The Virginia Commission on Higher Education Board Appointments: The Impact of Legislative Reform on Public University Governance

Carolyn Chappell

Advisor: John S O'Connor, PhD, School of Integrative Studies

Committee Members: Linda Schwartzstein, Victoria Salmon

June 28, 2013, 02:00 PM to 11:00 AM


Recent national attention to issues of access, cost, and institutional performance in our public institutions of higher education have included numerous critiques and calls for reform at the level of board appointments and board governance.  There has been considerable attention in both scholarly and popular media regarding governance issues including shoddy political appointment practices, lack of orientation and preparation, run-away boards, arrogant chief executives, and the negative effects of under-prepared, under-qualified trustees.  These concerns have persisted as national, even congressional, attention has turned to high college costs, student debt-load, and the use of university endowments to offset costs to students and their families. These concerns were amplified by the recent economic recession and its impact on higher education. The use of appointment commissions or councils (whose responsibility is to recommend board member appointments based on merit) has been identified as a way in which to improve higher education governance. This study will examine the context surrounding the establishment of the 2002 Virginia Commission on Higher Education Board Appointments (which will be referred to as the Commission), and will explore its impact on subsequent boards of visitors at the four largest public universities in the Commonwealth.  The question, “Has board governance in Virginia state-supported higher education institutions changed with the advent of the Commission?” will be investigated. The methodology employed and the conclusions reached may inform and encourage other state systems to consider similar reforms in trustee appointment and will add to the literature on best practices in higher education governance.