The more you know
The Board of Visitors should leave open channels of information between itself and the public
The Board of Visitors’ first draft of its Statement of Expectations was met with ire from the public. Of particular concern was language essentially forbidding public dissent. Now the Board has released a new draft striking such language from the document, leaving members free to publicly dissent, as long as they recognize that only the Rector can act as spokesperson for the Board as a whole.
The Board has drafted this Statement of Expectations in order to comply with a 2013 law passed by the Virginia General Assembly, which now requires all the state’s public universities to ensure all of their board members abide by a code of ethics. The law was passed a year after the ousting and ultimate reinstatement of University President Teresa Sullivan, which threatened the University’s accreditation.
Though this policy was ultimately meant to alleviate concerns still lingering from the Sullivan ouster, the first draft seemed to retain the secretive attitudes that earned the Board so much criticism during that crisis. To say a board member should “at the very least not openly oppose” a policy once it is enacted promotes a kind of groupthink and does a disservice to the public by only telling a single story.
Though Visitors are not elected officials, they still owe a duty to the public — to be open and honest about the issues the Board discusses. Though Visitors do not often publicly dissent, the possibility that they will do so and the occasional open disagreement reassures the public that healthy debate is occurring before enacting policies. The best decisions are reached not when a group of people who already has the same ideas comes to a consensus with no consideration for alternative viewpoints. The best decisions are reached when a variety of opinions are expressed and considered. The presence of the student representative also ensures the student perspective will contribute.
The Board also has a duty to listen to the public’s concerns and take them into account when drafting their policies. Such call and response occurred when the Board edited their Statement of Expectations, and we hope to see this behavior continue in the future.
The Statement of Expectations will hopefully improve the Board’s quality of leadership. Two key words in the new document are “collective responsibility.” Though all members of a body of leadership may not be in unanimous agreement, they still must be united in purpose. It is a tricky balance, but a necessary one, in order to respect a diversity of viewpoints and still progress. We hope the Board will learn from past mistakes, continue to take the public’s viewpoint into account, and set a positive vision for the University’s future.