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Governor McDonnell seeks NSU board resignations

Jordan Crawford | 10/17/2013, 12:27 p.m.
Gov. McDonnell is seeking the resignations of NSU governing board members.
Gov. McDonnell is calling for the resignation of NSU board members.

Norfolk State University (NSU) just can’t catch a break. Six weeks after the firing of the school’s president, Gov. Bob McDonnell is seeking the resignations of some members of NSU’s governing board.

Two state delegates confirmed that the governor’s office has asked members of NSU’s Board of Visitors to step down.

The governor wants “several” to go, said Del. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, although he could not say which ones.

Henry Light, who resigned late, last month, said that he was among those asked. No one else has stepped down as of late, according to NSU officials.

Although the governor’s office would not specifically discuss McDonnell’s requests for resignations, Secretary of the Commonwealth Janet Kelly said the he is “making efforts to make Norfolk State the best it can be.”

“That’s our obligation,” she said.

McDonnell’s decision to ask for the resignations is the latest state-level intervention aimed at turning around the struggling university.

With about 6,600 students, NSU has the lowest graduation rate among Virginia’s four-year public colleges. Its two-year nursing program recently was barred from accepting students because too few have passed a national licensing exam upon graduation.

NSU is under review by its regional accrediting agency for a host of problems, including its failure to finish financial audits on time. After thousands of hours of state help, the university completed its 2011 audit last month.

NSU’s 13-member board voted in August to fire President Tony Atwater, saying he had done too little to address the school’s imperfections. Some state officials say the board also bears responsibility.

“There have been a lot of governance issues,” Jones said.

Del. Lionell Spruill Sr., a Chesapeake Democrat and NSU alumnus, said he hopes most of the board is removed. “They haven’t done their job,” he said.

He said Ed Hamm Jr., the board’s former rector, told him he was among those asked to resign. Hamm still remains on the board.

Light, a retired Norfolk attorney who was appointed in 2005 by then-Gov. Mark Warner, said he resigned the day he was asked.

He said someone on the governor’s staff called him Sept. 27 and explained that McDonnell hopes to replace board members whose terms are nearly up with fresh appointees who will stay on for years to come, to help repair NSU and then keep it on track.

Board members, who are appointed by the governor, may serve up to two four-year terms, plus part of a third if they are appointed to replace a midterm departee. Light would have left the board in June 2015.

The board’s current rector, Thomas Chewning, said in an email that he had no comment. Several other board members are remaining closemouthed on the matter. Members Lula Holland, Byron Cherry, Melvin Stith and D. Mychael Dickerson said they have not been asked to resign.

Kelly, the secretary of the commonwealth, said there is “broad concern” among state officials about fixing NSU’s problems, and they have made numerous strides to aid the university.

Besides sending a team to help NSU catch up on overdue audits and implement new financial software, the state has provided administrative assistance and extra financial aid for students.

The state also is working to line up training for NSU board members, officials said.

“The governor is not going to accept a failing university,” said McDonnell’s spokesman J. Tucker Martin.

The board named an interim president, Eddie Moore Jr., in September. He is expected to stay at the school for at least a year.

Formerly a longtime president at Virginia State University, Moore was chosen for the school in 1993 to fix problems similar to those at NSU. During the same, then-Gov. L. Douglas Wilder forced out members of VSU’s board

.

Spruill said NSU’s board picked Moore at his urging. “I called Eddie,” he said.

Now that the university has a new president, Spruill and Jones say it needs a solid board to ensure his success.

“This is about Norfolk State moving forward,” Jones said.