The following article was previously published on The Flat Hat’s website during the week of Oct. 23. However, due to an unforeseen technological glitch, it was removed from the website for a period of time and was re-uploaded today, Nov. 6.
Wednesday, June 28, Va. Gov. Glenn Youngkin HON ’22 announced his intention to appoint Republican State Senate Minority Leader Sen. Thomas Norment J.D. ’73, R-3, to the College of William and Mary’s board of visitors.
“Senator Norment is just an extraordinary public servant, leader, loves Virginia, loves William and Mary,” Youngkin said in an interview with The Flat Hat on July 4, three days after the proposed start of Norment’s term. “We’ve got a little bit of work left to do in the Senate before he can take up his seat, and so hopefully we can pull out a way to get the budget done and then he can go serve. It’s a great school, and he was very excited about having an opportunity to continue his service there.”
His appointment was welcomed by College President Katherine Rowe.
“We also welcome warmly Mr. Malveaux and Sen. Norment to the board as, together, we look to bring the university closer to its strategic goals,” Rowe said of Norment, who received the Prentis Award from the College in 2007, in a W&M News press release.
The award recognizes individuals in the Williamsburg community for their strong civic involvement and support of the College. That same year he also received the Jo Lynne DeMary award from the College’s School of Education.
“Both are alumni and longtime supporters of their alma mater,” Rowe added. “They will bring invaluable insight to our work ahead.”
Norment, a former law and undergraduate professor at the College, is unable to take office until he leaves the Virginia state Senate due to Virginia law.
However, Norment, a former law and undergraduate professor at the College, is unable to take office until he leaves the Virginia state Senate due to Virginia law.
“Members of the General Assembly shall be ineligible to serve on boards, commissions, and councils within the executive branch of state government who are responsible for administering programs established by the General Assembly,” the Code of Virginia reads.
Norment’s term will expire on Jan. 8, 2024, following state elections on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2023. It is unclear whether Norment will resign before then to take up his board seat.
Board member James A. Hixon J.D. ’79, M.L.T. ’80, P ’08, ’11, who Norment was slated to replace, was scheduled to retire from the board this year. While Norment is still barred from serving, Hixon must continue in the role until his successor is eligible.
“We are looking forward to Senator Norment’s joining the Board of Visitors, but he will not be able to do so until he leaves in present office as a member of the Senate of Virginia,” College Rector Charles E. Poston J.D. ’74 P ’02, ’06 wrote to The Flat Hat ahead of the board’s summer retreat in July. “Senator Norment will replace Mr. Hixon whose second term has expired, but university counsel has advised that Mr. Hixon’s membership on the board of visitors will continue until Senator Norment assumes the position.”
Poston invited Norment to the board’s summer meeting and Norment also joined the board for its September meeting. However, since he has not officially taken up his seat, Norment has been unable to vote or participate in closed session meetings.
During the board’s September meeting, Norment declined to comment on his appointment, noting that it would be premature. However, he emphasized that he desires to serve the College in a non-partisan role.
Norment has been participating in board discussions and has received his unofficial board committee assignments. In June, he told The Virginian-Pilot that he sees tuition and fees as a constraint for incoming students and hopes to address the issue.
“Mr. Norment will begin his service as a member of the Committee on the Student Experience when he assumes his appointment to the board of visitors upon the completion of his State Senate term,” the College’s website states. He will also serve on the Richard Bland College and the Financial Affairs committees.
The 77-year-old legislator, who is not seeking reelection this year, has not been a stranger to the board. After former board member Laura Flippin ’92 was arrested and found guilty of public intoxication in 2012, Norment was chosen to represent her in court. Flippin later resigned her seat.
During this same period of time, Norment was also serving on the Senate Finance Committee, which had influence over the state budget.
However, in an opinion written by former Va. Attorney General Bob McDonnell, he cautioned Norment against voting on legislation involving the College that affected his personal interest, but that the employment did not constitute an impermissible conflict of interest.
According to The Virginian-Pilot, former Va. Attorney General Bill Mims called Norment an honorable public servant and said the 2008 opinion includes some overly rigid language.
“If he sponsors budget amendments for an undergraduate science center, that has no connection to his ‘personal interest,’” Mims said.
According to The Virginian-Pilot, while his appointment drew scrutiny from some, his Democratic counterpart had no problem with the issue.
“Quite frankly, I don’t see a problem there,” then-Majority Leader State Sen. Dick Saslaw said. “He’s a hell of a spokesman for them and they’re lucky to get him.”
This year, Norment proposed an amendment that gave an additional $6,200,000 in funding to the College for historic campus renovations. However, this practice is not exclusive to Norment, as State Sen. Monty Mason ’89, D-1, has also requested funding for the College in the past.
Norment served as a legal advisor to former College President W. Taylor Reveley III, in a role that was scrutinized by some in the College community, including former board member Paul Jost ’76 J.D. ’88.
“It’s bad,” Jost told The Virginia Informer, a former student-run newspaper at the College in 2009. “There are all kinds of things that are bad about it.”
Jost, a Republican, ran against Norment in 2003 for the State Senate but lost the primary. During a meeting with reporters from The Daily Press, he called Ken Stolle, one of Norment’s allies in the state Senate, “a Nazi”. He later said he was referring to Stolle’s style, which he found overbearing.
According to The Virginia Informer, Jost also suspected that Norment only took up positions at the College in hopes of increasing his pension, and that Norment’s $160,000 salary was unusually high.
Reveley defended Norment’s employment, emphasizing that no quid-pro-quo was involved in the decision.
“The work Senator Norment does as a William & Mary employee is substantive and demanding,” Reveley wrote in an announcement. “His employment here is not a Potemkin village. His work involves both teaching and legal advice. His teaching has been extensive and successful. From the beginning of his time at William & Mary, the Senator has provided me with legal counsel. He continues to do so while also now working closely with our Coordinator of Legal Affairs.”
After being replaced in his role, dubbed the Richard A. “Dick” Williamson Fellow, Norment’s salary would decrease to $60,000 and finally, $35,000. Then-Va. Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli appointed Senior Assistant Attorney General Deborah Love as university counsel in 2011. Republicans Cuccinelli, Mims and McDonnell, all former state attorney generals, thought that the College should have been represented or received legal aid from a personnel appointed by the state attorney general.
Norment has also faced criticism from the College community after it surfaced in 2019 that he was managing editor of a 1968 Virginia Military Institute yearbook which contained blackface pictures and captions which included racial slurs.
Following the revelation, the Student Assembly Senate unanimously passed SB 326-036, The Higher Standard Resolution, condemning Norment and then-Va. Gov. Ralph Northam HON ’18, who also had a racist yearbook photograph controversy. The resolution also urged the board of visitors to revoke Northam’s honorary degree.
The resolution urged the Government department to release a statement condemning Senator Norment’s actions and comments, as well as to immediately release him, for his actions which the Student Assembly Senate said deem him undeserving of a place at the College.
“As aforementioned, any personal history of racism is an unacceptable attribute for a public official, but especially for a teaching professional here at the College, and this requires an in-depth investigation and testimonies from the student body,” the resolution reads. “Senator Norment’s past and current actions have deemed him a danger to the communal aspect that the College of William & Mary strives to achieve, and is a horrendous example of using privilege and influence to harm the lives of thousands.”
Campus political organization leaders reacted to Norment’s appointment.
“As declared in the diversity statement, W&M strives to support diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as stand up against bias; the appointment of Senator Norment to the board goes directly against those ideals,” Young Democrats wrote in an email to The Flat Hat. “The appointment of a former W&M professor who taught and supported racially insensitive content undermines the anti-racist environment that W&M strives to foster.”
The organization went further to condemn his appointment.
“Those of us on the W&M Young Democrats executive board formally condemn this appointment,” the organization added. “It goes against the beliefs of the club as well as the school as a whole and we hope that W&M strives to uphold their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
In contrast, Norment’s appointment was firmly supported and warmly welcomed by the College Republicans organization.
“As a pillar of the Williamsburg community and alumnus of the William and Mary School of Law, Senator Norment’s legal and educational insight will prove invaluable in guiding the university in the years to come,” the organization wrote in an email to The Flat Hat. “By any measure of legal experience, professional expertise, or collegiate pride, Senator Norment easily qualifies as the best man for the job. Having over a decade of experience as an adjunct professor at the College, a lifetime of legal know-how, and a history of service as a counselor and advisor to the presidency of William and Mary, Norment reveals himself to be the best choice for the position on the Board of [visitors].”
The group also came to Norment’s defense against criticisms towards his appointment.
“We, the College Republicans of William and Mary, strongly condemn attempts to vilify or smear Senator Norment and affirm that he is the most qualified and best selection for the future of the College,” the organization wrote. “Ultimately, we support Governor Youngkin’s appointment and look forward to Senator Norment’s valuable expertise, guidance, and leadership on the Board of [visitors].”
The board of visitors will meet next from Nov. 16 to Nov. 17.