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What do we know about the newest members on UVa's Board of Visitors?

In the coming week, the University of Virginia’s governing body will convene for the first time this academic year.

And while the four new members appointed to the Board of Visitors by Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin are all likely to have a more conservative bent, they have kept a much lower profile than their more controversial predecessor Bert Ellis, known for his run-in with a UVa student on Grounds and declaration of a “battle royale for the soul of UVa.”

Appointed at the end of June, the newest members of the board have at least one thing in common: They are all major donors to Youngkin.

Paul Harris, Paul Manning, John Nau and Rachel Sheridan donated nearly three quarters of a million dollars combined to Youngkin’s campaign and political action committee.

If their campaign contributions weren’t enough. Statements and the voting histories of the appointees shed light on what they might support for the next four years.

Reached by The Daily Progress, Harris was blunt when asked if he had anything to say to quell the fears of more liberal members of the UVa community: “No.”

Harris became the first Black Republican elected to the House of Delegates since Reconstruction in 1997. He also was floated as a possible successor to Republican Party Chairman Jeff Frederick in 2009.

“I just want to serve the citizens of the commonwealth the best I can,” Harris told The Daily Progress.

Before he does that, though, Harris said he needs to learn more about what the board actually does.

“I think board communications can be improved,” Harris said. “I really want to understand what the board does for UVa.”

That’s despite Harris’ votes on multiple bills affecting the operations of state colleges and boards of visitors across the commonwealth.

During his time in the House of Delegates, Harris co-sponsored a bill in 1998 that requested that the boards at all public universities in the commonwealth make American history a requirement for a bachelor’s degree.

He also voted to require Virginia public universities reduce their tuition multiple times and work to make college more affordable.

Manning, for his part, donated $240,119 to the governor and his PAC. Manning is the chair and CEO of PBM Capital Group. He also recently gave UVa a $100 million gift to help found the Paul and Diane Manning Institute for Biotechnology.

This gift, along with thousands of stocks traded days before his appointment, have raised questions, even among some more conservative UVa community members.

“Board appointments are like anything else in politics. Money gets you influence and power, and if you give enough you can get positions you want,” Jim Bacon, executive director of influential conservative UVa alumni group the Jefferson Council, told The Daily Progress. “This is no different.”

Manning previously served on the board of UVa’s Strategic Planning Committee, the UVa Health Foundation board and the President’s Advisory Committee board. However, he never attended UVa.

“I think we should have people who are actually Wahoos,” Bacon said. “He has done plenty to be connected to UVa, but he isn’t a Wahoo.”

Manning declined to comment to The Daily Progress on his recent appointment.

Unlike the others, Nau is not a new fixture on the BOV. He served from 2011 to 2015. That means he sat on the board amid outrage over “A Rape on Campus.” The now-retracted Rolling Stone story details a purported sexual assault at UVa, since proven false.

Nau holds a history degree from UVa. He currently serves as the chair and CEO of Silver Eagle Beverages and also is the chair of the Texas Historical Commission. Like the other three appointees, he donated heavily to Youngkin and his PAC to the tune of $300,000.

He could not be reached for comment.

The beliefs and goals of Sheridan might be the biggest mystery of all the appointments. Aside from donating to Youngkin — some $25,000 — she has remained tight-lipped on her beliefs.

Since graduating from UVa Law School in 1998, she has worked in capital markets transactions, mainly representing private equity funds and “their portfolio companies, issuers, investment banks and public companies in a wide range of matters,” according to Kirkland & Ellis, where she is a partner.

At UVa, she is the vice president of the Virginia Athletics Foundation. The Rachel Ward Sheridan Scholarship, awarded to a student who participates on the university’s track and field team, is also named after her.

Sheridan did not respond to repeated requests for comment from The Daily Progress.

All four appointments highlight the influence of the Commission on Higher Education Board Appointments led by Edwin Feulner.

Fuelner is the founder and former president of the Heritage Foundation, an influential conservative think tank.

The board has no website and is not much discussed. Yet, two appointments have come from the body over the past two years.

Douglas Wetmore was on the board until his appointment to UVa’s Board of Visitors in 2022. He has since been replaced by Harris, now also appointed to the Board of Visitors.

“What we want to do is get back to what basic education is supposed to be and get away from the notion that’s so commonly reported in both history and civics,” Fuelner told The Daily Progress. “This goes back to K-12 education where history and civics are so grossly underachieved by primary students as they go through the system so that by the time they get to college, they’re not really prepared for, or even knowing, what the whole American experiment is all about and why and how everything they’re going to be discussing and learning all fits together.”

Noticeably absent from the appointees and the appointment process is one Joel Gardner.

Gardner was long-rumored to be one of Youngkin’s picks and even left a leadership position at the Jefferson Council so there would be no “conflicts of interest,” one Jefferson Council insider told The Daily Progress under the condition of anonymity.

Gardner was not particularly interested in discussing why he wasn’t chosen, but he did have some words of advice for those that were.

“I hope the Board of Visitors takes corrective action to ensure that free speech is protected on campus from woke individuals,” Gardner told The Daily Progress. “They need to do their best to stop liberalism from infiltrating.”

The first Board of Visitors meeting of the academic year will be held Sept. 14 and 15 at UVa.


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