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“No Confidence” in Rector of University of Richmond Trustees

students marching
Members of a Black student coalition marched to demand the removal of Paul Queally, rector of the Board of Trustees for the University of Richmond. Now, faculty have joined them with a vote of no confidence. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

On Monday, University of Richmond faculty announced a vote of no confidence in Paul Queally, rector of the Board of Trustees. It was the latest reaction after the university rejected a Black student coalition demand to remove the names of white supremacists and segregationists from campus buildings.

Faculty began voting on Friday, two weeks after a meeting where faculty and members of the student coalition spoke with Queally and other high-level administrators about their decision to keep the names on campus buildings. Black Students said the decision was one of many factors that make them feel unsafe on campus.

Votes were totaled and announced after 7 pm Monday. According to the faculty senate, a majority of eligible faculty voted yes on the no-confidence vote, with 306 out of 352 voting “yes,” 32 voting no, and 14 abstaining. The measure they voted on says Queally’s actions put “in jeopardy the reputation and good standing of the University of Richmond,” which “demonstrate his failure to abide by his fiduciary duties as Rector and member of the Board of Trustees.”

Kayla Corbin, a senior and member of the Black student coalition, said the no-confidence vote was expected.

“It’s not surprising to see that the faculty has no confidence in the board as it stands,” she said. “People don't want to adhere to an autocratic system, people don’t want someone who is dismissive and disrespectful at the helm of an institution.” 

Thad Williamson, an associate professor and senate faculty member, spoke to VPM after voting ended on Monday. Williamson announced the results in an email to the faculty. 

He said the vote reflects the views of the faculty, and hopes  the board will take their wishes and concerns into account when deciding their next steps.

“I don’t want to speculate on how the board will respond,” Williamson said. “Our role as faculty senate is to let them know we’re here and available for dialogue and care a great deal about the university and its future.”

Williamson said however the university decides to respond to the collective racial reckoning, it will have to be in an equitable discussion with faculty and students.

“Ultimately there will have to be dialogue because the board is not going anywhere and the faculty is not going anywhere, and hopefully the students aren’t going anywhere,” he said. “This reckoning that the university is having with its past is going to continue into a broader discussion about what it means to be a truly equitable and inclusive university that doesn’t center and privilege whiteness in the way that has characterized most of our institutional history.”

Queally had come under criticism before the March 26 meeting. In 2013, a videotape of the trustee making sexist, homophobic comments led to complaints and coverage by the Richmond-Times Dispatch among others. The ‘86 graduate has been a longtime supporter and donor; an athletics center bears his name.

Faculty and students described Queally’s conduct at the recent meeting as inappropriate and racist. Queally allegedly singled out a Black staff member and referred to white students on campus as “regular students” during a discussion on removing names of men who enslaved African Americans or promoted segregation from campus buildings.

The staff member who says she was singled out, Jessica Washington, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that the encounter was the “single most horrific and traumatizing work experience I have ever had.” She announced her resignation from the staff advisory council in a letter.

“I can no longer actively work to improve the image and prestige of a university that has demonstrated a complete lack of regard for Black lives and their well-being,” she wrote.

Queally was formally censured after the meeting by the 17 member faculty senate. Faculty across campus released statements in solidarity with the Black student coalition, which had begun disaffiliation the day prior. 

Queally’s comments and the meeting that took place last month are a small piece of the racial unraveling that has taken place at the university over the last few months. It began with student and faculty outrage over the board’s decision to retain the names of two on-campus buildings with ties to slavery and racism. 

Following that original decision, the coalition of Black students at the university issued a statement outlining a list of demands to improve the welfare of Black students and threatened to cut all ties with the university if they were not met by April 1.

The university swiftly rejected their demand.

In response, members of the coalition and organizations in solidarity  disaffiliated from the university a week early, on March 25, which may have prompted the March 26 meeting that led to the no-confidence vote.

Recently, the Board of Trustees announced they would reconsider removing the names. In a statement, they write they are,  “reviewing options for a broader, more inclusive process to determine how decisions are made about questions of renaming, and we expect to communicate our plans shortly.”

Students say they’re going to continue to seek accountability and real reforms.

After the meeting, students and alumni asked the university community to not participate in the school’s annual fundraising event of “giving day,” which generated over $1.5 million dollars in donations for the University of Richmond. As of Monday, the university has put this year's event on hold. 

And ahead of Friday’s vote, the coalition led a march across campus protesting the building names.

Corbin, the senior who said the vote wasn’t surprising, says she’s not  satisfied with the board's latest response. 

“We [the Coalition] have given the board specifically, a lot of chances to show good faith and feasible demands that could have been met in a timely fashion,” Corbin said. “We’ve met with them and had respectful dialogue so for them not to have shown any act of good faith, it just speaks to the campus temperament.”

To Corbin and other students, Queally and the board's refusal to change the names is just the latest in a long line of transgressions against Black students at the university. 

She ’s happy the faculty are showing support to Black students, but says she can’t trust the Board of Trustees, even after their recent statement.

“A lot of people feel disenfranchised by our current board and that the thoughts and feelings of the community don’t matter,” she said. “Our hope is that regardless of how the vote goes, Black students are listened to, our demands are centered, and that the board can show us an act of good faith and address our demands in a timely and public fashion so they’ll be able to be held accountable.”

VPM News was unable to get a comment from university administration at time of publication. This story may be updated.


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