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Virginia Attorney General's Office is keeping tabs on the University of Mary Washington presidential search
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BY JEFF BRANSCOME
A high-level official in the Virginia Attorney General's Office is now advising the University of Mary Washington in its search for a new president.
In a Feb. 7 letter to UMW Rector Bill Poole, senior Assistant Attorney General Ronald Forehand, chief of the education section, said he would provide legal counsel on "matters related to the presidential search and contract."
That had been the job of Jack Knight, UMW's state-appointed attorney. Forehand wrote that the change will apply to all presidential searches statewide.
Poole said the change isn't a big deal.
"I've been impressed with him in our conversations," he said of Forehand. "He's not there to steer or guide the board. He just wants to make sure whatever we do meets Virginia law."
But UMW political science professor Stephen Farnsworth called the development a "troubling wrinkle in a presidential search that is already notable for its lack of transparency." The school won't be hosting public forums with finalists as it did during its last search.
"There's always a possibility when politicians get more involved in things they want more control in the outcomes," Farnsworth said.
State Sen. Edd Houck, D-Spotsylvania, didn't know about the letter until he was contacted by The Free Lance-Star, but said he'll request a meeting with the Attorney General's Office this week.
"I need the satisfaction of having a visit and a conversation eyeball-to-eyeball about what necessitates all this," he said.
The letter was sent the same day Republican delegates--including Mark Cole of Spotsylvania--grilled four members of the College of William & Mary's board of visitors about an on-campus "Sex Workers' Art Show." William & Mary President Gene Nichol, who allowed the show, resigned Feb. 12.
Forehand was hired by then-Attorney General Jim Gilmore in 1994. The GOP has held the office since Gilmore's election in 1993.
Tucker Martin, a spokesman for the Attorney General's Office, said people shouldn't read much into the timing of the letter. "It's a very simple change just meant to establish uniformity in how the process works," he said.
Forehand referred questions to Martin. In his letter to Poole, he suggested that--whenever possible--he attend meetings related to the presidential search. He also requested all correspondence, including e-mails, regarding the search.