EDITORIAL: Jim Ryan was wrong to accept Northam’s appointment

Considering his recent condemnation of Northam’s actions, it is disheartening that Ryan would accept the governor’s appointment

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Northam has faced calls from across the political spectrum to step down — including from University President Jim Ryan.

Riley Walsh | Cavalier Daily

Nothing has defined contemporary Virginia politics quite like the events that have transpired over the past few weeks. At the beginning of February — which also was coincidentally black history month — racist photos emerged on Gov. Ralph Northam’s (D-Va.) page of his medical school yearbook depicting two men, one dressed in a Klan costume and another in blackface. The fallout from the picture and subsequent reaction by the Governor’s office deepened an already very serious political crisis and plunged the Democratic establishment in the Commonwealth into chaos. 

Northam has faced calls from across the political spectrum to step down — including from University President Jim Ryan. In a statement to the University community, Ryan described how troubled he was by the image, recognizing the “hurt that can come from reopening wounds, many of which remain to be fully healed.” Ryan went on to emphasize the importance of trust in a leader, stating, “If that trust is lost, for whatever reason, it is exceedingly difficult to continue to lead,” and ultimately concluded, “It seems we have reached that point.” This is a strong statement from Ryan, and any reader would reasonably conclude that he believed Northam should resign. However, in the weeks following the release of this statement Ryan accepted a nomination from the governor to Virginia’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Investment Authority. 

Originally authorized in 2009, the 17 member IEIA is an executive agency made up of a diverse group of individuals. In addition to the secretaries of technology, commerce and trade and education, two presidents from major research public colleges, one president representing the other public colleges and three non-legislative citizen members are appointed by the governor. The rest of the non-legislative citizen members are appointed by the speaker of the House and the Senate Committee on Rules. The agency’s mission is “To promote the economic development of the Commonwealth by attracting and retaining high technology jobs and businesses in Virginia.” Since its inception, it has engaged in some interesting initiatives including Virginia’s selection by the Department of Transportation to participate in in the Federal Aviation Administration Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program — which is essentially a pilot drone program. 

The IEIA seems to be engaging in interesting and innovative work for the Commonwealth, so it is understandable that Ryan would like to be involved with it, especially since the law authorizing it calls on two presidents from “major research public institutions of higher education” to serve. However, his acceptance of the position is troubling because it suggests that Ryan does not believe the governor should step down and that his statement calling for him to do so was a hollow one. If Ryan truly believed that the governor should no longer remain in office, he should not grant him legitimacy by serving as one of his nominees to the IEIA — especially as Northam has continued to resist calls to resign.

Unfortunately, when pressed on the issue, Ryan side-stepped any concerns that arose due to his appointment. When asked about the position in an interview with The Cavalier Daily, Ryan said he had not been to a single meeting and was not “entirely sure what this group is going to do,” though he was interested in the subject matter. 

This answer is concerning for a number of reasons. Primarily, it seems odd the president would accept an appointment to the IEIA when he was not informed of its purpose. But it was also troubling that he publicly brushed off any concerns about his acceptance following his condemnation of Northam.

As it stands now, there are two paths forward for Ryan. He can either rescind the acceptance of his appointment until Northam finally leaves office, or he can reverse himself and affirm that he now believes that Northam should remain Virginia’s governor — we sincerely hope he chooses the former. Make no mistake, Ryan’s actions facilitate Northam sweeping this controversy under the rug and his unwillingness to address the concerns that arise from his acceptance only compounds the issue. If Ryan truly believed that Northam had lost the confidence of the people to lead, he would not have accepted any appointment from him. As Ryan said himself, trust in a leader is important, so he of all people should understand that the University community deserves a more complete explanation on why he felt it would be appropriate to accept this nomination. 

The Cavalier Daily Editorial Board is composed of the Executive Editor, the Editor-in-Chief, the two Opinion Editors and their Senior Associate. The board can be reached at eb@cavalierdaily.com.

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