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Virginia’s Slide into the Dark Ages Continues Apace

First, Va. Reactionary-in-Moderate’s-Clothing Governor Bob McDonnell issued an executive order pointedly omitting sexual orientation from the list of permitted grounds for firing state employees. In so doing, he rescinded the earlier order from his predecessor, Gov. Tim Kaine. To be clear, that means that the state can: Ask interviewees for state positions if they’re gay; refuse to hire them on that basis; and fire those discovered to be gay. This should have surprised no one; as Attorney General, McDonnell had opposed the previous executive orders, finding that the the governor’s office had no authority to extend protections not afforded by the legislature. (Never mind that this sort of executive order offering protections against sexual-orientation discrimination are common and rarely questioned; they can at least state the policy of the executive office, even if they can’t grant rights to enforcement.)

Now, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has reportedly asked Virginia state schools, including my alma mater (William and Mary) to overturn policies barring sexual-orientation discrimination, invoking the same “no authority” argument. What is going on here? The AG surely has actual issues to deal with, and anyway can’t expect that the College is going to rescind its policy, or to start discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. But the developments are just weird enough to have inspired a state senator in neighboring Maryland to have urged local corporation Northrup Grumman not to relocate to Virginia. Here is the letter, which also mentions that McDonnell and Cuccinelli rejected a request from a consortium of the major state universities (including W&M and UVA) to allow for health benefits of same-sex partners even if the employees paid for those benefits in full.

Although a corporation responsible to its shareholders for the bottom line will focus on a number of economic climate issues in deciding where to locate, nothing would make my day more than for Northrup Grumman to choose either Maryland or D.C., and, for good measure, cite the increasingly gay-hating policies of Virginia as a reason for doing so. Maybe the loss of business is actually something they’d understand.

One more thing: It’s particularly outrageous for the state to be  so heavy-handed towards its universities when it’s cut funding for them to the bone. According to this story from a few months ago, the percentage of William and Mary’s operating budget that comes from the state has dropped, over the past thirty years, from 43% to 14%. And the cuts, they just keep on comin’. That same article explained that the College was going to have to rebalance its budget in Draconian ways because of:

“a 15%, or $6.2 million, reduction in state support, announced in September 2009 for the current fiscal year ending in June 2010.  This was the most recent in a series of state reductions in operating support for the College as the state wrestles with balancing its own budget.  Since April 2008, William & Mary has seen its state support permanently reduced by a total of $16.7 million, or 32%.”

Well, things are tough all over, as they say. But faculty salaries at the school have become an embarrassment, strong in-state high school students are being rejected in favor of higher-revenue-paying out-of-staters…and now this. The College should start thinking about a way to go completely private. Otherwise, they’ll continue to get less and less, and pay — in reputation, at least — more and more. Let the state keep its 14%-and-falling.

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