Among McDonnell’s appointees to these boards are a teacher, a school librarian, retired university and community college presidents, and a half-dozen members of the faculty and staff at various schools.
“It makes sense to appoint people who have experience with the industry,’’ said Bob Holsworth, who was named to the Virginia Commonwealth University board after serving as a dean and professor at VCU.
McDonnell, more than halfway through a four-year term, still appointed plenty of prominent names from political and business circles to the boards of visitors.
Carly Fiorina, a former Hewlett-Packard chief executive and an unsuccessful Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in California in 2010, was appointed to the James Madison University board. Jennifer Hunter, a senior vice president for Altria, the parent company of tobacco giant Philip Morris, was named to the Virginia State University board. John Luke, chief executive of the MeadWestvaco packaging company, who has donated $70,000 to McDonnell and his political action committee, Opportunity Virginia, will serve on the VCU board.
Boards of visitors have been under intense scrutiny since U-Va. President
Teresa Sullivan was ousted and reinstated after 18 days of upheaval in June. The key players on the U-Va. board in the attempt to remove Sullivan were Rector Helen Dragas, a Virginia Beach developer, and Vice Rector Mark Kington, an Alexandria businessman. Kington has resigned.
About 200 people sit on the boards overseeing state universities, considered among the most coveted appointments a governor can offer. While the jobs do not come with money, they do come with prestige — and oftentimes football tickets and invitations to social gatherings.
Boards wield enormous power in hiring and firing the president, setting tuition rates, managing finances and approving faculty tenure. Members can serve two four-year terms.
McDonnell said that he looks for those who share his goals of reducing college costs, increasing slots for in-state students and making schools more efficient.
“I try to appoint people of immense ability that are team players . . . people who know how to run things and get results,” the governor said in an interview last week. “And I try to appoint people that fill certain niches.”
Some critics of the U-Va. board contended that it lacked the perspective of educators, which they said contributed to the crisis.
After threatening to fire the entire board if it did not resolve the turmoil in Charlottesville, McDonnell surprised many when he reappointed Dragas. He acknowledged that she had made mistakes but said she deserved to serve to help the school heal from the leadership crisis. Dragas was first appointed to the board in 2008 by McDonnell’s Democratic predecessor, Timothy M. Kaine, now a candidate for U.S. Senate.