The University of Virginia’s Faculty Senate, facing pressure to change the way it appoints faculty members to Board of Visitors, has delayed a proposed bylaw amendment that would offer up a list of appointees for the the Board’s approval.
Currently, the senate picks a member to sit on the Board of Visitors as a non-voting representative of the faculty. The Board, however, has been asking the senate to change its bylaws and to present a list of faculty members from which the Board would choose.
“Even though there’s no state law requirement for a faculty representative, unlike the requirements that there be a student representative, the faculty represents an important constituency within the university community,” UVa Rector Whittington W. Clement said. “For that reason, we have felt it beneficial to the board to have faculty input. The only difference between the process for student selection and the process requested for faculty representation is that, in the latter case, we’re not required to have any representation.”
Student representatives apply for a position on the board before being nominated. Under a bylaw change proposed in August, UVa computer science professor and faculty senator Aaron Bloomfield suggested the senate elect a slate of three potential representatives to present to the Board of Visitors. The board would then pick from the list the faculty member of its choice.
The faculty representative would serve for one school year, keeping the same term established under current bylaws.
The current bylaw states that an individual is annually elected by the senate. The senate accepts nominations in December, and the Board approves both the non-voting faculty and student representatives in March of the following year.
The Board has been pressuring the faculty senate to make the change since 2018 and could, if members choose, decide to eliminate the faculty representative entirely.
The Board has been adamant about making this change because it wants to choose a faculty representative "that is a good fit for the board’s priorities for the year," according to Clement. He said that the member would have "the experience and breadth of knowledge about faculty matters to provide good input on other faculty member’s positions on certain issues."
This issue has now resurfaced for the third time since the Board of Visitors started allowing a faculty representative to sit on the board in 2012.
“I won’t be here next year,” Clement said when asked if the faculty representative may be eliminated if the senate does not comply with the board’s request.
The proposal to let the board choose its faculty member did not sit well with all senators.
“We should be able to choose the person we want,” said senator and professor of politics and public policy James Savage.
Others say some representation is better than none.
“We have two choices: We can select three potential representatives or we can give up our seat,” said senator and law professor Andy Block. “Rescinding the ability to hold this seat only hurts us.”
The proposal was presented Tuesday to the faculty senate in a meeting that found not only conflict—between keeping a position on the board, or battling what some see as the board’s over-reaching—but the difficulty of making a major decision in a short amount of time.
Faculty Senate bylaws require that, when a senator proposes a change to a standing bylaw, it must be presented to the senate executive council before being written up and sent to the entire senate.
Once the formal bylaw is sent to the senate, the group discusses the implications of the change at a monthly meeting. The senate then meets another time to take a vote on the proposal, which requires 60% of the senate to vote in favor of the amendment.
In the case of the board member bylaw amendment, heard at a Tuesday senate meeting, the full senate did not receive the bylaw change proposals until August. Senate Chair Tish Jennings did not make time to discuss the proposed change to the election process at the September meeting; Tuesday’s meeting was the first time the full senate had the opportunity to discuss and debate the amendment.
The proposal was tabled after the majority of senators present voted in favor of one senator’s motion to do so. The vote served as a notable indication that the senate has not yet reached a consensus on the fifth bylaw change proposal.
“We’re concerned because there seem to be other motives for this,” said former senator, education professor and president of the UVa chapter of the American Association of University Professors Walter Heinecke. “Technically, there should have been time to discuss those four other proposals at today’s meeting, but the chair didn’t use enough to discuss them and that left some things unclear.”
Heinecke has been helping senate and non-senate faculty members mobilize to reject changes to the election process, while rallying other Virginia academic associations to join the cause.
On Oct. 22, the Faculty Senate of Virginia Association adopted a unanimous vote that maintained its position in “support of the accepted practice that faculty representatives to the Board of Visitors should be elected by the faculty.”
On Oct. 24, a group 18 faculty senators along with another group of non-senate faculty sent the entire senate a letter objecting to the proposed change.
Members of the Campus Workers 4 Democracy organization also attended Tuesday’s meeting with signs supporting the current method of choosing a representative to the board.
"We’re here in solidarity with the faculty," said UVa PhD candidate Laura Ornée. "We see the proposal from the Board of Visitors as them trying to strong-arm a faculty into diminishing real representation.”
Ornée said she believes most members of the faculty senate oppose the change.
“I know there’s a lot of unity in that room because none of the faculty like this proposal. They’re just afraid that the Board of Visitors is going to take away all representation and we are here to show that we take a strong stand against that kind of bullying," she said.
Senators who object to the bylaw change consider the outcome from Tuesday’s meeting to be a win, even though the group did not come to a formal conclusion. The full senate simply did not have enough time to consider all of the proposals before them in a two-hour window.
The Faculty Senate chair is left to decide whether the group will vote on the proposed Board of Visitors representative bylaw change at the next monthly meeting or a sooner special meeting.
There is a regularly scheduled meeting of the a senate Executive Council on Nov. 11 at 1 p.m. and a regularly scheduled senate meeting on Nov. 18 at 1 p.m. Anyone can attend these public meetings, either in-person or by Zoom.
After all was said and done, the senate only spent enough time discussing one issue on the agenda to hold a vote. The chair proposed that the senate adopt a resolution opposing Board of Visitors member Bert Ellis’ behavior and opposing his appointment to the Board of Visitors.
The statement opposes Ellis’ “behavior, which neither reflects the mission statement of the University of Virginia nor fosters the safe space requisite for free investigation, deliberation and exploration of ideas.”
The board has been in a controversial spotlight this year since Governor Glenn Youngkin appointed four new conservative members. Ellis has been the subject of criticism within the UVa community and beyond because of his discriminatory treatment of people from marginalized communities during his time as a student in the 1970s, as well as his recent comments about the university’s diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.
In an original post on the Jefferson Council blog, Ellis wrote that Youngkin and others were "very interested in re-focusing UVa and other colleges and K-12 schools in Virginia on educating students and not brainwashing them with the Woke/CRT/DEI mantras that have overtaken UVa and almost all other colleges and K-12 schools in Virginia and across our country."
In discussion about Ellis’ concerning behavior, some senators referenced a 2020 incident when Ellis approached a student’s room on the UVa Lawn, armed with a razor blade to cut a sign off the door that read "F**K UVa."
The senators had the opportunity to discuss the resolution at-length and are expected to conduct a digital vote that will end Friday.