Since University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan was fired—and reinstated—in 2012, there have been calls for change in both how the Board of Visitors is governed and who is on the board. With Governor Terry McAuliffe’s last round of five appointees, critics say there’s still too little diversity in who gets appointed. And one tradition—that BOV members usually are supporters of the governor that appointed them—holds true for four of the new visitors.
Walter Heinecke, associate professor in the Curry School of Education and immediate past president of the American Association of University Professors, UVA Chapter, claims the system of appointing people from the corporate class to boards of public universities is problematic.
“The whole structural problem in how we appoint BOV members, which was raised during the ouster, has not been addressed or resolved,” Heinecke said.
On June 2, McAuliffe named donors Tammy S. Murphy of Red Bank, New Jersey, Whittington W. Clement of Richmond, Jeffrey C. Walker of New York City, and Mark T. Bowles of Richmond to the board, along with James V. Reyes of Washington, D.C., director of a leading food and beverage wholesale distributor who has not endorsed any of McAuliffe’s political campaigns. Three of the incoming members—Clement, Walker, and Murphy—also are graduates of UVA.
Walker, current vice chair in the United Nations Envoy’s Office for Health Finance and Malaria and former COO of a private equity firm, contributed $50,000 to McAuliffe’s gubernatorial campaign and another $10,000 to his inaugural committee, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.
He was also involved in a 2013 effort to reform the Board of Visitor’s selection system by appealing directly to McAuliffe, who was a gubernatorial candidate at the time.
According to the Washington Post, Walker, then chairman of the UVA Council of Foundations, led a group of notable UVA alumni who wanted to implement a system in which 8 of the 17 voting members on the board were chosen from a group of candidates compiled by alums and other supporters of the school, and he encouraged the alums to contribute to McAuliffe’s gubernatorial campaign.
In the Post interview, Walker denied using money to gain influence. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment by C-VILLE.
Walker isn’t the only one who gave to McAuliffe. Tammy Murphy is co-founder of a New Jersey state policy think tank and has given him $13,000. In 2015, Whittington Clement, a partner at Hunton & Williams LLP and founding trustee of the UVA College Foundation, contributed $1,500.
Mark T. Bowles is a partner at legal powerhouse McGuireWoods, as is current board member Frank Atkinson and outgoing Rector George Martin. Bowles gave McAuliffe $225 in 2009 and $1,500 in 2013.
With state support to UVA now about six percent of the school’s budget, that means revenue must be generated from tuition, philanthropy and research dollars, says Heinecke, adding that high net-worth individuals serving on the board may be less likely to push the state for higher levels of funding because that would require high corporate and wealth taxes.
Recent increases in tuition and a reduction in funding for AccessUVA, the university’s financial aid program, are two examples Heinecke cites as evidence of a shortsighted board.
“At the end of the term, the BOV increased tuition significantly for the next two years, so what you don’t see is an understanding by board members of what this means to low-income students in the commonwealth,” Heinecke says. “They buy into the high-tuition, high-aid model for funding of public education, which is problematic for all sorts of reasons.”
And Dr. Edward Miller resigned from the board in March, citing the tuition increases and lack of transparency in the decision as reasons for his early departure.
UVA Alumni for Responsible Corporate Governance member Richard Marks says he believes McAuliffe has succeeded in selecting competent candidates for the BOV.
“[McAuliffe] understands that what happens at UVA is important in the commonwealth and throughout the country,” Marks says. “The university’s BOV has, frankly, been a weak component at the university and since it is at the apex at the university it needs to be corrected. I think Governor McAuliffe is determined to do that, so just speaking for me, and not for our group, I’m very encouraged.”
Despite the foundational problems within the BOV that have surfaced in recent years, Heinecke said some successful measures have been taken to reform the composition of the board. Additionally, the full board must now agree in accepting a president’s resignation and a non-voting faculty member was added to the BOV.
Although Heinecke considers these modifications to be a step in the right direction, he said they are merely governance issues.
“In terms of actual policy, you can see the impact of the board selection process,” Heinecke said. “I am troubled by the lack of attention being given to solving systemic problems that created the ouster itself. If this is a public university, shouldn’t the governing board reflect the community it serves?”
Bill Goodwin, current vice rector on the BOV, replaces Martin as rector. The five incoming UVA BOV members start their four-year terms on July 1.
Clarification July 1: This story has been modified to note that Teresa Sullivan was reinstated after her abrupt dismissal in 2012.
Correction 7/6/2015: The story has been edited to show that Walt Heinecke is the immediate past president of the UVA chapter of the American Association of University Professors, not the current president. And it now takes a meeting of the full Board of Visitors to hire and fire a president, not the executive committee as originally stated in the story.