Virginia gubernatorial candidates Ed Gillespie and Ralph Northam affirmed their commitment to higher education in Virginia Wednesday, Oct. 11, during the University of Richmond’s Sharp Viewpoint Speakers Series.

Richmond Scholars and the office of the president hosted the conversation with the candidates at the Queally Center. UR President Ronald A. Crutcher sat down with the candidates separately and pressed them on education, free speech and the Trump administration, in preparation for the Nov. 4 election.

During both half-hour talks, questions about Virginia's higher education system dominated the conversation. Both candidates said they supported the Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant, or VTAG, which Crutcher said had given Virginia students each $3,200 to attend private universities last year.

“I think it’s a system that has worked very well and has given to many individuals just the option to go to great schools like University of Richmond,” Northam said.

Gillespie said he believed the VTAG program was important, but in order to increase the amount of grant money, the state’s budget concerns would need to be improved.

When addressing the state of Virginia’s public universities, Northam said he blamed the state legislature for cutting back Virginia’s public higher education funding. Some public schools in Virginia now receive less than 10 percent of their budget from the state, Northam said.

Gillespie echoed disappointment in the state budget for public colleges.

“We are comparably low in terms of our support for tuition at public colleges,” he said. “But at the same time, we’ve got great colleges and universities happening.”

Jennifer Piciw, sophomore, attended the conversation and said she was pleased that it was focused on education policy because that affects UR.

Crutcher shifted the questioning to current issues and asked the candidates about the controversy over Virginia’s Confederate monuments. Gillespie opposed removal of the monuments, while Northam expressed his support for it.

“When you are on the side of preserving slavery, then you are on the wrong side of it, but it is our history, and I believe we need to teach it,” Gillespie said.

He said his approach to the monuments would be to place them in historical context through education and add new statues of great Virginians.

Meanwhile, Northam used the neo-Nazi demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia, as reason to remove the Confederate statues. He said that if the statues gave the hate groups an excuse to be violent, they should be removed.

“We as a society need to have a discussion about these statues that can be very divisive, they can breed hatred and bigotry,” he said. “So my position is that these statues, if they are divisive, need to be in museums.”

There were around 300 seats in the Queally Center at the speakers series, and tickets sold out before the conversations. Community members made up most of the crowd.

Crutcher also asked each candidate about their potential relationship with the Trump administration while in office.

Both Gillespie and Northam said that they did not agree with all of the president’s policies, but said they would still need to work with the administration. Gillespie said he wanted to work with the president in order to receive federal funds that would boost the Virginia economy.

Northam said he found many of the president’s policies unacceptable, but would work with him to help the Virginia economy and prevent some of the policies from negatively affecting Virginians.

Northam said he would like his legacy as governor to be the promotion of education, healthcare and inclusivity. Gillespie said he would hope his governorship would put the economy on a better track.

Contact news writer Alexis Angelus at alexis.angelus@richmond.edu.