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Full Board discusses divestment referendum, student self-governance at Board of Visitors meeting

The Board also voted to adopt all 20 resolutions approved by individual committees, including the renaming of the Alderman Library

<p>At the request of an unnamed Board member, the vote to confirm the renaming of the Alderman Library to the Edgar Shannon Library was singled out and voted on last. &nbsp;</p>

At the request of an unnamed Board member, the vote to confirm the renaming of the Alderman Library to the Edgar Shannon Library was singled out and voted on last.  

The Full Board convened Friday during the Board of Visitors meeting to discuss numerous topics, among them being the recent U.Va. Apartheid Divest Referendum calling for the University to submit itself to an external audit of its investment portfolio and divest from any companies “engaging in or profiting from the State of Israel’s apartheid regime.” After a closed session, the Board voted to confirm action items approved in the individual committee meetings, and singled out the renaming of the Alderman Library to the Edgar Shannon Library for an individual roll call vote. All resolutions were ultimately approved.

President Jim Ryan took the beginning of the Leadership Discussion of the Full Board meeting to speak on the recent divestment referendum that students voted on in the University’s Spring 2024 election cycle. Ryan said that the administration does not take positions on referendums and that in the past he has remained silent until a referendum passed to state his own opinion, and that he wanted to do the same on this occasion. He said he would have voted against the referendum.

“I say this to let you know that if I were a student, I wouldn’t have voted in favor of this referendum,” Ryan said. “I don’t believe the University should use its investment strategy to weigh in on one side of such a complex and deeply contested set of issues.”

In the recent Spring 2024 elections, students had the opportunity to vote in favor or against the divestment referendum. The referendum called on the University’s Investment Management Company, which oversees the investment of the University’s $13.6 billion endowment, to submit itself to an external audit and divest from companies committing human rights abuses. The referendum, which passed with 67.87 percent of participants voting in favor, is non-binding, but hopes to serve as a call to action for the University.

Ryan also recognized the immense pain that the University community who may have family or friends that have been affected by the war are going through and said that what is important to him is students knowing that the University cares about them.

“I appreciate the immense pain and suffering this war is causing on our Grounds among students with friends or family in Israel or Gaza,” Ryan said. “What is important to me is that our students know that we care about all of them, that we acknowledge the pain of those who have lost loved ones in Israel or in Gaza [and] that we are not selective in our empathy.”

Later in the meeting, Board member Bert Ellis said he wanted to revisit the referendum in relation to the broader topic of antisemitism and the safety of Jewish students on Grounds. Rector Robert Hardie told him to save any comments on the topic for the upcoming closed sessions, but Ellis continued to try and deliver a statement.

“We have a huge antisemitic problem at this University,” Ellis said. 

After the argument persisted, Hardie continued to say that the conversation should only continue in the upcoming closed session.

“What you are discussing right now is a student safety issue and it will be discussed in closed session,” Hardie said. “Hard stop.”

Ellis said he would bring the topic back up in a public session later, for which Hardie said he would be reprimanded. Ellis then told Hardie to “bring it on.” The two were quickly interrupted by a formal call to move to the closed session.

After the closed session, the Board met for the final session, where they voted to confirm resolutions approved in preceding individual committee meetings. Of 20 resolutions, 19 were grouped together and passed unanimously. At the request of an unnamed Board member, the vote to confirm the renaming of the Alderman Library to the Edgar Shannon Library was singled out and voted on last.

The vote was done using a roll call method, and 14 of 16 Board members simply responded “yes” to the proposal. Board member Paul C. Harris abstained. When called upon for his turn to vote, Board member Stephen P. Long said yes, but only after noting that he had reservations due to the “process.” Long gave no details on what process he was referring to.   

Student self-governance was a prevalent topic throughout the meeting. Fourth-year Batten student Lillian Rojas, who serves as the Board’s student member, acknowledged the importance of the ideal of student self-governance as it pertains to recent events on Grounds, particularly relating to the discourse around the Israel-Hamas war. She noted how student leaders in the Jewish and Muslim communities on Grounds have come together in the face of hardship through the revitalization of the Virginia Interfaith Coalition, a Contracted Independent Organization that works to bring students from different faith backgrounds together and facilitate discussion to find common ground.

“It speaks to the strength of the University that students are still willing to engage in such a complicated, heart-wrenching discourse,” Rojas said. “It is these students who have [demonstrated] the resilience of U.Va. students by [leading] their communities through the pain and hardships, and tremendous bravery by finding shared humanity in their shared grief.”

Rojas continued to speak on the value of student self-governance, stating that she can attest to the existence of the Jeffersonian ideal within students on Grounds.

“Student self governance is the heart of the educational mission of the University of Virginia,” Rojas said. “I ask you to remember that the principle of student self governance exists for the moments it is tested, not the moments when we are unified.”

Rojas will end her term as the Board’s student member in June, when she will then be succeeded by Lisa Kopelnik, current third-year College student and University Judiciary Committee chair.

Hardie also recognized the importance of student self-governance to the University. As a Darden faculty member and an alumnus of both the College and Darden, he called this ideal one of the University’s greatest attributes.

“Student self-governance is what sets us apart. I would argue that it makes the U.Va. student experience the best in the nation,” Hardie said. “We should embrace this and applaud it, recognizing that free speech is a right that extends to everyone, regardless of whether we agree with the content of the message.”

With the meeting being subject to Virginia’s open meeting laws, members of the public were entitled to sit in. The meeting was attended by a group of protesters, including graduate students and representatives of the United Campus Workers of Virginia, whose presence was noted by Ian Baucom, executive vice president and University provost, towards the end of the Full Board morning session. 

The protesters, who handed out flyers to meeting attendees and tourists, were there to bring attention to the issue of late and incomplete payments for graduate student workers, specifically for stipends that are used by graduate students to live and work at the University.

Baucom addressed the protestors, who remained largely silent while holding signs and sitting along the walls, thanking them for their presence and saying that he would be happy to follow up with them at a later time.

“[Graduate workers] are central to our research and educational mission,” Baucom said. “I don’t think that this is the venue to get into all the details, but I want to thank you for [being here].”

The Board also discussed other topics in their Friday meeting, including a presentation on the Pipelines and Pathways program, which helps individuals from the Charlottesville community find entry-level work opportunities, and a conversation on the increased use of artificial intelligence at the University, with Brie Gertler, vice provost for academic affairs, presenting on the matter and taking questions from the rest of the Board.

Gertler spoke on the implementation of AI technology into more classrooms, and the goal for students to have sufficient experience working with A.I. once they graduate from the University. To assist in this, she said that some faculty members on Grounds will serve as mentors for their colleagues on the use of AI in the classroom.

“We’re talking about how to make sure that students graduate with A.I. literacy regardless of what school [in the University] they attend,” Gertler said. “We are going to be selecting a number of ‘faculty ambassadors’ who will commit to doing extra work to understand artificial intelligence in their disciplines, to then serve as resources for their colleagues.”

The Board of Visitors meeting ended with the Summary and Final Session Friday afternoon. The Board will reconvene June 5 to June 6.

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