UVA Board Reinstates President Teresa Sullivan in Unanimous Vote

Gov. Bob McDonnell asked for a "united voice"

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    NEWSLETTERS

    After weeks of outrage from the campus community, the University of Virginia's governing board voted unanimously to reinstate ousted President Teresa Sullivan. News4's Julie Carey has more on what led to the initial decision and its ultimate reversal. (Published Tuesday, Jun 26, 2012)

    The University of Virginia Board of Visitors reinstated Teresa Sullivan as university president in a unanimous vote.

    Hundreds of Sullivan's supporters held a rally beginning on the lawn outside of the board's meeting space, and cheers could be heard as the vote was made, News4's Julie Carey reported.

    The vote comes after more than two weeks of public and private infighting prompted by the unexpected decision to oust Sullivan.

    In an opening statement, Rector Helen Dragas apologized to the university community, saying, "You deserve better."

    In a stark reversal from her earlier position, Dragas submitted a resolution to reinstate Sullivan, which the board affirmed unanimously. Dragas said that she had been in conversation with Sullivan prior to the meeting, and they even entered the room together.

    Gov. Bob McDonnell congratulated Sullivan and thanked the board in a statement released Tuesday afternoon.

    "The past few weeks have not been easy for the university and all those who love it," he said. "There has been too little transparency; too much vitriol. Too little discussion; too much blame. Now, with today’s board action, the time has come for Mr. Jefferson’s university to move forward."

    Last week one board member resigned, and appointed interim president Carl Zeithaml stepped down after receiving input from faculty and community members -- many of whom had called for the reinstatement of Sullivan and the resignation of Dragas. Dragas said in a statement, "We did the right thing the wrong way."

    "Members of the board have faced much criticism over the past two weeks," McDonnell's statement read. "Specifically, much of that criticism has been directed at the first woman to serve as rector of the Board of Visitors. This has been very unfortunate and counterproductive. It has not been in keeping with traits long associated with the university such as civility in discourse and open dialog. The board itself admittedly made mistakes and did not act with the procedural transparency that should be accorded such a significant decision. The board did lay out, in subsequent days, pressing concerns that led members to believe changes at the university were necessary."

    The reinstatement highlighted a dispute over how one of the finest universities in the U.S. -- public or private -- should move forward to address multiple challenges, including sharply diminished financial resources and pressure to increase its presence online. 

    Sullivan had signaled to the board prior to her ouster that she advocated "incremental" change -- not the bold, swift steps advocated by others such as Dragas.

    "I want to partner with you in bringing about what's best for the university," she said as cheers erupted from supporters who had gathered outside the Rotunda.

    The newly reinstated president then headed outside where hundreds of faculty, students and other supporters regaled her with applause and the university's anthem, "Good Ole' Song."

    "You have shown beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am not alone," said Sullivan, who became UVA's eighth president and its first female leader when she was named in August 2010. "I believe that together we'll do great things for the university."

    The ouster triggered days of online protests, massive protests on the campus's historic grounds, and calls by deans, faculty, students and alumni for Sullivan's return.

    Dragas later said the university under Sullivan's leadership wasn't acting quickly enough to address state and federal funding reductions, online education delivery and other challenges. She didn't offer specific examples.

    In a statement June 21, she cited a rapidly shifting health care environment that she said will necessitate changes at the UVA Medical Center; heightened pressure to better allocate scarce resources; changing technology; and federal and state funding challenges.

    UVA expects to get about 10 percent of its operating budget from the state of Virginia this fiscal year. Public funding per in-state student has fallen to an estimated $8,310 in 2012-13, down from $15,274 per in-state student in 2000-01, according to the university.

    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 budget model that decentralizes financial planning. She also acknowledged being an "incrementalist," favoring measured planning and collaboration with faculty and other constituents over what she called the board's "corporate, top-down leadership." She said the latter wasn't in the university's best interests.

    On Friday, McDonnell called on the board to make a decision as quickly as possible and to speak with a "united voice," otherwise he would request all members to resign.

    Dragas and one other board member are up for reappointment and two others have terms that are expiring shortly. The governor must announce his decisions on all four appointments by July 1.

    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.