Nine BOV members donate to Dems
February 15, 2008
Should the Board of Visitors be renewed? That is the question some students are asking on the heels of College President Gene Nichol’s resignation Tuesday.
“I want a new BOV, not a new President,” reads the title of a Facebook group with 340 members as of press time.
Others, including alumnus Lance Kyle ’89, criticize what they see as a political selection process for BOV members.
“BOV members are primarily selected for political reasons,” Kyle said in an e-mail.
Government Professor John McGlennon agrees that politics are at work.
“Some Board appointees are recommended by the College and alumni association, some are drawn from the Governor’s supporters,” he said.
While Kyle said that the political process biases the BOV in favor of Nichol, protesting students are concerned that the members are biased against Nichol. However, a compilation of campaign contribution data by The Flat Hat shows that nine of 17 BOV members are primarily Democratic donors, whereas five donate more to Republican candidates.
Of the BOV members originally appointed by Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, two had donated to his campaign while one had donated to his opponent, Jerry Kilgore. Of those appointed by former Gov. Mark Warner also a Democrat, three had donated to his campaign while one donated to his opponent. One of his appointees was Suzann W. Matthews ‘71, who donated more than anyone else on the BOV — $161,000 to Kaine and $25,000 to Warner.
Former Gov. Jim Gilmore, a Republican, also had generous appointees. Outgoing BOV member Joseph Plumeri has donated at least $450,000 to Republican candidates nationwide since 1997. All BOV members have been either appointed or reappointed by either Democrats Kaine or Warner. Three were originally appointed by Gilmore.
BOV members Thomas Capps and Vice Rector Henry Wolf ‘64, J.D. ‘66 donated to both the Kaine and Kilgore campaigns. Capps did not respond to interview requests, while Wolf said the two seemingly conflicting donations were for personal reasons.
McGlennon brought up high profile cases of political interference in BOV appointments.
“You may remember the case a couple of years ago, when the governor (a Democrat) appointed a just-retired Republican member of the House of Delegates. The delegate had supported Gov. Warner’s tax reform package, which angered other Republican delegates. They blocked his confirmation when it came to the General Assembly. A few years earlier, after it was discovered that Republican Governor Gilmore was interviewing prospective BOV appointees and requiring that they commit to taking voting directions from him, some Republican senators blocked two of Gilmore’s final appointees,” he said.
Secretary to the BOV Michael J. Fox said that nominations were based on merit.
“The governor of Virginia has the responsibility to appoint members to the Board of Visitors of the College of William and Mary. Given the significant fiscal and policy responsibilities of public college governing boards, every governor takes these appointments very seriously and does so by finding individuals that are well qualified and will serve the College well,” he said.
Kyle and others take issue with the fact that five out the 17 BOV members did not graduate from the College. Furthermore, some BOV members have many commitments, including Rector Michael Powell ‘85 and John Gerdelman, who both serve on more than 10 corporate and college boards.
McGlennon said that there might be reasons to have non-alums on the board.
“It is optimal if BOV members are chosen for their dedication to the College (whether they are alums or not) and their ability to help the College gain resources,” he said.
Student concern is concentrated on the BOV being out of touch and unaccountable to the student body.
“They are not representing my views as a student,” Sarah Milam ’09, the creator of the biggest anti-BOV Facebook group, wrote.
Student Assembly President Zach Pilchen ‘09, who serves as the student representative to the BOV, said that board members frequently asked what he thought about issues.
Pilchen said that the SA has worked to help students and BOV members meet, citing an SA-sponsored lunch in which BOV members sat with randomly selected students.
“One of the BOV members told me, ‘Thanks so much for doing this. We never get to interact with average students,’” Pilchen said.
Pilchen called for structural reforms to the BOV and pointed out that in Pennsylvania, public institutions are required to have a voting student member on their boards.
“I think the BOV should have a voting student member, I think it should have a voting faculty member, I think it should have a voting alumni member and a voting staff member. … Not so many people that they could make decisions as a block, but enough so it would be recorded that ‘the staff position was this, the faculty position was that.’”
That change would have to be decided on a state level, however.
Pilchen also said he plans to get future BOV meetings televised on WMTV to increase student awareness and board accountability.