After a months-long standoff between the Governor’s Office and the Virginia Community Colleges Board over the appointment of a new chancellor, Glenn Youngkin had to break the impasse in a tersely worded letter.
“Virginia has the opportunity to lead the nation, and we need a Chancellor that will take us there. As we start a new fiscal year on July 1st, I earnestly ask you to fully commit to this challenge and opportunity,” Youngkin wrote. “Transformation is hard work-this takes time, energy, focus, and commitment. If for any reason you feel like you cannot commit to this mission, I will accept your resignation by June 30 with gratitude for your service.”
Rather than resign, the VCCS chose to allow the Governor’s Office to appoint a non-voting member to the board. From WRIC in Richmond:
Gov. Youngkin has expressed frustration with the board’s hiring process for months, claiming a lack of transparency and pushing for more involvement for his office.
The board had to relaunch the search for a new chancellor after its pick to succeed the retiring Glenn Dubois, Russell Kavalhuna, opted not to take the role and agreed to remain the president of Henry Ford College in Michigan.
Current board chair Nathaniel Bishop said the community college board was “disappointed” and Kavalhuna did not respond to a request seeking an interview or comment regarding his decision.
Virginia Democrats were quick to pounce upon the news that the VCCS had been strongarmed into co-operating with the Governor’s Office:
“I think the press needs to ask some questions about exactly what was said and what was asked during that meeting that caused this new person to just quit a job that he had just negotiated a brand new contract to leave Michigan for,” state Sen. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax) said. “The governor said something to him, it wasn’t nice. And I think we all need to know, I think taxpayers and the 218,000 students in the system deserve to know what the governor said to that man that caused him to quit his job.”
The Virginia Community College System has suffered in recent years from declining enrollment as a combination of trade schools and expanded access to four-year institutions have reduced the visibility of the institution.
Nevertheless, the VCCS remains an important part of the Virginia education system, providing real-time access for thousands of working class Virginians who can neither afford the cost of a four-year institution or are seeking workforce development training.
Yet the wider scope of this fight — namely the left’s intransigence when it comes to loosening their ideological grip on the institutions — seems to be lost on many when it comes to why Youngkin chose to expend political capital on this fight in a way he has yet to do on many other fronts.
Two things immediately come to mind.
First and foremost, Youngkin’s advisors see the real opportunity for a 21st century education system to be fostered through the VCCS. With workforce retraining and opportunities for trades and small business enhancement on the horizon, a robust and adaptable VCCS is a near-requirement for the next 20 years in Virginia.
Second but just as important, like most institutions the VCCS knows that it has to change but doesn’t want the change to become a politically charged experience. Most of academia has shifted left, and while there is a perception that two-year universities tend to be the repositories of what four-year institutions do not accept in both students and professors, the simple fact of the matter is that Virginia has a near-embarrassment of riches when it comes to the quality and reputation of its community college system. While enrolled student populations have indeed decreased over the last 10 years, the VCCS continues to produce academically balanced and well-prepared students — homeschoolers, working class students, blue collar trades, mothers with young children, and returning students whose life and experiences prevented them from getting the four year degree the first time around.
Either way, Youngkin seems adamant that the next chancellor be synchronized with whatever reforms he intends to pursue in 2023. Whether or not those reforms survive our one-term governors in Virginia remains to be seen, as institutions are remarkably difficult to reform.
Yet the political will to bring the VCCS into the 21st century exists in both parties. One might hope that this would bring areas of agreement and cooperation rather than hotly contested and partisan bickering from Virginia Democrats looking for any axe to grind.
So long as the Democrats believe the institutions are theirs and theirs alone, Youngkin may have to adjust a few more attitudes in order to get across the point that if institutions are to survive — even if they are as popular as the VCCS — they will have to be shared and ideologically inclusive, not the possession of a partisan few.