Faculty Senate, provost express doubt in Board
Faculty Senate adopts executive council's resolution; Simon says "next few days" critical to his future at University
The University's Faculty Senate met in emergency session this evening and ratified a resolution passed Thursday by its executive council declaring "no confidence" in the Board of Visitors. John Simon, the University's executive vice president and provost, introduced the meeting, saying the past week had him questioning whether the Board's actions were consistent with his beliefs about the values of higher education at the University.
"I now find myself at a defining moment, confronting and questioning whether honor, integrity and trust are truly the foundational pillars of life at the University of Virginia," Simon told a capacity crowd at the Darden School's Abbott Center Auditorium. "The Board's actions over the next few days will inform me as to whether the University of Virginia remains the type of institution I am willing to dedicate my efforts to help lead."
Simon's comments suggested a different perspective than the one he communicated to the Darden community Thursday, in which he said the Board had acted in what it felt was the best interest of the University. At that talk, Simon called for a collective reestablishment of trust in the University and its governance.
Faculty Senate's meeting came one week after University Rector Helen Dragas announced in a University-wide email that University President Teresa A. Sullivan would step down Aug. 15. It was an unexpected move that shocked the University community and inspired many to call for specifics about Sullivan's ousting. The Board has not been forthcoming with details. In a statement to faculty Wednesday, Dragas said it was the policy of the Board, in line with "sound employment practices," to keep "matters of disagreement" confidential.
Professors speaking at today's Faculty Senate gathering expressed dissatisfaction with the Board's lack of direct communication with faculty members. Law Prof. George Cohen, chair of the Faculty Senate, said he had seen "no indication of any kind of scandal that would justify the swift actions of the Board."
Of the 82 faculty members who make up the Faculty Senate, 53 attended the emergency meeting, according to Director of Digital Research and Scholarship Bethany Nowviskie, who live-tweeted the session. Those in attendance voted unanimously to adopt the executive council's resolution. Of 21 proxy votes, 18 supported the measure, two did not and one abstained.
Also on Sunday, the student member of the Board, fourth-year College student Hillary Hurd, issued a statement revising earlier comments she had made in support of Sullivan's removal. Responding to calls from the student body for more transparency, Hurd said she would urge the Board to proceed with "more openness."
The Honor Committee also released a statement today calling the Board's tight-lipped proceedings "troubling."
"The lack of a clear and full explanation has created an environment that is inconsistent with the value of trust that runs through the very fabric of our University," Honor Committee Chair Stephen Nash, a fourth-year College student, wrote in the statement.
Although Sullivan technically remains in office until mid-August, she has already been relieved of organizational authority, University spokesperson Carol Wood said. Top deputies Simon and Michael Strine, the University's executive vice president and chief operating officer, currently report to Dragas and University Vice Rector Mark Kington.
Del. David Toscano, D-Charlottesville, issued a statement today calling for Sullivan's reinstatement. The Board's action "places the University in substantial peril, in the short and long term," Toscano said in the statement. "It should be reversed; I call on the Board of Visitors to do so. If they will not, I encourage Governor McDonnell to do all in his power to assist the process."
The Board convenes tomorrow at 3 p.m. in the Rotunda to discuss candidates for interim president and is widely expected to announce a selection. Sullivan has reportedly requested to address the Board while it meets in closed session.