February 20, 2008 | | Comments Off on A POV on BOVs

William & Mary’s Board of Visitors recently decided not to renew President Nichol’s contract. As a result of their actions, President Nichol resigned from his position. I am no stranger to heavy-handed and ill-informed decisions passed by a Board of Visitors. I attended Virginia Tech when its Board of Visitors voted to dismantle affirmative action.

In 2003, Virginia Tech’s Board of Visitors decided to disallow preferences for underrepresented groups in admissions and hiring for the university. This decision was a reaction to a memorandum distributed by Virginia’s then attorney general Jerry Kilgore. Kilgore’s memo claimed that affirmative action was being challenged in the Supreme Court (Grutter v. Bollinger), and if the plaintiff was successful, Virginia public institutions utilizing affirmative action would possibly be subject to litigation. It is a shame that such legal “wisdom” would come from an alumnus of William & Mary’s Marshall-Wythe School of Law. However, this scare tactic was enough to give the rector of Virginia Tech’s BOV, John G. Rocovich Jr., the excuse he needed to carry out his agenda.

On March 10, 2003 the BOV held a closed session meeting in which they decided to rid the university of affirmative action. The decision was a shock to much of the university, and even members of the board. Some members stated that they were told no pertinent issues would be discussed during the closed session. Of those that attended, multiple members stated that they were not told that there were other legal interpretations or other options available. In the end, Virginia Tech was the only state institution that decided to abide by Kilgore’s memo.

Students, professors, and staff at Virginia Tech spoke out. As the chair of the Black Organizations Council, I helped coordinate a protest on the steps of our main administrative building, Burruss Hall. Professors held programs explaining the history of the BOV and their responsibilities to us. There were sit-ins and meetings with high administrators, including President Charles Steger. National news picked up the story, and placed the BOV’s decision in a negative light. As a result of all the furor, the BOV decided to hold a special session open to the public.

The session was very reminiscent of those conducted at the British House of Commons. A very pro-active and vocal group of students and faculty openly booed comments in favor of the past decision, and cheered those in favor of repeal. Football Hall of Famer Bruce Smith, who was an oft-absent member of the BOV, actually showed up for the meeting. The “old guard” on the board seemed visibly uncomfortable once they had to defend their decision in the open. When the vote was finally held, the decision was struck down by a vote of 7-5, with one member abstaining. The entire room erupted in applause and cheer.

William & Mary’s BOV could have learned a lot from the events of that month in Blacksburg. Maybe they would have realized that they should serve the best interest of the students rather than the political forces that appointed them. The BOV is probably used to the manufactured outrage of politicians. The true outrage of students that feel betrayed is probably a rude awakening to them. In the end, perhaps this BOV, much like Virginia Tech’s, will see that secret decisions based on faulty information do not sit well with those people that are truly affected by them.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user kmb187 


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