Gov. Bob McDonnell’s office announced four new appointees to the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors last week.
Notably, John Rocovich, a Roanoke lawyer who sat on the board from 1997-2005 and served as rector in the early 2000’s, will be returning to the board. Between Rocovich and his three new counterparts, William Holtzman, Suzanne Obenshain and Michael Quillen, the new appointments represent $116,350 donated to McDonnell’s various campaigns since 1996.
While serving on the BOV, Rocovich’s financial influence benefited the university. Two notable projects completed during his 1997-2005 term were the construction of ICTAS and the Edward Via School of Osteopathic Medicine. He was also involved in the process of Tech’s admission to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
In addition to Rocovich’s service to Tech, he also was at the center of a controversy in 2003, while he was rector.
Then Attorney General Jerry Kilgore’s office sent a letter to the board, led by then-rector Rocovich, in 2002. The letter suggested that Tech discontinue the use of affirmative action when selecting employees and students and opt for “race-neutral” policies.
Instead of denying Kilgore’s request, the board attempted to comply with it.
The board did not address the Kilgore letter until March 2003. Then, without first placing it on the agenda of the March 10, 2003, meeting, Rocovich brought a resolution before the board that moved to create the office of equal opportunity and diversity and implement more race-neutral policies.
However, while presenting this resolution, a clause granting protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation was omitted.
This policy ended affirmative action, which had been in place at Tech for a number of years.
Documentation presented to the BOV shows evidence of race-conscious recruitment of potential students from undergraduate admissions at that time, inviting African-American, Hispanic and American-Indian students to a number of special programs not open to Caucasian applicants.
At the end of the nearly four-hour meeting, the changes were overturned by a vote of eight to five.
Sexual orientation was added back into the anti-discriminatory language and “narrowly-tailored” race-conscious policies were enacted that essentially reinstated limited, legal affirmative action, in which race could be considered as a factor — just not as one of the main factors — for admissions or hiring.
Rocovich was not eligible for reappointment at the end of that term.
Additionally, a resolution was passed stating that all items up for discussion would have to be placed on the agenda at least three days in advance of the next BOV meeting.
Now, Rocovich will return to the board. This is the first time in the recent history of the BOV that a former member has returned after a period of time off.
Earlier on Rocovich and Kilgore were both appointed to serve on a higher-education committee, which advised McDonnell on new appointments to Boards of Visitors across the state.
Rocovich had to step down from that committee after his appointment because he could not serve on both simultaneously.
Both have been significant financial supporters of the governor and of the Republican party.
According to the Virginia Public Access project, Rocovich contributed a total of $63,000 to McDonnell’s campaigns for attorney general and governor between 1996 and 2009, including $53,000 for travel expenses during both campaigns.
There were a potential of four new spots open on Tech’s BOV. Two members had served two consecutive four-year terms, and it was certain they would have to leave the Board. Two other members had served one four-year term and were eligible of reappointment. Neither was reappointed.
Along with Rocovich, who, according to the Virginia Public Access project, has donated upwards of $263,000 to various Republican candidates and Political Action Committees since 1996, his fellow new board members represent a potential shift in ideology on Tech’s board that is made definite in their significant monetary backing of various Republican state efforts.
Holtzman, president of Holtzman Oil Corporation, has donated $290,344 to Republican candidates and PACs since 1996. Obenshain, though moderate in her campaign donations, is the wife of Mark Obenshain, a Republican state senator representing the 26th District.
He has personally donated more than $26,000 to Republican candidates and PACs since 1996 while his campaign office donated upwards of $119,000. Quillen, chairman of Alpha Natural Resources, has donated $12,040 to Republican candidates and PACs since 1996, according to the Virginia Public Access project.
The next BOV meeting is Aug. 29.