Board faces pressure to explain Sullivan's resignation
University faculty members are pushing back as the Board of Visitors has yet to offer a full explanation about the resignation of University President Teresa A. Sullivan.
A “university-wide request for clarification”
Some 39 faculty members signed a letter sent yesterday to University Rector Helen Dragas asking for clarification about the president’s departure. Dragas announced Sunday morning in a University-wide email that Sullivan would resign Aug. 15. Sullivan was quoted in the email as saying a “philosophical difference of opinion” led to the departure, an explanation Dragas echoed in an afternoon press conference.
The department chairs and program directors in the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences who were the co-signers of the letter called for a “full airing of the specific ‘philosophical differences’ mentioned by [Dragas] and President Sullivan in order to form a clear vision for the months and years ahead.”
English Prof. Cynthia Wall, who chairs her department, helped draft the letter. She said she sent it over email last night around 8:30 to each member of the Board and copied top administrators on the message. She posted the letter on the English Department’s Facebook page this morning.
“We’re going to continue to press for more specific answers, both for the history of the decision and the vision of the future which for the Board of Visitors seems so opposed to the vision that brought Terry in two years ago,” Wall said. “We are distressed that there was no consultation of the University community and no warning, no chance for discussion or dialogue.”
Wall said no one on the Board has responded to the letter so far.
Faculty discontent grows
Department chairs and program directors in the College met with College Dean Meredith Woo this morning from 11 a.m. to noon in Gibson 296, Wall said. Media Studies Prof. Siva Vaidhyanathan, who chairs his department, said Woo was “as surprised as anyone.”
He said the Council of Chairs and Directors has two messages for the Board. “One is that we want a full, clear and specific explanation for the differences that the Board had with President Sullivan,” Vaidhyanathan said. “The second is, we want a full picture of what sort of president the Board would want to replace her with. If we can get a sense of what the Board thinks a president should be like, then we have a chance to have a conversation about the future of U.Va.”
Attendance at today’s meeting with Woo was incomplete, since numerous faculty members are currently traveling or doing research away from Charlottesville.
Wall wondered whether the Board’s timing of the announcement was meant to deflect an organized response from faculty.
“We’re responding nonetheless – as forcefully as we can,” she said. “Many people, other chairs, have been emailing from all over the world – England, China.”
An upcoming meeting
Yesterday’s letter from department chairs supported a statement issued Monday by the University’s Faculty Senate, which requested a “full and candid explanation” of the change in leadership.
Dragas will soon meet with the Faculty Senate to discuss the reasons behind University President Teresa A. Sullivan’s resignation, according to Drama Prof. Gweneth West.
West, who chaired the Faculty Senate last year, said the meeting has not yet been scheduled. “We’re hoping that all this will happen as quickly as possible, within the week,” West said. “But it’s all about trying to get the people together that need to be present at that meeting.”
West said the Faculty Senate’s executive council will soon have a meeting of its own to prepare for the discussion with Dragas.
Faculty are not the only members of the University community left dumbfounded at Sullivan’s sudden resignation. Some individuals have taken to the Internet to protest the decision. A change.org petition urging Sullivan’s reinstatement gathered 115 signatures as of 3 p.m. this afternoon after its creation yesterday, and a parody Twitter account, @RectorDrago, has amassed 138 followers after going live Tuesday morning.
“The Board didn’t count on Facebook, Twitter and email to make sure people got alerted to what’s been going down,” Vaidhyanathan said.
It is last night’s email, however, and the weight of its faculty signatures, in which some are placing their hopes for a more complete disclosure from the Board.
“I don’t think [the Board] will respond to any specific letter, but I hope they’ll respond to the increasing call for an explanation of what the philosophical differences were that led to the decision,” Biology Prof. Douglas Taylor said. “It begs the question of what might be the Board’s alternative vision for resolving the University’s financial difficulties.”
Taylor said there is not “regular contact” between University faculty and the Board.
Department chairs remain unified in their respect for Sullivan, Vaidhyanathan said.
“I just think that it is a bit troubling that public officials have decided to be completely secretive about this very important set of questions,” Vaidhyanathan said. “Everyone at this university is baffled and perplexed. The only people who know why President Sullivan was dismissed are on the Board of Visitors.”
Dragas did not respond to an email request for comment.