Who gets to serve on university boards in Virginia?
University visitors function like a corporate board of directors – making long-term plans for the organization. They pick the president, approve the budget and set tuition, so you might expect those chosen to have a strong in business or finance, and many do. But Richard Novak at the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges says we rarely know why certain people are picked.
“Every governor ought to have standards and criteria they will use to judge candidates -- their background, their experience, their commitment to education, and make that publicly available.”
Often appointees are alumni or donors to the university, but another common credential is political. Three new members of the Virginia Tech board, for example, gave nearly a quarter of a million dollars to Glenn Youngkin’s campaign and PAC. At UVA, recent appointees have given more than half a million dollars to Youngkin and his Spirit of Virginia fund.
But money isn’t the only ticket to a seat. The Reverend Dean Nelson will serve at the University of Mary Washington. The school’s press release said he works for a non-profit serving women and families. In fact, Nelson’s group describes its mission as ending abortion in America – and on a podcast with Trump appointee Ben Carson, Nelson explained.
“Even if we’re talking about seven weeks or six weeks, when that child has a detectable heartbeat, I think that most Americans would say, ‘Hey, this really is wrong. This is barbaric," he contended. "Why should we in America allow for the death of a pre-born child, similar to China or North Korea?"
Nicole Neily will also sit on the board in Fredericksburg. She’s founder of Speech First, a group that opposes diversity, equity and inclusion programs on campus and joined the lawsuit that ended affirmative action. On NRA TV, Neily vowed to file another lawsuit – this time attacking schools that discourage offensive language and promote civility on campus.
“Who’s going to be making that call?" she wondered. "What’s going to be defined as offensive? Sometimes a Make America Great hat is offensive. Sometimes a political view is offensive, and that’s going to be adjudicated by mid-level bureaucrats with titles like Diversity Dean. That’s really scary!”
And William Estrada was appointed to Christopher Newport’s board. He’s senior counsel to the Home School Legal Defense Association.
At the Chronicle of Higher Education, senior reporter Dan Bauman says appointing political allies is nothing new.
“I think what we’re seeing now though is nominating people as a means of showing your base you're doing what you promised. It's using these nominations as a means of showcasing your commitment to a cause.”
In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis appointed board members committed to changing New College, a historically liberal state school.
“This majority openly and publicly said, ‘We’re going to remake New College away from all this woke-ness — to be more in line with the values we want to see,'" Bauman recalls.
Even if cultural warriors don’t promote their causes when they serve on the governing boards of universities, Dan Bauman notes the governor has done them a favor – giving them added credibility when they speak in other settings.
“We hold these institutions in some regard, and pay attention to the people who lead them," he explains. "That position comes with respectability, credibility, and in that sense if you're looking to promote an agenda, it’s a far better position to be in.”
We reached out to the governor to ask whether he considered contributions