Fourth Estate/Andani Munkaila

Last BOV meeting of the year follows accusations of political interference from conservative Board of Visitors


Editor’s note: The full recording of the recent Board of Visitors meeting can later be viewed on their Meeting Postings page.

On May 2, the last Board of Visitors meeting of the academic year took place, where a presentation was given from the University Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and Just Societies Update.

The BOV is a panel of 16 members appointed by the Governor that make decisions in policy-making and oversight for Mason. The presentation, called “Achieving Inclusive Excellence, The Mason Way” had its recommendations approved by the Board of Visitors after significant discussion and debate about DEI and Just Societies.


The Just Societies initiative, “is aligned with Mason’s commitment to preparing students to act in a diverse, global world,” Mason Core said. “Moreover, as society has become more polarized, the ability to effectively engage with others who have differing beliefs has become a critical need.”

The initiative features a “Just Societies flag” which would be added onto courses that promote its goals. The initiative also reveals that it does not endorse one political ideology, but encourages discussion between contrasting ideas. 

“Just Societies courses are intentionally focused on the understanding of terms and the promotion of meaningful, respectful engagement… The courses are not focused on the promotion of a prescribed set of beliefs; nor are students expected to espouse a particular set of values as a result of a Just Societies course,” Mason Core said.

Leading up to the presentation, a post was made urging the Mason community to “Pack the BOV” by GMU AAUP, or George Mason University’s advocacy chapter of the American Association of University Professors.

“Hands off the Mason Core, no more political interference from the board,” GMU AAUP said in the post. “On 5/2, the BOV will review the Just Societies req in the Mason Core. All options, including canceling it, are on the table.” GMU AAUP also held a pre-meeting rally on Merten Lawn today at 1 p.m.

The new Student Body President Maria Cuesta and Student Body Vice President Colin McAulay also made a joint post to “Mobilize Mason for May 2nd, DEI & Just Societies” with APAC at Mason, BLACC Mason, HLLA at Mason, and COSA.

This follows a “Listening Session” that took place on April 17 about Just Societies Core and DEI units at Mason where students, faculty and representatives from BLACC Mason, APAC Mason, HLLA at Mason, and COSA made a collective appearance and voiced a demand for DEI.


During the session, members of the gallery attended with cardboard protest signs. “Defend DEI @ Mason”, “Protect marginalized students”, “Diversity is the Mason story”, they said.

An “Achieving Inclusive Excellence, The Mason Way” presentation was given by Visitor Michael Meese and Visitor Bob Witeck to the floor with additional remarks from Vice President of University Life Rose Pascarell, Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Sharnnia Artis and Faculty Representative Melissa A. Broeckelman-Post on research surrounding DEI and the Just Societies Initiative. The BOV would be given a board action item to approve the recommendations in the report.

“Our students have been asking for coursework focused on understanding diversity for more than a decade… all of Mason’s top employers have DEI statements and they tell us that Mason’s diversity and our students experience working with others from a variety of backgrounds, is one of the primary reasons that they recruit our students,” Broeckelman-Post said.

“Our DEI philosophy is unique to Mason and fits our values. It’s what unites our community of scholars, our students and staff, and we heard this loud and clear from almost every source… We believe that academic freedom goes hand in hand with an enriched, diverse and meaningful selection of Mason scholarship and course offerings. More is better, not less,” Witeck said.

The session then went into discussion and debate, with Visitors Reginald Brown, Horace Blackman, Jeff Rosen, Robert Frank Pence and Lindsey Burke challenging the initiative.

Brown shared that he was concerned the Just Societies initiative would be a mandate for students. “[If] our students want to take them… they’ll sign up… I agree that diversity is the Mason story… It has occurred so far organically without a mandate… I do not believe that SCHEV, our accreditors, or a single major employer in this region requires that students who are at work there have taken a DEI class or a Just Societies Class,” Brown said.

Alacbay suggested that having a large amount of options to take for a Just Societies requirement may make people take classes they are comfortable with instead of exploring new areas. “The problem I have with Just Societies as it is currently constructed, is that you have all these different formulations of justice that you can take in all these different departments. [You can] self select, according to where you’re comfortable… I ironically think that there is no better way to exacerbate the problem of people talking past each other,” Alacbay said.

One Visitor, Robert Pence accused President Dr. Gregory Washington of “Inherent racism” in his remarks, causing a reaction from the floor. This followed a comment from Dr. Washington that diverse education can reduce “inherent bias” in workforces.

“There’s a reason why when children go to the ER, white children are three times more likely to get treated for pain than black children are. I want the doctors who come from programs, who come from Mason, to have had a cultural understanding that keeps them from having that inherent bias in their thinking. You don’t get that by just being in a room with people, you actually get it through education and training. And that education and training comes through mechanisms like this,” Dr. Washington said.

“Mr. President, I’m saddened by you feeling the necessity to talk about white people in a hospital ignoring or not treating on a timely basis, Black people. I think to bring that up as an excuse or in support of this program is really demeaning to this program,” Pence said.

Pence also listed a number of concerns he had with Just Societies as a DEI initiative, and that it could mandate the views of students.

“People have had this indoctrination [DEI initiatives], and that’s hurting our country…

Freedom of speech, freedom of learning, freedom of thought and I haven’t found it in here… I’ll guarantee you in a week, the next week [or] the week after, I’m going to find that paragraph and I’ll show it to you. [It will say] we need to teach the students what to think. Not how to think… I’ll bet you [it’ll say] ‘Mickey D’s number one,’” Pence said.

In response to the visitors comments, Broeckelman-Post explained that the Just Societies Initiative and Mason Core requirements come from extensive research including information from SCHEV, the ACLU and “campus-wide conversations”.

Witeck responded to a concerns of a mandate, explaining that having a variety of classes with the Just Societies flag will offer a freedom of choice for what students may take.

During the last BOV meeting on April 2, GMU AAUP President and Associate Professor Timothy Gibson presented the organization’s petition to “Tell the BOV that Mason faculty, not BOV members, must set the curriculum and evaluate the value of faculty research. Help us protect Mason’s faculty, students, and our institution of higher education from political interference.” The petition said, which currently has at least 300 signatures from the Mason community including faculty and students.


The AAUP’s accusations of political interference stem from Visitors’ conservative relationships, large donations to political campaigns, and experience working under the George W. Bush and Donald Trump administrations.

Since 2005, Brown donated $303,200 to campaigns for 12 democrats, six political action committees and 21 republicans including $55,000 to Gov. Youngkin two years prior to his appointment by Gov. Youngkin. According to Blackstone, Brown worked as associate White House Counsel and special assistant to the President under Republican George W. Bush from 2003 to 2005.

Fourth Estate could not locate prior direct work experience in the education field from Brown. 

Since 1996, Pence donated $834,625 majorly to republicans including $50,000 to Gov. Youngkin one year prior to his appointment by Gov. Youngkin. Since 2013, his company, The Pence Group Inc. donated $13,500 majorly to republicans.

According to his 2018 nomination letter, Pence, who is not related to Mike Pence, was “selected” by former President Donald Trump to serve as the ambassador to Finland.

Fourth Estate could not locate prior direct work experience in the education field from Pence.

Rosen is publicly affiliated with the Republican party. According to the Department of Justice, from 2003-2006, he worked under the George W. Bush administration as General Counsel of the United States Department of Transportation. From 2017-2021, he worked under the Trump administration as the 12th United States Deputy Secretary of Transportation, the 38th United States Deputy Attorney General and the United States Attorney General.

Rosen has prior experience as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center.

Lindsey Burke, who was appointed by Gov. Youngkin, is the Director of the Center for Education Policy at The Heritage Foundation which has a self-proclaimed mission to promote conservative public policies.

Burke has made numerous publications for Heritage Foundation including The Consequences of Unchecked Illegal Immigration on America’s Public Schools, Protecting American Universities from Undue Foreign Influence and DeSantis Tackles Divisive “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” Programs on College Campuses.

“DEI programs push divisive identity politics as well as distorted narratives about American history… Florida is leading the way in weakening the Left’s capture of education institutions,” Burke said in her Desantis-DEI article.

Burke also has an active X page. “DEI doesn’t stand for ‘diversity, equity, and inclusion,’ @GovRonDeSantis explains @Heritage 50th. DEI stands for ‘discrimination, exclusion, and indoctrination,’” Burke said in a Tweet.

Fourth Estate could not locate prior direct work experience in the education field from Burke. 

Last June, Alacbay wrote an article for Heritage Foundation with Burke. In the article, it said “All-or-nothing Title IV Federal Student Aid eligibility gives institutions no incentive for stepwise improvement.” and “Congress should directly prohibit accreditors from instituting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) requirements for colleges and universities or interference in governance.”

Fourth Estate could not locate prior direct work experience in the education field from Alacbay. 

Visitor Jon M. Peterson was appointed by former Gov. Northam starting July 2020. Prior to his appointment, Peterson donated $912,659 to 10 political action committees and campaigns for 56 republicans, three independents and 20 democrats including $35,000 to former Gov. Ralph Northam in 2017 and 2019 before his appointment by Gov. Northam in 2020.

Peterson is the Chief Executive Officer of Peterson Companies. Peterson Companies also made donations totaling $138,158 since 1998. Of the total amount, $100,000 was recently donated to the Republican Commonwealth Leadership PAC in 2021.

Peterson also donated $37,500 to Gov. Youngkin through Spirit of Virginia in 2022. Peterson’s term will expire in June 30, 2024 and is eligible for reappointment by Gov. Youngkin.

Fourth Estate could not locate prior direct work experience in the education field from Peterson. 

Since 2015, Blackman donated $10,500 majorly to democrats.

Fourth Estate could not locate prior direct work experience in the education field from Blackman.

Biographies from the Board of Visitors, including their major work experiences can be viewed on their Board Membership page.