Since the next meeting of the JMU Board of Visitors is now less than one month away, we felt it appropriate to point out some shortcomings of the JMU BOV related to access and transparency. However, we would like to note that JMU has begun doing several things to improve access and transparency to the BOV. While the University currently posts the agendas for the full board and committees, they didn't begin doing so until 2021. Similarly, they only began posting minutes for committees in 2021. The University has also updated the BOV website to include the Board member's biographical information, when they were appointed, and which Governor appointed them. Additionally, the BOV has posted the membership of each committee, which was not previously posted publicly, and continued streaming the full board meeting post-COVID.
While these additional pieces of information provide a modicum of transparency to the BOV, one could hardly say the Board is open, accessible, and transparent with the public relative to other public universities in the Commonwealth.
For example, the College of William and Mary provides a host of information on their BOV website including archived board meeting agendas, minutes, presentations, press releases, etc., dating back to 2004. Similarly, UVA has a BOV website that includes the full agenda for the meeting with every supporting document that would be presented to board members publicly accessible on their website. In addition to posting all documents, UVA also posts a UVA email for every single board member, not just a generic email monitored by one or two people. VCU posts the agendas for the full board and committees with accompanying materials on their BOV website. Virginia Tech, likewise, posts one large PDF with every document that will be presented to the Board of Visitors on their website. And not just big schools are doing this, smaller universities like Longwood make their full board agenda and all accompanying materials available to the public. Radford's BOV, which meets next week, has already posted their full board agenda with all accompanying materials.
The State Council for Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV), the oversight body for higher education, perhaps does it best by posting the agendas for the full board and committees, and provides the public virtual access to view all of the proceedings.
One piece of legislation from the General Assembly would have addressed some of these issues. HB 1800 / SB 1197 from Delegate Nick Freitas and Senator Bryce Reeves addressed transparency in higher education by, among other things, requiring the university to:
Post in a position of prominence the listing of the board members, committees, and schedule of meetings
Make agendas, supporting materials, and archived video recordings of the full board and committee meetings available within 10 business days after the meeting
Provide live streaming of full board and committee meetings
Unfortunately, the bill died in the Senate Committee on Education and Health.
Comparatively, JMU provides less information to the public than peer institutions in the Commonwealth. The only documentation publicly available for the JMU BOV is the full board and committee agendas with no supporting documentation and minutes that are a carefully scripted regurgitation of the actions taken by the committees. If you look carefully on Youtube, you can find the four most recent JMU BOV recordings. In reviewing the recording from the September 16, 2022 Board Meeting, we noticed that JMU's Governance Committee Chair, Jeff Grass, had actually addressed some transparency measures in his committee report. He says the following:
"We will be, based on some of the ideas suggested, we are moving to adopt a few [ideas from the Partners Group report]. We will be immediately implementing a few changes, to be even more open with these three dimensions. These include that we will now promote all board meetings on all JMU social media channels, including any requests for public comment prior, we will now post the full board binder on the JMU website following each board meeting, and we will now indicate on the JMU website correspondence for public comment be sent to the Rector to be even more clear the board is accessible to public comment at all times.”
To date, there appears to be no change to the JMU BOV website.
The referenced report from the Partners for College Affordability and Public Trust is available HERE. Their assessment of JMU in the areas of transparency, member accessibility, and receptiveness, resulted in JMU receiving a 70% assessment.
Considering that higher education is a large budget driver in the Commonwealth, it isn't unreasonable to ask that these massive institutions (small cities, really) exhibit some of the same transparency measures that almost every other public entity in the Commonwealth already does. More specifically, it doesn't seem unreasonable given the nearly $150M the Commonwealth funds towards the university's over $700M budget. Or the hundreds of millions the Commonwealth has committed to JMU for capital projects in the last 15-20 years.
We call on the JMU leadership and Board members to implement the changes promised in September for the upcoming April Board meeting.