Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin has angered state Democratic lawmakers and some higher education advocates by trying to influence the search for a new chancellor for the state’s community college system. Some see his intervention in the search as part of a broader, tougher approach to overseeing public colleges and universities and trying to set the agenda and control their policies and practices.
Youngkin is pushing for the Virginia State Board of Community Colleges to involve his administration in the process of finding a new chancellor for the system after Glenn DuBois, the former chancellor, announced his retirement last summer. The board relented last week and agreed to include a non-voting representative of the Youngkin administration on the search committee after he sent a strongly worded letter to members telling them they could fully “accept” the search or leave their roles.
“While I know the final decision rests with the VCCS Board, our team is excited and eager to work with you to find this exceptional leader as soon as possible,” Youngkin wrote in letter the last month. “As we start the new fiscal year on July 1ststr, I sincerely request you to fully embrace this challenge and opportunity. If for any reason you feel that you cannot commit to this mission, I will accept your resignation until June 30thousand with gratitude for the service.”
Douglas Garcia, the board’s new chairman and chairman of the chancellor’s search committee, said in a statement last week that the board is “looking forward to working with the governor and his team.”
The exchange comes after the governor wrote a letter in March to Nathaniel Bishop, chairman of the board and head of the search committee, asking him to update him on the board’s hiring strategy and the qualifications of candidates for chancellor. Richmond Times-Dispatch informed. Youngkin wrote in a letter obtained by the newspaper that he was concerned about the committee’s “reluctance to engage with our administration on our workforce development priorities.”
Atif Carney, a former Virginia education secretary, said Youngkin’s call for board members to consider resigning was “strange” behavior for the state’s governor.
“Governor Youngkin is certainly abusing his authority,” said Carney, who now serves as executive director of external affairs at Temple University’s Hope Center for College, Community and Justice. “It scares the board members. I see it as a threat and I see some legal lines being crossed at this point.”
He noted that the search for a new chancellor began under former Gov. Ralph Northam, but that Northam was “virtually not involved” in the search process, with his administration only providing input when asked by board members.
Carney said the previous administration also used a lackadaisical approach to hiring at the state’s four-year public universities.
“…We in no way interfered in the presidential search,” he said. – This is simply unheard of.
Democratic state lawmakers held a press conference last Wednesday to condemn Youngkin’s treatment of the board.
“His disrespect and inappropriate behavior towards Commonwealth institutions is nothing more than a political takeover of apolitical government operations,” she said on press conference.
Delegate Schuyler VanValkenburg called the move “armed partisanship” and a “shameful overreach of control over Virginia’s public education systems.”
The governor’s administration responded to a request for an interview with a written statement released last week that said his goal was to “align the mission and make sure we have agreement on where this community college system should go. “.
“I have expressed to every board member that I have very high expectations for our college system,” he said. “And our community college system is critical to developing the kinds of academic and workforce development opportunities that the Commonwealth needs. If board members are willing to lead and serve in accordance with that vision, that’s great.”
The search process has had twists and turns so far. Board announced in March, it was announced that Russell A. Cavalhuna, president of Henry Ford College in Michigan, would become the new chancellor, but he ultimately did not take the position for unknown reasons.
“Due to circumstances beyond my control, the VCCS path has been closed, and it is clear that my dedication to student success can make the most difference at Michigan and Henry Ford College,” Cavalhuna said in press release announcing that he would remain at Henry Ford.
Some community college faculty are concerned about the governor’s involvement in the chancellor search and its implications for the system’s future leadership.
“It looks like Gov. Youngkin feels he has more power than he’s actually given by law,” said an instructor at Mountain Gateway Community College in Allegany County, Va., who spoke on condition of anonymity. “He just seems tough and I’m not sure where it’s going to go. We’ve got the board. Just let them do their job.”
The instructor argued that the governor can already “have a say” in choosing the next chancellor by appointing new people to the board as members naturally end their terms, and his insistence on greater involvement fits into a pattern of meddling in decisions that must be made by state college leaders. , universities and public schools. For example, Youngkin set up an email addressor a tip line for parents of K-12 students to report “any instances where they feel their basic rights are being violated, their children are being disrespected, or there are divisive practices in their schools.”
According to the instructor, the advice undermined the authority of teachers, school administrators and school board leaders, who would normally be speaking to parents about their concerns.
“That seems to be the theme… He’s taking power away from the local council, the local college, the local administration, the people who know best, and putting it in Richmond.”
But not everyone is concerned about Youngkin’s focus on the community college system. A longtime staff member at Virginia Western Community College said it’s “kind of commendable” to see the governor so invested in the future of community colleges. The employee, who preferred not to be named, said that while the relationship between system leaders and Youngkin got off to a “rough start,” the attention given to Youngkin by the “financially starved” community college is ultimately a positive development.
“I think there’s a good workforce development motivation behind it,” the employee said. “Because across the country, we can’t create enough employees for that many jobs and that many mission-critical jobs. I absolutely disagree that the system needs an overhaul.” The staffer believes that the future chancellor will not be a “political patronage” but “someone who can bring ideas to the table” and serve as a “coalition builder”.
Carney said that if the chancellor-elect “is not well versed in the best practices” of community colleges and is focused on advancing “a specific political agenda,” it could have long-term, troubling consequences for the community college system and its students. He noted that the Youngkin administration has halted a number of previous Virginia Department of Education initiatives related to diversity, equity and inclusion in education. This included the EdEquityVA program to close racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps.
“I think if it goes unchecked and someone is brought in who doesn’t have a good understanding of the community college system, it’s going to be a big problem,” he said, noting that a chancellor can lead the system for a decade, longer than a governor’s term. in office.
In general, Youngkin was particularly interested in higher education in the state. For example, he sent a letter on five pages to college and university leaders in May with a list of priorities including continuing personalized learning, preparing graduates for in-demand jobs, reducing the cost of college education and creating “a culture that embraces free inquiry and a commitment to free speech.”
Some of his specific requests in the letter included prioritizing the hiring of faculty and staff with “diverse political views” and a tuition freeze for the 2022-23 school year, echoing a request he made to colleges and universities in February. So far, at least 10 public colleges and universities have decided to freeze tuition, including institutions that have already scheduled tuition increases for the fall. The University of Virginia, however, has not changed course and will raise the base tuition fee for students by 4.7 percent to the plan.
The governor too appointed four new members to the Virginia Military Institute Board of Visitors this month. The group, which is all-white and largely conservative, includes a former trustee who resigned just before a 2020 vote to remove a statue of Confederate general Stonewall Jackson from campus.
Carney noted that other republican governorsincluding Ron DeSantis in Florida and Greg Abbott in Texas, are increasingly turning their attention to higher education and education in general to combat what they perceive as liberal messages and values permeating the nation’s schools and universities.
“I think the only intention is to micromanage because they fundamentally believe that somehow the liberals or whatever have taken over our education system and that education is happening, which is not the case at all,” he said.
Carney believes that push has intensified over the past two years as a result of the backlash against the pandemic, which has drawn attention to racial inequality, and the nationwide protests for racial justice that followed the killing of George Floyd. He sees Youngkin’s intervention in the community college system as part of that trend.
“We need to continue to monitor the excess,” he said. “We need to continue to watch the political agenda that is being pushed through this overreach to undo a lot of the progress that has been made in the last four years.”