Virginia Gov. Glenn Yankin has hired Democratic lawmakers and some senior advocates to try to influence the search for a new chancellor for the state’s community college system. Some see his penetration in the investigation as part of a broader, heavier hand approach to overseeing state colleges and universities and trying to set their agendas and control their policies and practices.
After former Chancellor Glenn Dubois announced his retirement last summer, Yankee is pressuring Virginia State Board of Community Colleges to involve his administration in the process of finding a new chancellor for the system. The board made the relation last week and agreed to put a non-voting representative of Yankee’s administration on the search committee when he sent a strong letter to members stating that they could be “fully committed” to the investigation or relinquish their role.
“Although I know that the final decision rests with the VCCS board, our team is keen and interested in working with you to find this exceptional leader as soon as possible,” Yankin wrote in a letter last month. “Since we are starting the new financial year on July 1St., I sincerely urge you to fully commit to these challenges and opportunities. If for any reason you feel that you cannot be committed to this mission, I will accept your resignation by June 30.M With gratitude for your service. “
Douglas Garcia, chair of the incoming board and chairman of the Chancellor’s Search Committee, said in a statement last week that the board was “committed to working with the governor and his team.”
The exchange took place in March after writing an earlier letter to Nathaniel Bishop, the outgoing chair of the governing board and head of the search committee, to inform the board of its recruitment strategy and the qualifications of the chancellorship candidates. Richmond Times-Dispatch The report wrote in a letter received by the Yankee newspaper that he was concerned about the committee’s “reluctance to cooperate with our administration on our priorities in workers’ development.”
Atif Carney, a former Virginia education secretary, said Yankee’s call for board members to consider resigning was “bizarre” behavior for a state governor.
“I think Governor Yankin must be abusing his authority,” said Carney, who now serves as managing director of external affairs at Temple University’s The Hope Center for College, Community and Justice. “It’s scary for board members. I see it as a threat, and I see some legal boundaries being crossed at the moment.”
He noted that the search for a new chancellor had begun under former Governor Ralph Northam, but that Northam’s involvement in the search process was “almost zero” and that his administration provided input only if board members were asked.
Carney said the former administration also had a hands-off approach to recruitment to the state’s four-year public university.
“… At no time did we interfere in the President’s investigation,” he said. “It just can’t be heard.”
Democrat lawmakers held a press conference last Wednesday to condemn Yonkin’s behavior on board.
“The nature of his disrespect and inappropriate treatment of Commonwealth institutions is nothing less than a political takeover of apolitical government activities,” State Senator Mamie Locke, chair of the Democratic Caucus, told a news conference.
Representative Schweiler Vanvalkenberg called the move “biased empowerment” and “a shameful overrich to seize control of Virginia’s public education system.”
The governor’s office responded to an interview request by sending a written statement issued last week stating that its goal was to “align the mission and ensure that we have an agreement on where this community college system should go.”
“I have expressed to every member of the board that I have really high expectations for our community college system,” he said. “And our community college system is important for developing the kind of academic opportunities and workforce development opportunities that the Commonwealth needs. If board members are interested in leading and serving with that vision – great.”
The search process was so far twisted and twisted. The board announced in March that Russell A., president of Henry Ford College in Michigan. Cavalhuna will be the new chancellor but in the end he did not accept the post due to undisclosed reasons.
“Because of the situation beyond my control, the VCCS path has been closed, and it is clear that Michigan and Henry Ford College are where my devotion to student success can make the most difference,” Cavalhuna said in a press release that he will remain at Henry Ford. .
Faculty members at some community colleges are upset by the governor’s involvement in the chancellor’s search process and its impact on the system’s future leadership.
“It looks like Governor Yankin thinks he has more authority than is actually assigned by law,” said an instructor at Mountain Gateway Community College in Allegheny County, Virginia, who asked not to be named. “He just seems to be a heavy hand, and I’m not sure where it will go. We have a board. Just let them do their work.”
The trainer argued that the governor could already “speak a word” in selecting a future chancellor by appointing new people to the board when members naturally end their terms and his insistence on further involvement fits into a pattern of interference with the decision he should make. By leaders of state colleges, universities and the public school system. For example, Yankin sets up an email address or tip line for parents of K-12 students “any incident where they feel their fundamental rights are being violated, where their children are not being respected, where there is an inherent division in their school practice.”
According to the trainer, the tip line undermines the authority of teachers, school administrators and school board leaders who may be involved with parents in general about their concerns.
“It seems to be a theme. He takes authority from the local board, the local college, the local administration, those who know him well, and puts him in Richmond.”
But not everyone is worried about Yankin’s focus on the community college system. A longtime staff member at Virginia Western Community College said it was “somehow flattering” to see the governor invest so much in the future of the community college. The employee, who declined to be named, said that although the relationship between the system leader and Yankin had been “a rough start,” Yankin was a positive development in the end, given any kind of attention to “financially hungry” community colleges.
“I think there is a good motivation behind the development of the workforce,” the staff member said. “Because across the country, we can’t create enough staff for so much work and so much critical work. The system needs a change, I don’t agree at all.” Employees believe that the future chancellor will not be a “political patron” but will be “someone who can bring ideas to the table” and act as an “alliance maker”.
Carney said if the elected chancellor is not “well aware of best practices” for community colleges and focuses on promoting a “specific political agenda”, it could have long-term implications for the community college system and its students. He noted that Yankee’s administration has completed a range of previous Virginia Department of Education initiatives related to diversity, equality and inclusion in education. This included the EdEquityVA program to close the gap between ethnic and socio-economic achievement.
“I think if this is not checked and someone is brought in who doesn’t have a good idea of a community college system, it will be a big problem,” he said, adding that a chancellor could lead the system for a decade To spend.
In general, Yonkin has taken a special interest in higher education in the state. For example, he sent a five-page letter to college and university leaders in May, urging them to continue learning privately, prepare graduates for on-demand jobs, keep college costs low, and “create a culture that embraces free speech and freedom of inquiry.” Promise. “
Some of his specific requests in the letter were to prioritize the recruitment of teachers and staff of “different political perspectives” and to suspend tuition for the 2022-23 academic year, reiterating his request to colleges and universities in February. So far, at least 10 state colleges and universities have decided to suspend tuition, including institutions that had already planned to raise tuition for the fall. The University of Virginia, however, did not reverse the course and plans to increase graduate base tuition by 4.7 percent.
The governor this month appointed four new members to the Virginia Military Institute’s visitor board. The group, which is entirely white and mostly conservative, includes a former trustee who resigned in 2020 before a vote to remove a statue of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson from campus.
Carney noted that other Republican governors, including Ron Desantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas, have increasingly turned their attention to higher education and education to combat the broad liberal message and values in the country’s schools and universities.
“I think the only purpose is to micromanage because they basically believe that somehow liberals or others have taken over our education system and inspiration is happening there, and that’s not it at all,” he said.
Carney believes the push has intensified over the past two years in response to the epidemic, which has shed light on racial discrimination and nationwide protests for ethnic justice since the assassination of George Floyd. He sees Yankin’s intervention in the community college system as part of that trend.
“We need to continue to monitor overreach,” he said. “We need to continue to monitor the political agenda that is being inserted with this overreach in order to undo much progress over the last four years.”