion bureaucracy.

The new appointees include:

  • Daniel M. Brody of Albemarle County, President, Health Data Services, Inc.
  • Marvin W. Gilliam, Jr., of Bristol, Owner, MAM Development LLC
  • David Okonkwo, MD, PhD of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Professor of Neurological Surgery, University of Pittsburgh
  • David F. Webb of Virginia Beach, Vice Chairman, CBRE, Inc.
  • Porter Wilkinson of Bethesda, Maryland, Counselor and Chief of Staff, Smithsonian Institute Board of Regents.

The Jefferson Council, an alumni organization of which I am contributing editor, is still digesting the implications of these appointments. We know Gilliam and Okonkwo, whom we regard favorably, but are unfamiliar with the other three.

Our primary concern is the Youngkin administration’s decision to not appoint Joel Gardner, whom we believed had a great shot at the nomination.

“The Governor made a huge mistake not appointing Joel Gardner to the Board in this round,” said Jefferson Council President Tom Neale. “We need fighters on the BOV and Joel would have been a superb ally. The fact that he was courted and discarded at the 11th hour is very distressing.”

Gardner, a retired attorney and investment banker, has raised millions of dollars for the University, served on four UVA-affiliated boards and, among his more notable contributions, participated on the Ryan-designated committee that drafted a free speech policy for UVA. Gardner authored a book about UVA during the Vietnam War protests and penned a 2022 article for The Martin Center, “UVA and the New “McCarthyism”–An Insider’s Perspective,” arguably the most authoritative critique yet written of leftist intolerance, DEI, and institutional bias at UVA. During the past year he has spent hundreds of hours behind the scenes connecting with fellow Jews in the UVA community and combating the antisemitism arising from the pro-Palestinian rallies and encampment.

Youngkin had seriously considered appointing Gardner in 2023 but opted out at the last minute. Local media picked up on scuttlebutt of his interest in the position, which put him on the radar screen of vested interests and their ideological allies opposed to reform. We have been told that there was an orchestrated smear campaign at the last minute this year to block his nomination. The fact that Gardner, who served on the free expression committee, has been denied a seat on the Board is symptomatic of the aversion to viewpoint diversity at UVA.

Old Dominion University. The biggest surprise to me, as a long-time observer of Virginia higher education, was the appointment of Stanley Goldfarb to the board of Old Dominion University. I have profiled Goldfarb and his Do No Harm group on Bacon’s Rebellion. (See “How Wokeism Is Ruining Medicine.”) Goldfarb contends that the ideology of intersectional oppression is replacing science across the field of medicine, starting in the medical schools and percolating down to the professional associations and hospitals. He is particularly critical of racial preferences in medicine and the practice of “affirmative” care for transgender youth in the form of hormonal treatment and surgery. His views have made him a lightning rod in the medical field, and his appointment at ODU is sure to be criticized. I have no insight into whether he will be welcomed or pilloried by fellow board members and/or university and med school administrators.

VCU: As a sidelight, Ken Lipstock, a Richmond ophthalmologist who has been actively involved with Do No Harm locally, was appointed to the Virginia Commonwealth University Board of Visitors.

SCHEV: One more change to watch: the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. Walter Curt, a James Madison University grad, entrepreneur and ally of Youngkin, has been serving on the board of SCHEV, the statewide oversight board for higher education, since 2022. A vocal critic of wokeness and cost increases in Virginia higher ed, he has been rendered powerless in a Northam-dominated board. Expect big changes in how SCHEV operates if a Youngkin majority appoints him as chair.

Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly stated that none of the recommendations advanced by the VMI Alumni Associations made the cut. In point of fact, according to VMI spokesman Bill Wyatt, Clifford Foster was endorsed by the Associations.

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


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17 responses to “Youngkin Appointees Now a Majority in Virginia University Boards”

  1. Clarity77 Avatar
    Clarity77

    As to the UVA BOV going forward I find it hard to believe that there is not a mechanism to remove Hardie and Brown as rector and vice. Especially in light of the fact that Youngkin acting by way of the will of the people now has accomplished the appointment of a majority that aligns with the people. Hardie and Brown obviously do not align. Addressing this should be at the top of the next BOV meeting agenda.

  2. Eric the half a troll Avatar
    Eric the half a troll

    Don’t worry, JAB, I am sure the new BOV will still do the bidding of TJC…

    1. walter smith Avatar
      walter smith

      We have a new variant of TDS…
      Then we had YDS…
      Now we have TJCDS…
      I bet Troll is the guy who always rates a TJC article as "1" (5 is best). Probably paid by UVA with its $14 billion endowment to make sure that dissent from the overlords of academia is abridged, all while pointing to the piece of paper they claim proves their "unequivocal" support for free speech…

      1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
        Eric the half a troll

        I am not paid by anybody. Remove your libel.

        1. walter smith Avatar
          walter smith

          Oh, grow up Troll. That's not libel.
          But are you admitting you are a trust-fund baby, or self-employed, since you are not paid by anybody?
          Trust fund baby would make the most sense to me, as that is really the only way to afford luxury beliefs, but just a guess…putting together clues…
          You people of the Left love to dish it out, but go run to Mommy at the slightest pushback.

  3. DJRippert Avatar
    DJRippert

    In many private corporations, internal audit is a full-time, paid group of accountants and financial types who report directly to the Board of Directors.

    From the Institute of Internal Auditors:

    "The internal audit function is only able to achieve the Purpose of Internal Auditing fully when the chief audit executive reports directly to the board and is positioned at a level within the organization that enables the internal audit function to perform its services and responsibilities without interference."

    I don't know if UVa has an internal audit function or to whom that function reports.

    There should be one and it should report to the audit committee of the Board of Visitors.

    For too long the leadership of UVa has played "hide and seek" with the Board of Visitors – controlling agendas, limiting discussion, and refusing to provide detailed information as to UVa's condition and direction.

    That needs to change.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar
      LarrytheG

      An auditor is not likely to opine on policies, no? Not even an inspector general who probably is focusing on adherence to existing policies/variances from, etc.

      Even JLARC is not going to opine on what should or should not be policy.

      And then you have the problem of who that person reports to, who tasks him/her.

      And then where is the BOV staff who has unfettered access to the data independently of the Administration ?

      This is why I wonder if the BOV as currently empowered actually has the powers it needs to do what some folks want.

    2. Lefty665 Avatar
      Lefty665

      That is a good idea! I have previously advocated that the BoV Audit, Compliance and Risk Committee would be a good place for the BoV to exercise control. The internal audit function would be their active tool to gather information. It is the antidote to the mushroom school of managing the BoV as practiced at UVa.

    3. Clarity77 Avatar
      Clarity77

      Why propose various convoluted ways such as a BOV audit to remove Ryan when you can hold that card till you need to present it?
      Weaken and marginalize any potential support for Ryan on the BOV by first removing "full stop" Hardie and his vice.

      Harvard is the plum Ryan would readily bolt for and meanwhile you avoid all the messy Machiavellian maneuvers. If he then shows no sign of leaving then yes you bring out the BOV audit card.

    4. Randy Huffman Avatar
      Randy Huffman

      UVA has an internal audit function. Here is their web site:
      https://audit.virginia.edu/audit-charter Key reports go to BOV and audit committees

      However, as Larry said below, they are not involved in setting policy, but rather doing financial reviews and looking at internal controls to be sure policies set by the University (and State, as they are a State agency) are followed. This is off of their Audit Services page:

      Compliance

      Determine compliance with policies, procedures, laws and regulations established by the university, the Commonwealth, the Federal Government and applicable external organizations.

      The internal audit function is to deal with financial matters and internal controls, not get into policy matters or become some kind of tool of the BOV or anyone else for any kind of disputes. They need to be independent.

    5. Randy Huffman Avatar
      Randy Huffman

      UVA has an internal audit function. Here is their web site:
      https://audit.virginia.edu/audit-charter Key reports go to BOV and audit committees

      However, as Larry said below, they are not involved in setting policy, but rather doing financial reviews and looking at internal controls to be sure policies set by the University (and State, as they are a State agency) are followed. This is off of their Audit Services page:

      Compliance

      Determine compliance with policies, procedures, laws and regulations established by the university, the Commonwealth, the Federal Government and applicable external organizations.

      The internal audit function is to deal with financial matters and internal controls, not get into policy matters or become some kind of tool of the BOV or anyone else for any kind of disputes. They need to be independent.

  4. LarrytheG Avatar
    LarrytheG

    I never really had much of a dog in this hunt. I could not afford UVA way back when as well as getting time off from my just-out-of-high-school job that I needed to pay for rent/food, etc. I managed through a better job to go to Community College at night and taking other courses when I could until I was able to finish with a "degree" – admittedly a bit of a Heinz 57 and not the UVA Ivy League thing.

    But much later, in the BR era, I was amazed at the Helen Dragas thing and to be honest, never really totally understood the width and breadth of her (and other BOV) issues (A former board member, Randal Kirk, publicly stated that he and others believed that Sullivan was the wrong pick from the start.[4]) with UVA that led to:

    " In June 2012, University of Virginia Rector Helen Dragas announced that President Teresa Sullivan would resign, effective August 15, citing philosophical differences and the need for change.

    Some discussion of MOOC Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) but not a whiff of Culture War like we see now.

    Never really understand why the BOV didn't pursue actions to change policy before deciding to fire Sullivan.. never really understood what those policy difference really were.

    So now, UVA is actually tuition-free for folks with less than 100K in income and has essentially extended efforts at diversity and inclusion – which many others reject such principles… and the thought seems to be that a BOV with appropriate conservative principles can reverse such policies, even affect employment criteria, etc with the "fired"thing hanging in the background, i.e. "you better do what we want or out you will go"!

    Having the BOV at direct odds with the administration does not strike me
    as a productive thing at all .no more than it was with Dragas.

    And after all was said and done – Dragas herself opined: "I believe we did the right thing in that we pushed for needed change … We did it the wrong way in that we misunderstood that when you're going to try to solve thorne-y problems at a high-profile, public institution, you need to communicate a lot — a lot more than we did — and with a lot of people. And that was a lesson that I, in particular, and the board learned the hard way."[44] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helen_Dragas.

    I don't think BOVs in general were designed for abrupt changes of course but rather incremental and collaborative ones, vice forced "you will do or else"

    Hey, the culture warriors just beat Tractor Supply so who knows!

    1. walter smith Avatar
      walter smith

      It's hard to believe, but Larry is not 100% wrong.
      I do not know Helen Dragas. I am guessing. I believe she saw that UVA was getting off of its educational mission and Teresa Sullivan was the symbol of it. She was a precursor to what so many parents finally saw in 2020 K-12 on up.
      The Board's "mistake" was doing it as a behind the scenes "coup." The faculty revolted, McDonnell and the BOV buckled, and the faculty came to think it was in charge of the school. (McDonnell's buckling may very well have been due in part to the Obama DOJ/Jack Smith (hello? Anyone noticing?) ridiculous prosecution and of course no Pubbies stood up to decry lawfare, so we now have more of it)
      Then the BOV made the mistake of thinking Ryan would be a moderating force. He is far better at implementing "Woke" than TS could ever have been. So the Faculty and the Admin have basically been in charge since the failed coup with TS.
      But by law and the BOV manual, the faculty and the admin are not in charge of UVA or any "public institution of higher education"
      The BOV is. The BOV hires the President to fulfill the BOV directives. The BOV is appointed by the Governor. The Governor is elected by "the people." The BOV's first duties, by statute, are to the Commonwealth of Virginia.
      Meanwhile, the faculty believes it is in charge. In April of 2022, the Faculty Senate approved a resolution for "academic freedom" which claims the faculty determines curriculum and that "wokeism" must be taught (that is a paraphrase). Both of these assertions are wrong. I support academic freedom. But when the current Leftists in charge cry "academic freedom" what they mean is "Shut up peasant racists!" Academic freedom entails sticking to … academics. If they really believed in academic freedom, they would object to mandated DEI statements. DEI hiring requirements. DEI in peer evaluations. Heck, mandated Covid shots! They would defend their rights to teach their subjects. Period. They haven't, because they have dropped scholarship for activism. (Maybe only 95% of them)
      UVA needs to get back to education as the mission, not social justice…not global citizenship. No one objects to increased financial aid. We object to inflated wasteful costs that make UVA cost more. We object to watering down the educational mission. We object to the Administration permitting favored activist groups to break laws and policies. We object to the hide the ball tactics, the controlling of the agenda, the framing of the narrative through a well-funded propaganda (communications) office. We object to the indirect control of all of the affiliated foundations, while claiming they are independent. They most certainly are not. We object to pretending the "free speech" statement means that free speech actually exists on Grounds in a meaningful way.
      The faculty is not in charge of UVA. The Admin is in charge, BUT the charge it is to implement is the BOV's. That's the law.

      And, one word of praise for the way our system is set up – it takes 2.5 years for a new Governor to appoint a Board majority. It will take a new governor 2.5 years to have a majority appointed. It was no "coincidence" that the Northam dominated BOV extended Jim Ryan's contract, out of sequence from what his contract already stated, to a period that went past "new" Governor's 2.5 year point… That was political and wrong. As was the organized campaign against Bert Ellis, coordinated by elements of UVA, the Dem party and the Woke Left in the General Assembly, which is apparently being ginned up again…quite undemocratically! Please crazed Leftists – put the Genie back in the bottle and accept normal order… You will regret what you are creating. (Speaking federally and at the State level)

      1. LarrytheG Avatar
        LarrytheG

        so should the BOV just cut to the chase and fire Ryan rather than multiple skirmishes, they likely will not win? Can Youngkin speed things along by publically calling for removal of Ryan?

        1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
          Dick Hall-Sizemore

          Sec. 23.1-2209 of the Code authorizes the board to remove the president upon vote of two-thirds of the members of the board. As I understand it, Ryan has a contract. I have no idea what the contract says about firing him. It could get quite messy.

          1. walter smith Avatar
            walter smith

            Ryan's contract is peanuts in the scheme of things. UVA paid $9 million for the shootings, which were also likely heavily due to UVA's inaction on a known wolf.
            The contract extension was entirely a political move, but I don't want to spend thousands of dollars to do the FOIAs to then have UVA claim it is "working papers" and "presidential correspondence."
            If UVA wants to fire him for cause, that would be a fight. But he can be removed pretty easily. It would just cost to August of 2027 at about $1.2 million a year and 6 more months of sabbatical accrual, AND he then gets to be a prof at UVA Law at 75% of Salary. He wouldn't starve.
            I really hope that somehow Harvard can deign to hire a white guy – he'd be a better fit there, and marginally less crazy than many Woke academic types.

          2. LarrytheG Avatar
            LarrytheG

            That was the whole Dragas approach….get enough votes , more or less in secret and then do the deed!

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