Warner reassuring on college

January 14, 2005

Bulletin Staff Writer

Gov. Mark Warner stood strong for the proposed Southside college and told the community "don't lose heart" on Thursday at a meeting in Henry County.

To the applause of more than 200 people who turned out at Patrick Henry Community College to listen to the governor, Warner said, "I know some in the community were taken aback by the SCHEV study that came out yesterday. But nothing I've heard about the report changes my view" about a Southside college.

Warner was referring to the yearlong study by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia on the establishment of a college in Southside.

Its preliminary report, released Wednesday, recommended that the General Assembly hold off creating any new public institution of higher learning in Southside.

Warner has included $1.5 million in his budget for such a college. "We need to press legislators to accept this funding request," he said.

Speaking about the New College of Virginia proposal championed by The Harvest Foundation and created by Dr. Ronald Carrier, former James Madison University president, Warner said, "I'm sure there are valid questions" raised by the SCHEV report. "I have questions about it. But just because there are questions doesn't mean you slow the process."

Despite SCHEV's recommendation, Warner encouraged the audience not to "overreact" to the report. "Don't lose heart. This is a process, this is a battle; but the battle is going to be won," he said.

Speaking after the town hall meeting, Warner said he likes the boldness of the New College of Virginia proposal. But he said he does not think there has been enough "due diligence" on some aspects of it, such as the full-time nature of its schedule as opposed to a more traditional schedule. "There have not been full discussions" of some of those aspects, he added.

Also, he said he is not sure if The Harvest Foundation has outlined when or how it would pay out its $50 million challenge to the state to open a college in Henry County or Martinsville in two years. "That may have been said; I don't know," he said.

Warner said Henry County and Martinsville are the leading candidate for a Southside college.

"I wish part of the solution is a full regional presence, with the majority presence in Martinsville and Henry County," but fitting in with the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research in Danville and other efforts in the region, he said.

Warner also said he wants to stay flexible in how the $1.5 million he has budgeted for the college will be used, whether it is for implementing the college or more study. "If there are major questions, we should get them answered. What we don't want to do is lose momentum" or the $50 million grant, he said.

As for whether a college is likely to be operating before Warner leaves office in January 2006, he said "probably not." However, he said he hopes that the state will have an "action plan" for the college that everyone has bought into by that time.

As Warner was reassuring the community, Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine was making a case for it three hours away in Richmond. In a three-hour Senate educational subcommittee meeting in Richmond, rhetoric heated up over the SCHEV report, said Sen. W. Roscoe Reynolds, D-Ridgeway.

Kaine, along with Reynolds and Sens. John Chichester, R-Fredericksburg; Charles Hawkins, R-Chatham; R. Edward Houck, D-Spotsylvania; Charles Cogan, D-Manassas; and William Wampler Jr., R-Bristol, met with Carrier, SCHEV and Longwood University officials and a lobbyist for private colleges and universities.

After Carrier made a presentation to the senators on the New College of Virginia, Kaine said he spoke in support of the college, emphasizing its potential as a community economic tool.

In opposition, the Longwood official said the Longwood-Old Dominion University-Patrick Henry Community College proposal is the model the state should adopt, Reynolds said. But the official added that the schools could only go forward with the proposal if it receives The Harvest Foundation's $50 million grant, Reynolds said.

However, the private schools' lobbyist staunchly opposed the creation of any college, saying that private schools can handle the expected increase in college enrollment over the next decade, Reynolds added.

That fact that Southside has two competing plans doesn't bode well for the community, Reynolds added.


Select News Year: