Katie Farthing, Contributing Writer
The Board of Visitors at VCU met in the Scott House on Sept. 8 to introduce four new members, recently nominated by Gov. Glenn Youngkin, and help them acclimate to the board’s proceedings.
The BOV at VCU is responsible for a wide range of actions. The board oversees student and faculty legal issues, the university’s infrastructure needs, staff labor and employment. They also handle the review of university bylaws and any changes that may be necessary, according to Stephanie Hamlett, the board’s legal officer and advisor.
The board has worked hard to ensure that the needs of students and staff are heard by the governor and legislature, said VCU President Michael Rao during the meeting. He specifically thanked H. Benson Dendy III, the rector of the board, for “cornering legislators” to advocate for university needs in front of the Senate.
Dendy said the board is “very fortunate to have the new members” because each of the four bring different experiences and knowledge to the BOV. Members of the board are appointed by the current governor and then confirmed by the General Assembly.
“The concept was that the Board of Visitors would visit and make policy where they were not meant to be there permanently nor were they meant to run the university on a day to day basis,” Dendy said.
One of the goals of the BOV this year is to increase enrollment while protecting the academic standards of the university, Dendy said.
“It is a continual issue to reflect our [the university’s] values, and we actually will be taking significant action on that in our next Board of Visitors meeting,” Dendy said.
Representatives are nominated for a four-year term and are only able to serve two terms, with a four-year waiting period in between terms. Additionally, members can be removed from the board for absences, incompetence or neglect, according to Hamlett. However, no board member has ever had cause for removal at VCU, according to BOV spokesperson Matthew Conrad.
The four new members are Dale Jones, Clifton Peay, Ellen Fitzsimmons and Anthony Bedell.
Jones was previously the vice president of Hampden-Sydney College and former chancellor at Pennsylvania State University, Wilkes-Barre campus, according to the BOV website.
Peay has an extensive background as a physician and has expressed interest in strengthening the relationship between VCU and VCU Health, which is a current goal of the BOV, through ONE VCU. Dendy created a committee to focus on mending that relationship.
Fitzsimmons is the chief legal officer and head of public affairs at Truist Financial Corp. and brings legal background to the board. She oversees a wide variety of areas including legal issues and charity work, according to the BOV website.
Bedell has served under cabinet secretary Elaine Chao, the former U.S. Secretary of Transportation. Bedell also acted as rector for Radford University’s BOV.
Recently, the BOV was recognized for their transparency in July. The board received an A- overall for member accessibility, board transparency and receptiveness, according to The Partners for College Affordability and Public Trust. VCU’s BOV was ranked the highest out of 14 other Virginia universities.
The Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges awarded the BOV the 2022 John W. Nason Award for Board Leadership in recognition of their role in the removal of confederate symbols on campus, according to the January AGB press release.
The John W. Nason Award is given to university boards that have shown advancement in their academic mission and supported the success of their students, according to the AGB.
The board implemented a new policy titled “University Recognition Through Naming” that resolves to rename certain areas on campus, according to the VCU Policy Program.
The BOV began renaming buildings in January 2020 with the African American Studies academic building, now known as Gabriel’s house, in honor of an enslaved man who organized a rebellion in Richmond, according to the VCU Committee on Commemoration and Memorials.
Grant Heston, the newest vice president of university relations, has been a part of the BOV for around 18 months.
“This is one of the highest performing boards I’ve seen and you always want leaders who believe in the mission of the institution,” Heston said. “And these leaders believe in it and they push us to do the absolute best job we can.”
President Rao said he takes pride in VCU’s “culture of care” and believes that putting the needs of the students first is paramount to being “uncommon.” He thanked the BOV for their hard work in representing the needs of students and faculty, and said he has high hopes for the future of VCU.
All board meetings are open to the public, and all records of proceedings are available upon request. The next Board of Visitors meeting is on Sept. 15, beginning at 11 a.m. in the James Branch Cabell Library.