U.Va. Faculty Senate calls emergency meeting over president's removal
Updated: June 18, 2012 - 11:53 pm
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) - University of Virginia faculty leaders on Monday demanded the reinstatement of the school's president and the resignation of two board members involved in her ouster. Board members gave no sign of complying, but acknowledged they could have handled Teresa Sullivan's abrupt departure better.
"We recognize that, while genuinely well-intended to protect the dignity of all parties, our actions too readily lent themselves to perceptions of being opaque and not in keeping with the honored traditions of this university," Rector Helen Dragas said in a statement issued by the university.
"For that reason, let me state clearly and unequivocally: You, our U.Va. family, deserved better from this board, and we have heard your concerns loud and clear."
That wasn't good enough for members of the Faculty Senate, who earlier met privately with board members to demand the removal of both Dragas and Vice Rector Mark J. Kington. The Senate's executive committee also requested that faculty be given a voting position on the board, known as the Board of Visitors.
The encounter came shortly before the board was to discuss and possibly vote on an interim successor to Sullivan. The board was still meeting late Monday, after more than eight hours behind closed doors.
Outside the Rotunda, the university's signature building where the meeting took place, about 2,000 people gathered to show their support earlier Monday for the ousted president.
A little girl wearing a U.Va. cap held a sign that read, "We don't treat people this way." Several people carried signs bearing the likeness of university founder Thomas Jefferson and quoting his 1820 pledge that the school would "follow truth wherever it may lead."
In remarks to the board, Sullivan defended her performance since taking office in August 2010, and outlined key aspects of her strategy of measured change, including implementing a new budgeting model that decentralizes financial planning.
She said that she has worked to adopt necessary changes in light of financial challenges to public higher education. She said she and the board apparently disagreed with "how that change should occur and at what pace."
"I've been described as an incrementalist. It is true," she said, according to remarks she provided to reporters after she spoke in the closed session. "Sweeping action may be gratifying and may create the aura of strong leadership, but its unintended consequences may lead to costs that are too high to bear."
"Corporate-style, top-down leadership does not work in a great university," she said. "Sustained change with buy-in does work."
Sullivan, who is scheduled to depart Aug. 15, stepped out to greet the crowd, and was met with thunderous cheers and chants of "U-V-A! U-V-A!" before returning inside.
After emerging again from the closed session and thanking the throng of supporters, she walked away through the parted crowd while being serenaded loudly with the school song, "The Good Ole Song."
The panel never formally voted on Sullivan's departure or fully explained it, touching off a furor among faculty, administrators, students, donors and alumni. Dragas announced the resignation on June 10.
Across the street, along a stretch of bustling shops and restaurants, a group of mathematics graduate students attending summer school said they were concerned the Board of Visitors might be trying to run the university like a corporation. Dragas is a Virginia Beach developer, and Kington is president of a northern Virginia management company.
David Lipman, a second-year doctoral student, said that emails students received from the Board of Visitors about Sullivan's resignation contained "total corporate-speak," including references to cost-cutting and strategic plans.
"If I were a professor or administrator I wouldn't want to come to U.Va.," said Peter Bonventre, also a second-year Ph.D. student.
The furor over Sullivan's ouster could hit the university in the pocketbook. Several donors are withdrawing their pledges over the issue, including longtime benefactor Hunter Smith, who along with her late husband, Carl W. Smith, has given millions to the school. Smith said she will withhold further support until Dragas, Kington and other board members are removed.
"I love this school and they deserve better than what's been done," Smith said Monday in a telephone interview. "I'm not going to condone what's been done."
Another prominent U.Va. benefactor took the opposite stance, however. In an op-ed article Sunday in the local newspaper, The Daily Progress, Paul Tudor Jones II said Sullivan's departure is "a clarion call from the Board of Visitors that business as usual is not acceptable anymore."
"Why be good when there is outstanding to be had?" Jones wrote.
Would you like to contribute to this story? Join the discussion.