June 26, 2023
Partners' Executive Director in the Richmond-Times Dispatch

In an opinion editorial published by the Richmond Times-Dispatch last week – Commentary: Is the tuition rubber stamp finally running out of ink – Partners’ executive director Stacie Gordon analyzes a recent trend in which governing board members of Virginia’s public universities are opposing tuition increases more frequently than in the past decade. This trend, Gordon says, could lead to boards successfully blocking tuition hikes in the near future.

In reviewing the publicly available board meeting records related to board decisions on tuition and fee rate proposals – which Partners reviews annually for our Trustee Votes dashboard – Gordon was able to attribute this rising trend to Governor Youngkin’s recent board appointments. The op-ed is a follow up to an earlier piece authored by Gordon last year, in which she weighed in on the role of board members in protecting public interest in the governance of Virginia’s public colleges and universities.

Fifteen board members voted against proposals to increase tuition at their respective universities, while four board members voted to abstain. At the time of the op-ed’s publication, eight of the fifteen dissenting votes and three abstentions were confirmed to have been cast by Youngkin appointees.

Since then, Partners has received confirmation that twelve of the fifteen dissenting votes were cast by board members appointed by Governor Youngkin.

The identities of the four board members who cast dissenting votes at James Madison University were not specified in the draft meeting minutes available online (HERE).However, a source who has spoken to these board members recently confirmed the four dissenting votes were cast by appointees of Governor Youngkin: former delegate Richard “Dickie” Bell, Theresa Edwards, Suzanne Obenshain, and Jack White.

Three of the four abstentions were cast at George Mason University. During board discussion, Reginald Brown – a partner at the multinational law firm Kirkland & Ellis LLP who served on the George Mason board from 2011-2015 and reappointed by Governor Youngkin last year – expressed hesitation about the tuition rate proposal, stating that he “can’t vote in favor at this time.” Fellow Youngkin-appointees Ambassador Robert Pence (ret.) and Lindsey Burke, Ph.D. also voted to abstain. You can review the board meeting minutes HERE.

A full list of the board members who opposed or abstained from supporting tuition hikes this year can be found below.

According to Gordon, the trend of rising board scrutiny and opposition to tuition increases could be significant in the coming years as Governor Youngkin continues to make new board appointments. If his future appointees share the skepticism of their predecessors, it is very possible that Boards of Visitors will successfully block proposed tuition hikes. This is a stark contrast to the common practice by which higher education boards are known for: rubber-stamping.

“Yet, it has become an all-too-common practice in higher education, both in the commonwealth and beyond, for university boards to simply rubber-stamp tuition hikes by unanimous consent. And in Virginia, up until a few years ago, they would do so largely without hearing any public input whatsoever. In the absence of a state mandate requiring them to accept public comment, it was solely up to the members of these public governing boards to ensure the voices of Virginia students and parents were heard.”

You can read the full op-ed HERE.


George Mason University

Reginald Brown – abstained (appointed by Governor Youngkin)

Lindsey M. Burke , Ph.D. – abstained (appointed by Governor Youngkin)

Amb. Robert Pence (ret.) – abstained (appointed by Governor Youngkin)


James Madison University

Hon. Richard Dickie” Bell – opposed (appointed by Governor Youngkin)

Theresa Edwards – opposed (appointed by Governor Youngkin)

Suzanne Obenshain – opposed (appointed by Governor Youngkin)

Jack White – opposed (appointed byGovernor Youngkin)


Radford University

Jennifer Wishon Gilbert – opposed (appointed by Governor Youngkin)

Tyler W. Lester – opposed (appointed by Governor Youngkin)

Goerge Mendiola, Jr. – opposed (appointed by Governor Youngkin)

Georgia Anne Snyder-Falkinham – opposed (appointed by Governor Youngkin)

James C. Turk – opposed (appointed by Governor Youngkin)

Marquett Smith – abstained (appointed by Governor Northam)


Virginia CommonwealthUniversity

Anthony R. Bedell – opposed (appointed by Governor Youngkin)

Hon. Peter Farrell – opposed (appointed by Governor Youngkin)

Clifton Peay, M.D. – opposed (appointed by Governor Youngkin)


William & Mary

Anne Leigh Kerr – opposed (appointed by Ralph Northam)

Laura Keehner Rigas  – opposed (appointed by Governor Youngkin)

Brian P. Woolfolk – opposed (appointed by Ralph Northam)


Note: The University of Mary Washington Board of Visitors voted unanimously to freeze tuition rates for in-state undergraduates and increase the comprehensive fee by 5 percent, amounting to a 1.86 percent increase in total tuition and all mandatory fees for in-state undergraduates for the 2023-2024 academic year.