University of Virginia Board of Visitors gains three new members

July 12, 2013

Virginia Governor Robert F. McDonnell (R) appointed three new members to the University of Virginia Board of Visitors on Friday. Now all 17 seats on the board are filled with McDonnell’s picks, although it’s unclear how or whether that will affect the way the board functions.

All three appointees are men who attended U-Va. for undergraduate or graduate school. At a time when the university is working to turn around its reputation as an elite, mostly white university that occasionally has a boys’ club feel, only four board members are women and only one represents a minority.

The new members are: Kevin J. Fay of McLean, a “trained media spokesperson” and president of the government and public affairs firm Alcalde & Fay, which has a few universities on its client list; Frank E. Genovese of Midlothian, the president of a Richmond-based investment company who once co-owned a bowling company with a current board member; and John A. Griffin of New York, a prominent hedge funder.

Griffin is among the university’s wealthiest and most influential alumni. He graduated from the U-Va. McIntire School of Commerce in 1985 and then worked for Tiger Management, one of the largest hedge funds in the world that was then run by financier Julian H. Robertson Jr. Griffin was one of the “Tiger cubs” that Robertson trained. In 1996, Griffin founded his own hedge fund, Blue Ridge Capital.

Griffin has remained highly involved with U-Va. He often teaches a popular investment course, mentors students and has financed several major projects. In about 2007, Griffin donated $22 million to the university to fund construction of a 156,000-square-foot academic complex along Thomas Jefferson’s historic Lawn. Griffin had the complex named for Robertson.

In late April, Griffin and Robertson joined U-Va. alum Paul Tudor Jones, another prominent hedge funder, at a U-Va. investment symposium. It was at this event that Jones commented on the lack of female traders at the highest levels of the industry, something that he said will not change as long as women continue to have babies. He later apologized for his comments.

Also during that event, the three men discussed the U-Va. leadership crisis of last summer in which leaders of the Board of Visitors tried and failed to oust U-Va. President Teresa Sullivan, according to a video of the event that The Washington Post gained access to following a public records request.

Griffin said he strives to separate emotion from the facts of a situation or business deal, keeping an open mind. Board members had failed to do that, he said.

“I saw a lot of emotion,” Griffin said. “I saw a lot of battles. I saw a lot of what we call escalating commitment. . . When you go into something and you are stuck in that way you tend to defend that way.”

Griffin also joked that the U-Va. Contemplative Sciences Center — which conducts research on yoga and meditation and was founded with a $12 million donation from Jones — should reach out to the board. That prompted applause.

The board has changed markedly in the year since the crisis. Of its 17 seats, only eight are filled by people who were incumbents at the time.

The board also has new leadership. Embattled leader Helen Dragas ended her term as rector on June 30. She was replaced by George Keith Martin, a Richmond lawyer, who will lead the board for the next two years. The second-in-command is now William “Bill” H. Goodwin Jr., a Richmond businessman and major U-Va. donor. (McDonnell reappointed Goodwin to the board, as expected, on Friday.)

Jenna Johnson writes about Maryland politics, including the General Assembly, the administration of Gov. Martin O'Malley and the 2014 election.
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