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Bill focusing on NSU board receiving pushback

Jordan Crawford | 2/12/2014, 9:33 a.m.

A state delegate wants to give Gov. Terry McAuliffe the unusual power to remove Norfolk State University (NSU) governing board members without cause, but the legislation, introduced by Norfolk Democrat Algie Howell, is receiving a little pushback.

In its current form, Howell’s bill would apply only to Norfolk State – not to any of Virginia’s 14 other public four-year colleges. It would allow the governor to remove members from NSU’s board at any time and for any reason until July 2016.

That bothered several other local lawmakers, including Dels. Daun Hester, D-Norfolk, Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, and Lionell Spruill, D-Chesapeake, who said it was unfair.

Spruill said he wants to see the governor’s authority over college boards widened because of recent problems at NSU, but he thinks it’s wrong to single out the university in legislation.

“It should be broader,” said Spruill.

At Spruill’s request, House consideration of the bill was delayed Friday. Jones has offered to work with Howell to revise the measure.

“Any time an institution is in danger of losing its accreditation, the governor should have broader latitude, regardless of the institution,” Jones said.

Howell’s proposal comes five months after Gov. Bob McDonnell asked at least two NSU board members to resign as part of an effort to turn around the struggling university. At least one board member, Ed Hamm Jr., declined to go. His term is set to expire in June.

It’s unclear whether officials are still seeking to remove NSU board members. After months of upheaval last year, things at the campus seem to be stabilizing.

A new president, Eddie Moore Jr., who helped turn around Virginia State University in the 1990s, was installed in September. Two months later, McDonnell appointed three new members to the 13-person board, plus two special advisers who he said would help NSU overcome its challenges.

Among other problems, NSU was facing overdue financial audits, an investigation by its accrediting agency and serious shortcomings with its two-year nursing program, which is closing.

In recent months, state officials have said they believe the university, which has about 6,700 students, is getting back on track.

Jones said the revised bill should allow the governor to remove board members when a school has been placed on warning by its accrediting agency. Under current law, the governor can remove a board member only for malfeasance, incompetence or neglect of duty.