McDonnell administration goes to school

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A few weeks ago, Governor Bob McDonnell got to indulge in one of the most satisfying acts of log-rolling available to Virginia’s chief executive: the appointing of friends, campaign contributors and the occasional unqualified alum to the state university system’s various governing boards. Now, this quadrennial packing of the Boards is never a pretty sight—it’s axiomatic that every newly elected governor doles out these much-coveted positions like an indulgent grandma handing hard candy to her most corpulent grandkids—but McDonnell’s appointments seem especially craven.

Magic Johnson: The BET co-founder, above, turned an insult into a seat on UVA’s Board of Visitors with the help of Governor McDonnell.

Perhaps we expected too much. But this is, after all, a self-proclaimed “Education Governor” who created—with much fanfare—a ginormous “commission on higher education reform, innovation and investment” to help him focus on the commonwealth’s colleges, and a man who continually spotlights educational issues in public. (At the recent annual gathering of the National Governors Association, for instance, McDonnell served as co-chairman of the group’s education committee, while also taping a 15-minute interview to be shown in high school classrooms across the country.)

So what kind of people did this thoughtful, pro-education public servant appoint to oversee the universities under his command? Well, here’s a hint: Out of 16 appointments to four major state institutions (William & Mary, George Mason, Virginia Tech and UVA), there wasn’t a working educator in the bunch.

And who did make the cut? Folks like Suzanne Obenshain (wife of state Republican Senator Mark Obenshain). And, for UVA’s Board of Visitors, Charlottesville mega-developer Hunter Craig and Black Entertainment Television co-founder Sheila Johnson, who distinguished herself during the gubernatorial campaign by publicly making fun of Democratic candidate Creigh Deeds’ stutter.

But perhaps most cynical of all is the reappointment of Roanoke lawyer John Rocovich, who sat on Virginia Tech’s Board of Visitors under Governor Jim Gilmore, to his old position. See, less than two months ago Rocovich was appointed by McDonnell to the Virginia Commission on Higher Education Board Appointments, a body set up by then-Governor Mark Warner to propose college visitor appointments. Needless to say, this unavoidably suggests the peculiar, “I pick me!” dynamic that attended the selection of Dick Cheney (who was in charge of George W. Bush’s VP search) as the GOP’s Vice Presidential candidate. (Rocovich stepped down from the commission a week after being reappointed to the Virginia Tech board.)

And this is where the story gets really good. See, the reason Governor Warner set the board appointment commission up in the first place was because he felt that the entire process had become overly politicized. And one of the main events that fueled this belief was a controversial decision by Virginia Tech’s board to repeal the school’s policy barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

And who just happened to be sitting on Virginia Tech’s Board of Visitors when this regressive provision was enacted? Why, none other than John Rocovich himself! What’re the chances?

Of course, since McDonnell’s Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli essentially tried to effect the exact same policy via threatening letter, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that the Governor would reappoint such a tainted visitor.

But still, call us naive: With such elevated executive rhetoric, we truly hoped for something better.

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