The Virginia legislature is considering legislation, SB 506, that would make the Boards of Visitors and Boards of Trustees who govern the Commonwealth’s 39 public institutions of higher education no longer accountable to taxpayers, and instead mandates that they answer primarily to the colleges and universities they oversee. This move is akin to having a private sector board of directors that answers to its CEO rather than its shareholders.
SB 506 was reported favorably out of the Senate Subcommittee on Higher Education on January 30, 2024, and awaits further consideration by the full Senate Education and Health Committee, which will take up the legislation on February 1, 2024. These back-to-back committee hearings suggest that the legislature is attempting to force the legislation through the general assembly with little-to-no-time for proper consideration of the unintended consequences of the bill. The American Council of Trustees & Alumni (ACTA) asks, why the rush?
If signed into law, SB 506 would reinforce the widely held belief that college governing boards are ineffective and only exist to rubber stamp presidents and administrators. And it would deprive Virginians of any meaningful voice on issues of consequence to them, including tuition increases. If Boards of Visitors’ primary duty is not to the Commonwealth, these institutions will inevitably fail to carry out the public interest.
The well-being of America’s colleges and universities—public and private—depend on visitors, trustees, and regents who exercise their independent judgment as fiduciaries. They cannot be beholden to the institutions they are tasked to govern.
For more information, or to request an interview, please contact ACTA at (202) 467-6787.