Board of Visitors is Not Democratic
BY LAUREN ORSINI
Three members of the UMW Board of Visitors attended the spring Scholarship Luncheon. I was there as a scholarship recipient. To me they seemed friendly, smiled, gave lovely speeches, and didn’t have horns or glowing red eyes. However, no matter how nice the members seem to be, the board on which they sit should be abolished.
First of all, the Board has too much power. According to the Code of Virginia, section 2.2, the Board is in charge of every significant aspect of the university: degrees, the curriculum and changes in courses, the honor system, all rules and regulations, student admission, sale and purchase of real estate, and appointing and dismissing the president of the school.
With power like this, we assume there are many checks. However, there is only one check to their power: the Virginia governor. He is the only person who is allowed to appoint or remove board members. And there is little motivation for the governor to impeach a member, even if that member has been doing something unethical. This is because the governor himself appointed them, and impeaching them would be admitting he was wrong in his appointment, making him look bad.
Furthermore, the Board doesn’t have students’ best interests in mind. According to Richmond Today Magazine, at least five current BOV members previously served on the BOV of other schools.
They may not even have allegiance to UMW: to them, working on the BOV of any given school is just another position.
One historical example of how the BOV has not helped us occurred in 1929. Members of the Fredericksburg community made a motion to have male students attend the college, and to set up a dormitory for them to live in. This could have benefited male students who needed to tend to family business in Fredericksburg and could only attend a nearby college. However, the Board could not reach a consensus making this possible.
If you know your UMW history, you know that male students were not allowed to attend UMW until the 1946 when a large number of young men with GI Bills needed a place to attend college. And this only happened because the Virginia government was able to circumvent the BOV and put this into law.
Another time in UMW history that the Board has held us back was in the 1960’s.
Partly because of dissent among the BOV, UMW was one of the last schools in the state to enroll African American students. Our University did not have African American graduate until 1968, 14 years after William and Mary and 18 years after the University of Virginia did.
Since the BOV is entirely in charge of admissions and enrollment, they are at least mostly to blame.
Also, since the board is in charge of the curriculum and holidays, they are the principal reason that MLK day was not recognized as a holiday until this year at UMW. UMW wants to be thought of as a progressive, forward thinking school, but change is slow with a powerful, hardly checked BOV in charge.
Also, with the help of President Anderson, the BOV was responsible for changing our institution’s name from Mary Washington College to the University of Mary Washington, despite enormous student and faculty opposition. Since then, the school has spent thousands of dollars of our tuition money to eliminate any sign of our previous name by erecting new signs, markers, and banners.
Since then, at least partially as a result of the name change, our school’s selectivity is down. According to the Office of Admissions, eight years ago, only 56 percent of applicants were selected to come to school here.
Now, we invite 71 percent of applicants to come, and only 28 percent of them do. Thanks in part to an unpopular decision by the BOV, our school’s reputation has been significantly diminished. The BOV is not helpful, but we do have another option.
I propose to set up a UMW based coalition to establish a true representative democracy on our campus. Students, faculty, and administration could elect representatives for themselves, the way we already do with student elections.
Then these representatives could consider the issues at UMW and report to the governor what needs to be done. Everyone on campus could have someone close by they could talk to to make their issues known. They could have public meetings that could operate like town hall forums.
A UMW based coalition would eliminate the need for the Board of Visitors and set up a representative democracy that could stay far more in touch with our campus than the BOV ever has.