Local groups clash over charter plans

The Charlottesville Chamber of Commerce and the local branch of the NAACP recently issued differing position statements on the proposed charter status for commonwealth colleges and universities.

In mid-December, the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce issued a memorandum to the Virginia General Assembly and other area public officials in support of the "Charter Public University Concept" for the University, Virginia Tech and the College of William & Mary.

Shortly thereafter, the Virginia State Conference NAACP issued a resolution to the Virginia General Assembly outlining the organization's reasons for opposing the charter proposal.

Timothy Hulbert, President of the Charlottesville Chamber of Commerce, said the charter concept "would enhance public education throughout the commonwealth."

Larry Banner, director of membership and communication at the Charlottesville Chamber of Commerce, said the Chamber felt the need to express its support because of the prominence of the issue, as well as the importance of such a decision to the regional economy.

"It is an issue that is in the public arena," Banner said. "U.Va. is not just the largest employer in our area, but also the largest employer in our commerce. This doesn't just affect the University of Virginia, but the region. Its success, its economic viability, speaks to the success of the region."

The Virginia NAACP chapter's resolution in opposition to the charter proposal was first submitted and unanimously passed in late October during the group's annual state convention.

The resolution was sent to the Virginia General Assembly and local legislators, as well as public officials in Blacksburg and Williamsburg in late December.

In addition to listing reasons for opposing the legislation, the resolution called upon the General Assembly to require that, before obtaining charter status, Commonwealth colleges and universities adopt a 20- or 50-year plan "educating its citizens to be just and equitable leaders in the global economy," and a 20- or 50-year plan for the development and identification of their "core values and specifying commitments"

"We understand the problem that the universities are facing as it relates to finance," said John J. Gaines, III, education chair for the Albemarle-Charlottesville branch of the NAACP. "We feel that the General Assembly has not done all that can be done to provide adequate funding. We can understand why the University is seeking additional independence. We are also concerned about the access that students will have [to higher education] if charter status is granted."

No state universities have addressed the requests posed by the NAACP resolution and have only partially addressed issues raised by the resolution, Gaines said.

"Certain conditions need to be clearly met before [charter status] is granted," he added.

University spokesperson Carol Wood, without citing specific details, said that much has changed since the NAACP issued its resolution and agreed that a strong University benefits Chamber members.

"What's good for the University is good for the Chamber," Wood said.

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