R.J. Kirk was wrong to resign from the Board of Visitors without proper notice
R.J. Kirk has left the building. The former Board of Visitors member — appointed by then-Gov. Tim Kaine in 2009 — tendered his resignation October 18. The public only discovered this last Thursday, the 25th, because Kirk’s farewell letter to Gov. Bob McDonnell was just revealed after a Freedom of Information Act request by The Washington Post. That, and the fact that Kirk had missed so many meetings already made it hard to notice he’d gone.
A member on the Board is appointed for a four-year term and entrusted with safekeeping the University’s interests through times both easy and difficult. Kirk, a billionaire pharmaceutical executive, had led a successful life financially but apparently neglected the Woody Allen adage during his time on the Board: that 80 percent of success is just showing up.
And show up he didn’t. The Daily Progress provides a record of Kirk’s absenteeism. Kirk attended less than 40 percent of Board meetings since his selection to office. Although Board members occasionally phone in, such a poor showing in person is plain unacceptable. This record had earned Kirk the coveted award of worst attendance in class. Fellow Board members or Kirk himself could have recognized this negligence and spoken up sooner to make the problem apparent.
But Kirk stuck around. Specifically, he played a role in the summer ouster of University President Teresa Sullivan. Email correspondence between Kirk and Rector Helen Dragas shows the former defiantly aligned with the plan to get rid of Sullivan. In one jeremiad, Kirk prophesied the irrelevance of Sullivan’s tenure, saying “an administration that is mostly bent on the preservation of the status quo is at an end.” He also praised Dragas’ leadership and dismissed “[t]he BS tolerance” of his fellow Board members.
So what finally compelled Kirk to leave this October, given his career of missing meetings and sending misguided emails? In his resignation letter, Kirk told McDonnell he will resign from the Board because he now lives in Florida. In terms of a potential locale for retirement, Kirk could not have picked better. Nevertheless, Florida is not an optimal residence for a sitting University Board member. Just as it has an in-state to out-of-state ratio for students, the Board too has requirements for how many of its own members are allowed to be from both in- and out-of-the-state. As Kirk notes, his moving to Florida could jeopardize the current allotment.
Sure, that’s a reasonable claim — if Kirk had made an impromptu decision to pack-up and move to Florida. But he could have given the Board more notice, on the one hand, before resigning in an immediate gesture. Or Kirk could have postponed his relocation until the end of his term in July. At the very least, Kirk could have retired from the Board before making such a splash in the summer. His advice to Rector Dragas, and words regarding the responsibility of University Board members, are hard to take seriously given his sudden departure.