Mason BOV Watch

The latest on BOV members’ attack on academic freedom and shared governance

May 2, 2024 – From our “live at the BOV meeting” twitter thread

We’re tweeting live from the overflow section at the BOV meeting. It’s the first test of the Faculty’s right to set curriculum at Mason. The Just Societies requirement is on the agenda!
Brief update on police response to the harassment and hate speech targeted at GMU-AAUP’s very own VP. We know that she is grateful for the support from Mason’s police department.
Hopefully, those who worked to doxx and distort our colleague’s research are listening. Harassment and hate will not be tolerated at Mason.
Bob Whitlock is leaving the BOV as his term expires. Bob, you’ll be missed! Go with our thanks for your service.
Other board members rotating off: Wendy Marquez, Jimmy Hazel, and John Peterson. Thanks to all.
@GMUPres steps up to give a few remarks
@GMUPres Quick aside…new logo continues to feel jarring and weird
@GMUPres President Washington hitting the highlights of Mason’s achievements
@GMUPres Pres Washington gives Board somewhat cryptic advice: don’t screw up what makes Mason work!
@GMUPres Heat map of challenges. “Governance volatility” is in orange: “increasing threat”🤔 Why are our ears burning? 😆
@GMUPres New Provost James Anthony…WHO IS A COMPLETE MYSTERY…welcome to GMU! 💛💚💛💚💛💚
@GMUPres IT’S GO TIME Administrators introduce the subcommittee report defending DEI programs and the Just Societies requirement in the Mason Core.
@GMUPres Senate President Melissa Broeckelman-Post defending Just Societies. Accreditors require engagement with concepts of diversity, equity, and inclusion
@GMUPres Bob Whitlock – Faculty determine curriculum. YES!! (Weird that our own Senate President has never said this publicly to the Board…)
@GMUPres The committee is offering recommendations to Mason Core committee? They want continuing conversation about curriculum with faculty? They want to make the Provost the “uber” authority over curriculum? WE REQUEST A MEETING

@GMUPres BOV member Meese: I think all of us agree that we should shy away from
divisive concepts, like they do in k12 — Whaaat?
@GMUPres BOV member wants to eliminate the “mandate” of Just Societies. Make it a
@GMUPres Faculty determine the curriculum. Full stop.
@GMUPres BOV member Alacbay wants a course in US History and Western Civ!!
@GMUPres We have them, it turns out
@GMUPres It is quite a spectacle to hear member after member opine on what should or should not be in curriculum. THE SENATE PRESIDENT HAS NORMALIZED THIS WITH AN INSIDER NEGOTIATION STRATEGY.
@GMUPres We are still waiting to hear our leaders stand on principle. Who decides the curriculum? Faculty set the curriculum.
@GMUPres Lindsey Burke speaks! She asks “how do we decide what’s mandatory?” The faculty decides.
@GMUPres BOV member Bob Pence accuses Pres Washington of playing the race card! FOX
@GMUPres Bob Pence is showing why the BOV cannot be allowed near the curriculum. It’s okay to have strong feelings, but let’s leave decisions to the experts.
@GMUPres All this talk about what Boeing would do with Just Societies is besides the point.
Corporations do not set our curriculum either!! Plus, something about Boeing being in the news lately gives me pause….
@GMUPres Now the BOV is arguing about what a vote means.
@GMUPres The BOV has accepted the report, but declined to endorse the committee’s recommendations.
@GMUPres What does the BOV’s decision to accept the committee’s report, while declining to endorse its recommendations, mean for Just Societies? We have no idea.
@GMUPres Here’s all we know. The Just Societies requirement has not been canceled by the BOV. We presume this means the requirement will be on the books for the incoming class.
We also know that a significant number of BOV members want to eliminate it as a requirement (“You can have the classes, but don’t make it mandatory”). Four more Youngkin appointees are coming on July 1. We presume they will make another run at killing Just Societies in September
In the meantime, we also presume the BOV will pressure the new Provost to delay implementation of Just Societies until these new BOV members “have a chance to weigh in.”
What will our new Provost do?
We know our Provost is brand new. But we want him to understand that he does not have the authority to unilaterally overturn curriculum decisions passed by the Faculty Senate–not even to please an activist and politicized Board.
We also know that next year is going to be all hands on deck, with a clear majority of Board members who are apparently eager to impose their views on the curriculum. NOW IS THE TIME TO JOIN GMU-AAUP.

February 25, 2024 – From our 2/24 all-faculty email

We’re writing today with an update on last week’s Board of Visitors meeting. We have to warn you; it’s not pretty.

Let’s start with the good. Mason faculty showed up Thursday morning for academic freedom! Thanks especially go to all the faculty and students who wrote public comments, watched online, and packed the room. Your presence was felt! (And if you want to do more right away, please sign our new petition).

But now we have to talk about the bad and the ugly…and the unprecedented. At the meeting, we learned that BOV members requested and were provided with the full dossiers of tenure candidates. When full dossiers proved too onerous to review, BOV members requested to review only the publications of faculty up for promotion and tenure. These same members then called for eliminating the new Just Societies flag in the Mason Core and claimed they had the authority to unilaterally change Mason’s curriculum. In short, for all of us who believe that faculty–the actual disciplinary experts and educational professionals at Mason–must hold the primary responsibility to determine tenure status and set Mason’s curriculum, we have our work cut out for us.

This email is long. We go into depth on two ways political appointees on the BOV seem poised to interfere in faculty affairs and Mason’s core curriculum. Please take time to digest its contents. Educate yourself on the history of academic freedom and shared governance at American colleges and universities, beginning with the 1966 AAUP Statement on Colleges and Universities, co-authored by the American Council on Education and the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges. This is not the first time that political operatives have attempted to interfere with tenure cases or impose their ideologies on university curricula, and it won’t be the last.

Most critically, join us in fighting against BOV overreach at Mason. At the end of this email, we offer a whole menu of ways you can defend the standards and norms of academic freedom and shared governance at Mason, including signing on to our petition. It’s time to take a stand against board overreach and fight to preserve our academic freedom.

Let’s make this plain: Governor Youngkin and his political appointees on the Board of Visitors are targeting Mason for disruption a la Governor Ron DeSantis in Florida.

Here’s the evidence.

1. Overreach into Promotion and Tenure processes

Statements made during the BOV meeting confirmed what we have heard whispered behind the scenes. Members of the BOV have requested to inspect individual faculty P&T dossiers. We know the administration has already given BOV members access to at least two faculty dossiers. Given the sheer volume of cases, this access proved to be too much information for the May meeting (where approximately 70 cases will be decided). During the February 22nd meeting, Interim Provost Walsh again explained the review process to the BOV members in attendance. Visitor Jeffrey Rosen, the Acting Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General in the Trump Administration, then asked if, rather than accessing full dossiers, the BOV could instead just have access to P&T candidates’ scholarship. After some discussion, the Provost and President agreed to provide Board members with links to faculty scholarship. In a follow-up conversation with an administrator, we were told that certain BOV members want to review the dossiers or published works of candidates who may be “problematic.” While we do not know what “problematic” means, we are concerned, especially given the comments of a few Board members, that those faculty whose scholarship centers on social justice, equity, and diversity matters may be targeted for review.

For example, Visitor Stimson had this to say at one point during the meeting: “...this whole DEI infrastructure is embedded throughout, weed and branch, throughout every course and is inconsistent with the Chicago Principles…But Corporate America is moving away from DEI…they are all moving out of that because they realize that the Ibram X. Kendi thing is a hoax….and so when I read [the board book]…including all the syllabus…every single course [with a Just Societies flag]…has a ‘define key terms related to justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion as related to this course’s field or discipline.’ That has no bearing, in my opinion, on that course and I think it should all be pulled out, root and branch.

Here’s the transcript of the segment of the meeting about the review of candidate portfolios (you can view the entire meeting here):

Interim Provost Walsh: “It has been our tradition to provide summary information in a summary table for each of the candidates that note where within institution and the status that we are requesting…which academic unit they represent…Because there were questions last time about what materials are provided, Visitor Burke has requested that we have a brief discussion as to whether there are additional materials that can be provided…

Visitor Rosen (pictured above): “On the tenure candidates, is their published work that is the primary justification for tenure, is there any sensitivity as to that?…Presumably if they have published an article…there is nothing sensitive about that…We could have access to that, right?”…It could just be a link.

President Washington: “To the extent that you would have access to the papers, yeah, you can be provided with a link to the manuscripts, but the sheer volume of those is significant.

Rosen: “It’s obviously optional whether to look at it or not, I’m just asking if there is any sensitivity.

Provost: “No.

2. Threatening to Interfere with the Mason Core

As reported by GMU-AAUP in January, a GMU administrator confirmed that at least one BOV member (we suspect Lindsey Burke, Director of the Heritage Foundation Center for Education Policy, pictured below).And the VA Deputy Secretary of Education requested that the administration provide them with Just Societies flagged syllabi (already approved by the Mason Core Committee) for review. Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education Keith Renshaw provided 16 syllabi, one example for each currently approved course, with faculty names redacted. These syllabi were published in the BOV board book without the prior knowledge or approval of the respective faculty members.

At the meeting, Associate Provost Renshaw presented the work of the Mason Core Committee, in particular, the nearly 10-year proposal and approval process for the updated Mason Core, including the Just Societies (JS) flag. The BOV was reminded that the Mason Core process and changes had been reviewed and approved by the BOV several times. They were also reminded that the new Just Societies flag was already built into the catalog and is set for a Fall semester roll-out after years of planning and preparation. Nonetheless, multiple members of the Board (Reginald Brown, Michael Meese, Jeffrey Rosen, Cully Stimson) raised many questions during the meeting, including questioning the validity and necessity of the flag, insisting on calling it a “mandate,” and repeatedly referring to the JS flag as an academic program. These Visitors suggested that the Board could vote to suspend the Just Societies flag (Visitor Brown), and we learned a committee of two (Visitors Meese and Witeck) had been formed to “study” the JS core requirement. Some Visitors voiced a desire to delay the JS flag so they would have time for further deliberations and possible changes in May. This is where things landed, to our utter dismay.


Brown: “So what that means is…the board…has the power to approve this as a program or not as a program….

Renshaw: “I don’t know about that.”

Brown (pictured above): “Of course we do….We get to set your budget. We can zero it out if we want to…but we are not doing that. So my view is that the board has that authority. The question is, is there a willingness on the part of the faculty…to slow this down….are you willing to delay for a semester…to not make a final decision about the fall until this comes up at the next board meeting in April or May?…I just want to understand….because if you are not willing to slow down to get the feedback, someone might want to make a motion to require you to do that.  

Renshaw: “….The answer is…complicated…[lengthy explanation].”

Brown: “So is that a no?

Renshaw: “It is not my call…I have a vote on the Mason Core Committee…but I am only one of 14 members.

Rosen: “So you are agreeing with Visitor Brown that this will be deferred until the committee has a chance to report back to the Board.

[A lot of discussion….to reach Meese’s conclusion:]

Meese: “…I think Visitor Rosen articulated it precisely…Is this going to be mandated in the core curriculum? Is it going to be one course, two courses, three courses and what is that mandate? That’s really the purview of the board. And if there is a requirement from the board to have a course, we’ll defer to the experts in the faculty senate and the faculty to design what makes a part of a core course and what goes in there because that’s their job without specifying what the requirements are” (emphasis added).

3. What should have been said at the February 22, 2024 BOV meeting?

How about this? Faculty, not political appointees, must set Mason’s curriculum. The BOV must respect the GMU Faculty Handbook, the AAUP standards, and decades of tradition regarding the limited oversight role of governing boards. The BOV must uphold its long-standing commitments to faculty shared governance. And who has the expertise to judge whether a faculty member has achieved genuine excellence and qualifies for promotion and tenure? Again, only faculty and administrators (who were themselves once faculty) should play a role in determining tenure cases. The Board’s only role is to ensure process integrity, as affirmed by Rector Blackman during the meeting. Political appointees are certainly not qualified to review and judge the quality of our scholarship.

There is no debate here. The Visitors attacking our curriculum are claiming abilities and powers they do not have. According to the Faculty Handbook and the AAUP Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities, the faculty, not the Board of Visitors, are in charge of the curriculum and faculty status. Where will this lead if the BOV continues to violate the norms and academic standards that we follow and uphold? If political appointees of the BOV determine who is tenured and what our curriculum looks like, we risk losing our reputation and our national rankings. We will face the possibility of sanctions by our accreditors and the AAUP. Indeed, the AAUP recently sanctioned New College in Florida for their board’s substantial noncompliance with widely accepted standards of academic government. Our reputation as a destination for great faculty and students will be sullied. How many faculty will leave? How will we recruit new faculty under this regime? We will certainly no longer be the outstanding institution of higher education we are right now.

Other key points for the BOV to understand:

  • The JS flag is neither a mandate nor a program and thus does NOT fall under the BOV’s “monitoring” responsibilities as specified in its Bylaws.
  • The Mason Core is NOT an academic degree program and, therefore, is not subject to approval by the Academic Programs, Diversity & University Community Committee.

As the AAUP Statement makes clear, the BOV “should undertake appropriate self-limitation” here.

4. What ACTIONS must we take NOW to protect our university?

The February 22nd Board meeting demonstrated that we as a unified faculty must collectively stand up against the interference of political appointees and for our academic freedom and shared governance to ensure Mason remains the gem that it is.

Here are our proposed next steps:

  • Sign our petition NOW, to be delivered to the BOV by April 2nd. Then share it with your colleagues and anyone else who cares about the integrity of Mason’s governance and thwarting political interference in higher education.
  • Join AAUP today.
  • Sign up to receive updates and information regarding our campaign to protect faculty purview over the curriculum. To sign up, send us an email:
  • Sign up for our organizing committee or to be a faculty liaison sharing information with your LAU. Send us an email:
  • Talk to your colleagues about what is going on, ask them to sign our petition, and take collective action.
  • Ask your Faculty Senators to bring your concerns to the Senate.
  • If you live in Virginia, you can contact your state legislators to express your concerns about political interference. To find your representatives, visit the Who’s My VA Legislator? Website.
  • Plan to offer a public comment during the April 2nd BOV meeting.
  • Plan to attend the May 2nd full BOV meeting. We must show up en masse to demonstrate our power!