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Posted at 07:43 PM ET, 09/13/2012

U-Va. board elects its first African-American leader, Richmond lawyer George Keith Martin


CHARLOTTESVILLE ---- The University of Virginia governing board voted unanimously Thursday evening to elect George Keith Martin, a well-known Richmond attorney and alum, as their second-in-command. Helen Dragas will continue as the Board of Visitors’s rector, as the top job is called, until her time in the position ends next summer, at which point Martin will become rector.

Martin is the university’s first Afrian-American vice rector, according to U-Va. officials. The historic university, founded by Thomas Jefferson, did not admit black students until the 1950s. When Martin attended U-Va. in the 1970s, there were only 250 African American students enrolled.

The previous vice rector, Mark Kington of Alexandria, resigned in June after helping to orchestrate a secretive ouster of U-Va. President Teresa Sullivan. The president was reinstated in late June following protests by faculty, alumni and others. Although there have been calls for Dragas to resign, she has remained, and Virginia’s governor reappointed her to another four-year term on the board.

At the board meeting Thursday, Martin was praised for his deep understanding of higher education, his previous stint on the James Madison University governing board and his signature style of tailored suits and bowties.

Martin graduated from U-Va. in 1975 and then earned his law degree from Howard University School of Law in 1978. He is a managing partner at the Richmond office of McGuireWoods LLP, where he focuses on construction, commercial real estate and local government law. Virginia Business magazine has repeatedly named Martin one of the state’s “Legal Elite.”

Martin was appointed to the U-Va. board by Gov. Robert McDonnell (R) in July 2011, and he is the co-chair of the board’s governance committee, which was formed this summer following the leadership crisis. In accepting the position, Martin said that U-Va. is “a great university” and that it will only improve in the coming years.

“The challenges facing our beloved university are not the same as before, making collaborative and strategic work even more vital to sustaining our high academic quality,” Martin said in a statement released by U-Va.

Dragas praised Martin’s “irrefutable integrity, character, and considerate manner” in a written statement. During the meeting, she told him: “I’m very much looking forward to working with you.”

After the meeting, Sullivan added: “I think he’ll do a good job. He’s a very thoughtful guy.”

(Donna St. George reported from Charlottesville; Jenna Johnson reported in Washington.)

By and Donna St. George  |  07:43 PM ET, 09/13/2012

 
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