A group of wealthy, out-of-state University of Virginia alumni who want to pack the university’s board with like-minded individuals and jack up tuition prices have persuaded Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe to support their cause.
All it took was a $50,000 check.
Jeffrey Walker, a New York financier and UVA alum who believes the university should be more expensive and elite, has been trying to recruit other wealthy alumni to his cause, which would involve a restructuring of UVA’s governing board. The board is currently appointed by the state governor, but Walker and his friends want influential alumni–like themselves–to play a role in choosing candidates for 8 of the 17 slots.
Walker’s group envisions UVA as a more exclusive institution–and one the would necessitate higher tuition costs for Virginia students and their families.
Three months ago, Walker spoke with McAuliffe about his ideas. He also wrote the campaign two separate checks for $25,000. This was enough to buy McAuliffe’s support, and the Democratic candidate quickly revised his stated higher education policy on his website to align with Walker’s views, according to a recent investigation by The Washington Post.
The campaign added “ensuring proper representation on governing boards,” to a list of McAuliffe’s higher education policies.
“The Governor should solicit and respect slates of nominees from college and university communities when filling board slots,” according to the web site revisions.
These actions were perfectly legal, as the state of Virginia allows unlimited campaign contributions. Still, McAuliffe’s opponent, Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, criticized both the ease with which McAuliffe was bought and the policy itself.
“[The Post’s] report that Terry McAuliffe immediately changed his higher education policy after receiving $50,000 in contributions from a New York donor is the perfect case study of what Virginia would look like if he’s elected,” Chris LaCivita, a spokesperson for the Cuccinelli campaign, told The Daily Caller. “He is willing to sell out Virginia families to the highest bidder.”
The management of UVA has come under increased scrutiny since President Teresa Sullivan was ousted by the board and then reinstated amidst public pressure. Board leader Helen Dragas pushed for Sullivan’s removal after the president refused to consider steeper cuts to university spending to account for UVA’s financial situation. Dragas eventually lost that battle, as well as her subsequent efforts to prevent tuition from increasing. After reinstating Sullivan, the board voted 14-2 against Dragas to raise in-state tuition.
Further in-state tuition increases are necessary to transform UVA into the kind of institution that Walker and his friends envision, according to a memo that Walker’s group sent to the board in June.
But Virginian students and families are weary of ever-increasing tuition, said one student.
“I definitely don’t want to see the tuition increase further than it already has,” Kenan Safadi, a UVA student, told The Daily Caller. “Tuition is already skyrocketing, and has gotten higher and higher every year I’ve been here.”
Safadi said he chose UVA in part because it was more affordable than other options.
“I could only imagine [tuition increases] keeping more Virginians out.”
Meanwhile, McAuliffe’s endorsement of the plan has motivated Walker to lobby his New York friends and allies to donate to the campaign.
“Please make a contribution to Terry McAuliffe’s campaign and let me know when you do so I can consolidate the tracking. . . . You can give as much as you like (the state of Virginia does not limit campaign contributions),” he wrote in an email to a New York hedge-fund manager, according to The Post.
A spokesperson for the McAuliffe campaign did not respond to requests for comment.