College official OK with changes in bill

February 5, 2006

From Bulletin staff reports

Amendments to the bill creating the New College Institute are not a problem for the head of its planning commission.

"They are not anything that was of concern to us," said Dr. Barry Dorsey, executive director of the New College Institute planning commission.

House Bill 517 cleared the House Committee on Education's Higher Education Subcommittee last week with technical changes reflecting members' concerns.

"The most significant (amendment) is to have a General Assembly representative on the board" of the New College, said Del. Ward Armstrong, D-Collinsville, who appeared before the subcommittee.

According to reports, the subcommittee added a requirement that three members of the board be sitting delegates, two be state senators and the other seven would be appointed by the governor.

The original version of the House Bill 517, which is similar to Senate Bill 40, calls for the governor to appoint the 12- to 15-member board. It would include chief executives of at least three public institutions of higher education, the chief executive officer of at least one private institution of higher education and at least three residents of the region.

But the change in board composition would not be effective until a permanent board was appointed in 2012, Dorsey said. "It doesn't affect the interim board," he added.

"I don't think it harms" the bill, Armstrong added.

Another change would require New College officials to report to the General Assembly as the plan develops, Armstrong said, and "I did not object."

Also, Dorsey said other changes would involve the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV) in recommendations on rates. "That language will probably be further discussed," he added.

One item that does not represent a change but which Armstrong said is a concern among some legislators is the name of the proposed institution.

The New College Institute "is a concern because some feel the institution may become a stand-alone four-year college," he said. "But I don't see how" a name would impact the change to a stand alone university, he added.

If approved by the General Assembly, the New College Institute would offer baccalaureate-level degrees through partnerships with existing institutions of higher education. After a number of years, it would be reevaluated to determine if it should evolve into a more traditional university.

Dorsey said New College would be able to respond to the name concern, but he added that there are bigger concerns at this point.

"It's more important for us to get the entity established and if they find it necessary to change the name in the process, so be it. When or if it becomes a stand-alone institute, it will have a different name anyway. What we're talking about is a name between now and when it becomes a full institute," he said.

After discussing House Bill 517 for 90 minutes and recommending changes, Armstrong said members of the subcommittee sent the bill to the House Appropriations Committee. Dorsey said that would occur Monday.

While Armstrong said the subcommittee's discussion far exceeded the usual 10 to 15 minutes spent on most bills, the New College proposal "is a significant endeavor ... and I appreciate" the additional time legislators devoted to the project, he added.

Dorsey praised area legislators in the House and Senate for their work on the bills and said Rob Spilman, president of the planning commission as well as chief executive officer of Bassett Furniture Industries, especially made an impression on the two subcommittees he addressed last week in Richmond.

"I think his appearance at each hearing has been a big plus. They respect him as a business man. He was able to talk about demographics of this region and the effect the new entity will have in transforming this region," Dorsey said.


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