Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has involved himself within the state’s higher education system yet again. In his brief tenure as attorney general, Cuccinelli has stirred numerous controversies, and it is his past intrusions with the state’s universities — wanting to take “sexual orientation” out of an anti-discrimination section of college policy after Governor Bob McDonnell revoked the protection from all state anti-discrimination policies — that is casting a shadow of skepticism on his new involvement with the College of William and Mary.
Tommy Norment, Republican minority leader of the Virginia State Senate, counsel to College President Taylor Reveley and professor at the College, was recently removed from his post as counsel to Reveley and the College by Cuccenlli’s office. Cuccinelli dissolved Norment’s counsel post and created a new full-time post for Deborah Love, an assistant attorney general. Norment is also receiving a $100,000 pay cut since he will no longer act as counsel; his salary dropped from $160,000 to $60,000.
We see Cuccinelli’s intrusion as the problem, not the dismissal of Norment from his post — even Reveley explained he understood if people perceived it as a conflict of interest. It is explicitly mentioned in Virginia state law that the attorney general’s office is allowed to represent and advise state universities in legal matters. As such, it is well within Cuccinelli’s right to reorganize the College’s liasion to the attorney general in a way that better reflects the way most often Virginia universities operate.
However, we don’t understand why Cuccinelli is interfering at the College now, when McDonnell, his predecessor, found no fault in the position in a 2008 request of opinion by Norment himself.
Normant was told by McDonnell that as long as he followed certain restrictions — including that his relationship with the College would allow for no attorney-client privilege — there was no conflict of interest. Norment’s position was solely to counsel Reveley when needed. We see this entire situation as Cuccinelli attempting to place himself in a more intimate position with institutions of higher education. He has already placed individuals in positions similar to Love’s, but until now, he has avoided doing so at smaller schools, including the College.
Cuccinelli has the right to do this, but there is the concern that an attorney general who has come under fire for his stances on higher education — as well for a host of other issues, like suing the federal government over health care — will try to exercise too much power at the College. Cuccinelli has filed a lawsuit to obtain emails from a University of Virginia professor over his stances on and studies of climate change. His time as attorney general has been plagued with these activist, if not also instrusionist, activities.
These experiences with Cuccinelli and his office make us worry that this could be something more than just the efficient reduction of positions. As state attorney general, he has the right to represent the College, but for services for which there are no attorney client privileges, why can’t the College select a suitable individual without his permission? It also perturbs us that while McDonnell approved the arrangement, Cuccinelli went so far as to dissolve the position.
While we understand that Cuccinelli has a legal right to grant council to institutions of higher education under state control, we fear Cuccinelli strengthening his hold on the College and what it could mean for the rights of the students, the faculty and the institution itself.