Sen. Mark Obenshain

Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham

Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham, has amended a bill designed to stop university governing board members from negotiating jobs for themselves. The amendment is intended to avoid a concern that the bill would have prohibited the 1996 hiring of Christopher Newport University President Paul Trible.

Obenshain’s Senate Bill 1068 would prohibit universities from hiring members of their governing boards until two years after their terms have expired.

The legislation, sponsored in the House by Del. Steve Landes, R-Augusta, was filed in response to a decision by James Madison University President Jon Alger to hire a former member of the university’s board — former Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling — for a high-level job last year. Bolling, who was previously one of Alger’s bosses, now earns $140,000 per year as a university employee.

Alger and Bolling discussed a possible job for Bolling while Bolling was still on the university’s board of visitors, then agreed to wait until his term ended in June of last year. Records obtained in a Freedom of Information Act request showed Bolling was allowed to help create the job, write parts of his own job description, and arrange for his contract to last at least three years to boost his state pension.

Members of university governing boards are appointed by the governor, and oversight of the university president is among their chief duties.

Some people expressed concern that Obenshain’s bill would have stopped a situation like CNU hiring Trible, a former U.S. senator who was named president after serving on the university’s board, said Obenshain and Sen. Steve Newman, R-Lynchburg, chairman of the Senate Education and Health Committee.

The amended bill passed the committee on Thursday 15-0.

Obenshain said in an interview that the amendment was to reduce the conflict-of-interest timeout period from four years to two years, and to make sure the bill had no unintended consequences. So the bill now exempts university presidents.

The purpose of the bill, he said, is to prevent a member of a university board of visitors from asking a president for a job.

Presidential searches are competitive and the hiring is done by the full board.

“One of the benefits about filing bills early is you can find out about unintended consequences and correct them,” Obenshain said.

When he presented his bill to the committee, he noted that the JMU Student Government Association had visited him and listed his bill at the top of the legislation the association supports.

Asked for comment, Bill Wyatt, a spokesman for JMU, said by email: “We are happy to leave the legislating to the legislators.”

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