Statehouse Days

By John R. Broderick    //    Volume 26,  Number 5   //    November/December 2018

One of my most essential roles as president of Old Dominion University is communicator: sharing our accomplishments and vision to elected officials. The university has a great story, but it’s one that must be told over and over again.

Old Dominion has the second-highest percentage of graduates in STEM-H (sci-ence, technology, engineering, math, and health) fields among doctoral institutions in Virginia. One-quarter of our 25,000 students have some connection to the military. We have been ranked among the top 15 universities nationwide for our success in graduating African-American students. Old Dominion is proud to be a national leader in social mobility, helping students—some who are the first in their families to attend college—connect with the American dream. In short, we offer an affordable, challenging education to all capable students.

Our efforts to convey this message to state legislators have been successful. Over the past decade, the commonwealth has increased Old Dominion’s capital and operating funding by more than
$542 million. But building relationships with state officials doesn’t begin when the General Assembly convenes. It is a never-ending process.

Most state legislators in Virginia have other jobs; their time is limited. I try to adjust my schedule to accommodate theirs. Sometimes I travel to their home offices across the state; other times, we invite them to the university. Since the summer, I have seen nearly one-third of the members of the state Senate and House either in their districts or at an event on the Old Dominion campus.

During the General Assembly session, I am in Richmond about twice a week. A typical day entails six to 10 brief meetings with members of the General Assembly or their staffs, members of the governor’s staff, or directly with the governor. When the House and Senate go into their daily sessions, I meet with an alumnus, donor, or someone involved in public policy.

With senators and delegates whom I have known for years, discussions are just as likely to be about family, a vacation, or a sporting event as about the business at hand. With people I haven’t met before, I spend a lot of time listening. I want them to leave knowing more about Old Dominion. But I also want to find out what they already know about us and, more important, the issues they’re most concerned about during the legislative session.

Being at the right spot at the right time can be essential for your institution. Running into legislators in hallways or on elevators often provides a valuable opportunity for conversation. Sometimes you can exchange an idea or make a point during a 30-second elevator ride.

I also rely on our board of visitors, alumni, faculty, and students, who can provide a different dynamic with legislators. For example, every winter, a group of Old Dominion students visit Richmond. They visit members of the Hampton Roads delegation, as well as their individual senators and legislators. As a result, legislators from Northern Virginia to the Roanoke area are likely to meet with constituents from our campus.

Our messages are clear and compelling. We want every legislator to know that more than 90 percent of our freshmen are Virginians. We also want them to learn about our many partner-ships—collaborating on resiliency research with the College of William & Mary’s Virginia Institute of Marine Science, working with George Mason University to expand online education, and sharing the Virginia Beach Higher Education Center with Norfolk State University.

I never assume our elected officials know everything about Old Dominion. Even with veteran legislators, it’s important to remind them about our story every year.

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