Why Does UVA’s Board Need a Gag Rule?

Apparently the University of Virginia, which back in 2012 got into a lot of trouble when the school’s Board of Visitors tried to fire its popular president for her lack of enthusiasm for an ambiguous plan to move toward more technology and Internet-based instruction, had a new plan to try to avoid controversy.

Under new rules made public by the Washington Post, members of the school’s board would no longer be allowed to speaking publically if they had any object to decisions officially made by the board. So, like, even if you voted against a policy you couldn’t say you voted against it if the measure ultimately passes.

According to the Post article:

A draft of the “statement of expectations,” which was discussed at a committee meeting Wednesday, suggested that board members not be allowed to speak out publicly against board decisions or speak to the media without the approval of the board’s leader.

State Sen. J. Chapman “Chap” Petersen (D-Fairfax), who graduated from University of Virginia’s law school, called it particularly troubling that the board would consider instituting the policy at a university founded by Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence.

UVA

I’m not really sure what Jefferson has to do with this (aside from being a constant reference made by UVA alumni), but the gag order does seem a little silly.

Now, granted, it is sort of bad form to critique a decision made by a body you serve on once it’s been made, but an official prohibition? Come on.

The greater point made by Petersen is that UVA, after all, is a public university. It exists for the benefit of the Commonwealth of Virginia, not just the board, faculty, students, and alumni of the college. The citizens of the state should know what’s going on at their flagship state university.

It would, however, sure be easier for the Board of Visitors to manage public relations, and avoid disasters like that of 2012’s failed firing, if no one was allowed to reveal what had transpired in board meetings without “the approval of the board’s leader.”

Facing criticism, the university’s rector “promised significant revisions” to amend the policy.

The board may have paid as much as $200,000 to a private consultant, Dick Chait, to develop this controversial new rule. [Image via]

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer