Press Releases | Trusteeship

ACTA Senior Program Officer Nick Down Testifies On Virginia Senate Bill 506

February 20, 2024

On Monday, February 19, 2024, Nick Down, senior program officer for trustee & government affairs at the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), testified before the Virginia House of Delegates’ Higher Education Subcommittee, urging members to oppose Senate Bill 506.

Sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Scott A. Surovell, the bill passed the Virginia Senate on February 12 by a vote of 20–19. The bill undermines the authority of governing boards by subordinating the board to the university president. Public trustees serve as duly constituted representatives of the people, and thus, they are called to consider the common good rather than merely the immediate interests of their institutions. Senate Bill 506 subverts this authority by diverting the board’s primary duty away from the people of Virginia.

Mr. Down’s testimony reads in part: “Since 1995, ACTA has worked with over 23,000 higher education trustees across the country to ensure that students receive an intellectually rich, high-quality college education at an affordable price. We believe that the strength of America’s higher education system relies on engaged governing boards that appreciate their independent role. But this bill makes one crucial change to Virginia statute that would undermine this very idea.

“Title 23 in section 1304 of the Code of Virginia makes clear that the boards of visitors’ ‘primary duty [is] to the citizens of the Commonwealth.’ Senate Bill 506 would replace this by reorienting visitors’ primary duty to the university. Let me be clear—this would stand the idea of public oversight on its head. A corporate board has a duty to its shareholders. [Similarly], a public university board has a duty to its stakeholders, in this case the taxpayers of Virginia. When the interests of the university conflict with those of the public, the public’s needs must come first, and the job of determining that is that of the boards of visitors.

“ACTA understands the desire to protect Virginia’s boards of visitors from undue political interference, and we agree that for trustees to fulfill their fiduciary duties, they must be independent actors. However, I urge you to consider an alternative way to secure trustees’ independence, as their duty to serve the Commonwealth should not be misconstrued as a duty to obey any political actor.” Listen to Mr. Down’s full testimony here.

MEDIA CONTACT: Gabrielle Anglin


Launched in 1995, we are the only organization that works with alumni, donors, trustees, and education leaders across the United States to support liberal arts education, uphold high academic standards, safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus, and ensure that the next generation receives an intellectually rich, high-quality college education at an affordable price.

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