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Couric criticizes Gilmore policies

State Sen. Emily Couric, D-Charlottesville, Del. Mitch Van Yahres, D-Charlottesville, and House of Delegates candidate Ed Wayland (D) held a press conference on the steps of the Rotunda yesterday, lambasting Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III's (R) administration for abridging the independence of Virginia's higher education school boards.

The press conference was held in response to remarks made by Education Secretary Wilbert Bryant in a meeting with the governor's Blue Ribbon Commission Wednesday. Newspapers reported that Bryant told higher education boards of visitors to put Gilmore's priorities over those of school presidents, specifically by scrutinizing schools' spending and academic performance.

David Adams, special assistant to the secretary, said Bryant was only describing administration policy.

"What the Secretary did [Wednesday] was remind the boards what the governor has stated, and that is that the boards are stewards of public resources and the public's trust, and they're accountable to the people," Adams said.

Press conference speakers painted a much darker picture.

Van Yahres said state college and university boards are losing control to the governor, who he said is "a dictator at this point."

He added that the University's Board of Visitors "has shown a lack of strength" in resisting what he said is Gilmore's overreaching.

Couric said she felt "dismay" when she read the newspaper headlines describing Bryant's speech about Gilmore's policy.

The Board would be "parrots for the governor's own priorities," she said.

Wayland said he agrees with Couric and Van Yahres, and implied the University is under attack by Gilmore's agenda.

"In this case loyalty to the governor is raised above the requirements of the law," he said.

However, some University Board of Visitors members, said they see the governor's policies in a positive light.

The governor appoints Board members.

Board Rector John P. Ackerly III said Bryant's announcement simply followed the line laid out by Gilmore throughout his administration, one of holding schools accountable to the taxpayers.

"The governor has said all along that he expects board members to be accountable, to act as fiduciaries, to do their homework, and not to be rubber stamps," Ackerly said. "I don't think that Secretary Bryant was saying anything dramatically different from this."

Board member Terrace Ross said he also shares the governor's views on higher-education oversight.

"The Gilmore administration is trying to send the message that it is our obligation to scrutinize the budgets of colleges and universities to make sure that the taxpayer is getting the most bang for its buck," Ross said.