A look at who’s in charge: an overview of the Board of Visitors


Each quarter, the 17 members of the Board of Visitors gather at the College of William and Mary. Whether to discuss tuition fees, the construction of new buildings or appointing a new chancellor or president, these meetings shape the administrative direction and future of the College.

The Governor of Virginia appoints all voting members of the board. Then, the General Assembly of Virginia confirms their nomination, usually for a term of four years.

Established by the Royal Charter along with the College in 1693, the BOV remains the most influential part of the College’s administrative structure. With eight committees, the BOV divides and conquers the College’s specific areas of concern.

The eight committees are as follows: the Committee on Academic Affairs; the Committee on Administration, Buildings and Grounds; the Committee on Audit, Risk and Compliance; the Executive Committee; the Committee on Financial Affairs; the Committee on Institutional Advancement; the Committee on the Student Experience and the Richard Bland College Committee.

The BOV operates under a specific set of bylaws, which provides a framework for its governing activities.

The bylaws refer to the College’s president, currently Katherine Rowe, as “president of the University.” The title “president of the College” is reserved for president of Richard Bland College, currently Debbie Sydow. Richard Bland College of William and Mary is a residential public junior college in Petersburg, Virginia, associated with the College. A Virginia General Assembly bill which would sever the board’s relation to Richard Bland failed earlier this year. 

Currently, the BOV governs both institutions, despite the high degree of autonomy that Richard Bland possesses.

“Today, Richard Bland is overseen by a committee of the board of visitors of William & Mary,” Chair of the Richard Bland College Committee John P. Rathbone P ’02 wrote in an email to The Flat Hat. “This divides the attention of the board and does a disservice to both institutions.”

Sydon agreed with Rathbone, stating that having one board for both institutions is impractical.

“We are already two separate institutions,” Sydow said. “We have zero connection to William and Mary as an institution. We are governed by the same board.”

Leading the board is the rector, a position first held by Richard Blair in 1693. The rector serves as chair of the board and the Executive Committee. In addition to assigning committees to members, the rector determines the agenda and goals of the board, as well as meeting times throughout the year.

“[O]ne discreet and fit person, that shall be elected, and nominated, out of their number, in the manner hereafter mentioned, that shall be, and shall be called Rector of the said college,” the Royal Charter reads.

Charles E. Poston J.D. ’74, P ’02, ’06 currently serves as rector of the College. 

Every committee, except the Executive Committee and the Committee on Audit, Risk and Compliance, has one student representative appointed by the College’s rector, in consultation with the president of the University, the College vice president for student affairs and the Student Assembly president.

The five student representatives to BOV committees are as follows: Claire Wyszynski ’23, student affairs; Lorielle Bouldin ’23, administration, buildings and grounds; SA Chief of Staff Owen Williams ’23, financial affairs; Jasmin Martinez ’23, institutional advancement and Joshua Ramdass ’23, student experience. 

The overall board currently has 17 voting members, two student representatives, two faculty representatives and one staff liaison. John Cho and Richard Bland SA president Noah Wilson serve as the pair of student representatives, while Chancellor Professor of physics David S. Armstrong and Richard Bland associate professor of history David McCarthy serve as the faculty pair.

Barbara L. Johnson J.D. ’84 serves as vice rector, which means she would act as rector in Poston’s absence. Ardene Williams serves as secretary of the board.

Another important figure in the BOV structure is Michael J. Fox, who serves as senior assistant to the president of the University and secretary to the board from the administration. In this position, Fox staffs the Executive Committee, meaning he coordinates the committee’s operations with Rowe and other members of the board. He also maintains meeting minutes and resolutions and serves as the main coordinator between Rowe and the board.

Some board members pursue initiatives on campus beyond the quarterly board meetings. Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources and board member John E. Littel P ’22 told The Flat Hat that after the board meeting in April, he will participate in the Out of the Darkness suicide prevention walk on April 22. Before then, he also plans to participate in a statewide conference with Virginia Secretary of Education Aimee Guidera on March 29 to highlight the College as a leading institution in mental health efforts.

“Secretary Guidera and I are looking forward to discussing mental health issues and best practices with all of Virginia’s higher education institutions, as well as some K-12 educators,” Littel wrote in an email to The Flat Hat. “And of course to show off the great work that W&M has been doing on this front.”

The board will next convene from April 19 to April 23. Fox told The Flat Hat that the board will likely consider tuition hikes at this meeting. James A. Hixon J.D. ’79, M.L.T. ’80, P ’08, ’11 cited General Assembly-mandated increases in salaries for employees of the College as a reason for potential hikes.

The board’s quarterly meetings are open to the public, except during specified closed sessions.


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