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Bill to increase transparency in college leadership boards passes in House

Bill to increase transparency in college leadership boards passes in House

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James Madison University students, pictured in September, walked on the school's campus after it had announced it would send students home for a month. 

A bill to create a higher level of transparency by public college governing boards in Virginia was widely approved by the House of Delegates on Thursday.

Lawmakers passed HB 2120, sponsored by Del. Mark Keam, D-Fairfax, by a vote of 98-0.

The measure requires universities to list an email address for board members, who are appointed by the governor and have the final say on many university matters. It also instructs universities to work with the State Council for Higher Education to develop real-time electronic access to board meetings.

In addition to moving board of visitors meetings online since the pandemic, colleges have had to determine how to make meetings viewable to the public and how to allow for comment.

The bill falls short of requiring universities to list individual email addresses for each member of the board. Keam said he did not want to force colleges to list the private addresses of its members, who are not university employees. He also did not want to micromanage how colleges apply the bill.

Universities would be required to display one or multiple email addresses to which members of the public may write.

But it’s easy for colleges to give board members government-issued email addresses, said Megan Rhyne, head of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government. She questioned in a subcommittee hearing why college board members should be shielded from public contact, when numerous other public bodies across the state list the email addresses of their members.

Initially, the bill required members of boards of visitors to affirm in writing they reviewed public comment before casting a vote. But that provision was removed.

In September, the board at James Madison University conducted a meeting without reviewing the 650 public comments it had received. Keam said his bill was not about criticizing any school and was not written in response to this situation.

“This is not about pointing fingers to say something is going wrong,” Keam said.

Stacie Gordon of the Partners for College Affordability and Public Trust called the bill a positive step forward.

“The bill requires boards to post more public information than they do today, including board email addresses and the development of uniform real-time electronic access for those shut out from meetings today,” she said. “These are clear wins for students, parents and public.”

Legislators approved the bill without dissent in the subcommittee, committee and House.

ekolenich@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6109

Twitter: @EricKolenich

Reporter

Eric Kolenich writes about higher education, sports, coronavirus and protests for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. He joined the newspaper in 2009 after graduating from the University of Virginia with a degree in English. (804) 649-6109

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