UVa board considers reinstating ousted president

AP News
Posted: Jun 26, 2012 3:05 PM
UVa board considers reinstating ousted president

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — Crowds gathered outside a campus building Tuesday to await a decision by the University of Virginia's governing board whether to reinstate Teresa Sullivan, who was ousted without a vote earlier this month.

The Board of Visitors was to meet Tuesday afternoon at the university's historic Rotunda. Faculty, students and others planned to hold a demonstration outside the meeting to show support for the popular Sullivan, who became U.Va.'s eighth president and its first female leader in August 2010.

A majority of the 15-member board would have to approve the reinstatement for Sullivan to remain in office. Sullivan declined to comment before the meeting through a spokeswoman with a media relations firm she has hired. Messages for board Rector Helen Dragas and the other board members weren't immediately returned.

Some outside the Rotunda held signs reading "Only One HONORable vote: Terry Sullivan"

Faculty Senate chairman and U.Va. law professor George Cohen said that all segments of the university community back Sullivan because she has been an effective president, and embodies and acts upon principles of "honesty, candor, openness, transparency, inclusion, consultation, communication, fairness, dignity and trust."

He also said that removing Sullivan would cause "unnecessary delay and hinder our ability to move the university forward."

U.Va. officials announced June 10 that Sullivan would step down Aug. 15, surprising the university community and triggering an outcry over the lack of explanation about her forced resignation. Dragas since has said the university wasn't acting quickly enough to address state and federal funding reductions, online education delivery and other challenges, but didn't offer specific examples of how she thinks Sullivan has fallen short.

Emails that became public showed the roles Dragas and vice rector Mark Kington played in planning the ouster in the weeks ahead of the announcement and showed them exchanging links to articles addressing issues that surfaced in statements related to Sullivan's removal. An email from Peter Kiernan, a top donor who chaired the Darden School Foundation, also surfaced, showing that he supported and had advance knowledge of the plan. Kiernan subsequently resigned from the foundation.

Sullivan defended her performance at a board meeting June 18, outlining some of her initiatives since taking office, including hiring a new provost and chief operating officer and adopting a new budgeting model that decentralizes financial planning. She also admitted to being an "incrementalist," favoring measured planning and buy-in from faculty and other constituents, and criticized the board's "corporate, top-down leadership" as not being in the university's best interests.

Critics compared how the board's executive committee handled Sullivan's abrupt firing to a coup d'etat, and said it violated U.Va. founder Thomas Jefferson's stated principles of honesty, respect and honor. The move triggered online protests, gatherings that packed the historic grounds' Lawn, and calls by deans, faculty, students and alumni for the board to return her to office. The Faculty Senate was among groups that called for Dragas and Kington to resign. Kington stepped down last week.

Dragas apologized for the mishandling of Sullivan's removal but stood by the decision. "In my view we did the right thing, the wrong way," she said in a statement.

At last week's marathon session, which stretched nearly 12 hours, the board named U.Va. undergraduate business school Dean Carl P. Zeithaml to become interim president after Sullivan's departure. But Zeithaml on Friday decided to step aside until the resolution of Sullivan's employment status.

Gov. Bob McDonnell, who appointed half of the board members, said Friday he would ask for the resignations of all the members if the group failed to resolve the controversy at Tuesday's meeting.

Sullivan, 62, is an eminent scholar of labor-force demography. Before coming to Charlottesville, she served as provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at the University of Michigan, another top public university.


Zinie Chen Sampson can be reached on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/zinie