Board of Visitors is No Great Dictator
BY JUSTIN TONEY
“The Board of Dictators,” as campus vandalism dubbed them, has ruled over our institution since its independence from the University of Virginia. The more properly called Board of Visitors has made poor decisions in its long reign, sometimes resulting in big trouble for Mary Washington.
However, senior Lauren Orsini’s accusations against the 12-person body appointed by the Virginia Governor requires a certain point of view: that of distance and assumption.
The BOV, as mandated in the Code of Virginia, section 2.2, has authority to oversee all business pertaining to finances and “generally direct the affairs of the University.”
Orsini’s article implies that because of this mandate, every decision pertaining to hires, salary, tuition, purchases, admissions, public relations, etc. fall solely into the hands of 12 Virginians.
Considering that many of them also serve on boards or are presidents of private businesses, hospitals and Virginia education groups, our BOV must be the hardest working people on Earth. Or their sphere of influence is more limited than some assume.
On numerous occasions I have spoken with and observed the BOV in its various activities. My first-hand experiences as a reporter convince me that the BOV rarely exerts decision-making power. By and large, they only approve or disapprove of policies and decisions proposed by the president and her vice-presidents. These administrators make plans based upon the work and input of their employees: the faculty, staff and student workers of Mary Washington.
Orsini ignores the impact of every other employee of the institution as she points her finger of blame only at the BOV.
Citing evidence that UMW’s admission of new students has become far less selective in recent years, Orsini takes a valid problem and casts blame for it with invalid logic. “Since the BOV is entirely in
charge of admissions and enrollment,” she said, “they are at least mostly to blame.” Specifically, she blames the BOV’s 2003 decision to make Mary Washington College into a university.
It makes little sense that thousands of prospective students would turn away from UMW because we’re a “university” and not a “college.” Of any of the dozens of possible explanations for the situation, it amazes me that Orsini never made the connection between our lapse in popularity and a string of bad press in popular media by way of former President Frawley’s dismissal for drunk driving and the Jefferson Hall incident where housekeeping staff objected to a racist poster in a student dorm.
This is not meant to diminish the BOV’s power or responsibility, because they do hold ultimate authority in the direction of the school. However, this authority relies upon the administration in much the same way as state leaders rely upon generals and their armies.
These particular leaders do not have a overseer beyond the governor, but this does not validate Orsini’s claim that they are therefore beyond impeachment. This claim presumes that the governor cannot admit his own mistake by retracting a poor appointment, which speaks to the integrity of one person, not the balance of power.
Orsini claims that because some of the BOV members have served on other school boards, their loyalty to our institution is questionable. Saying that serving another school previously inhibits one’s ability to do what is best for Mary Washington is like saying that immigrants can’t be good Americans.
Even so, of these particular “immigrants,” 2/3 are Mary Washington alumni, a quarter live locally, and half served as employees for the school before being appointed to the Board of Visitors. All have lengthy resumes describing their contributions to the Commonwealth.
Orsini would have us elect three individuals from among our own ranks to replace a selected board of successful financial, legal and civic experts. Her coalition would consist of a student representative, a faculty representative and an administrative representative, who would answer directly to the Governor. I wonder who would volunteer for that kind of time commitment.
Aside from this having zero legal ground, Orsini fails to recognize that the SGA President already acts as student representative. Along with two presidents of the faculty senates in the undergraduate and graduate campuses, our representative attends every BOV meeting. I have seen our current student representative defend student perspectives to the BOV, and what is more important is that I have seen the board members influenced by it.
Democracy yet lives.