Statement from President and former President of Thomas Jefferson Society of Alumni
Below is a statement authored by the President and immediate ex-President of the Thomas Jefferson Society of Alumni. The Thomas Jefferson Society is a branch of the Alumni Association and consists of members who graduated from the University at least 50 years ago. The signers wished to note that "[t]he opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Thomas Jefferson Society."
June 24, 2012
A Great University in Turmoil
Like thousands of alumni, students, faculty, staff, administrators and friends of the University of Virginia, we have been alarmed, dismayed, embarrassed and even angered by the unfolding events and turmoil at our beloved University over the last fortnight. As members of the Thomas Jefferson Society [of alumni of more than 50 years each], we cannot recall a single instance that involved so many people of all walks of University life upset with the leadership of the University than the forced resignation of President Teresa Sullivan and the near-universal reaction to it.
The closest we recall were the multiple demonstrations against the War in Vietnam in 1970 which involved much of the student body and many faculty and alumni as well. The difference then was that the demonstrators were not all on one side: many rebelled against the unpopular war, but many others supported it. The community was split.
In the current disagreement, substantially all of the University other than the Board of Visitors itself is opposed to the action the Board took and especially the way it was done. When ten of the eleven faculty deans call for the reinstatement of President Sullivan (and the eleventh was not asked because he had already been named as the interim president), it should tell the Board something about the breadth and depth of the opposition to the Board's action. We note that Mark Kington, Vice Rector of the Board, resigned on June 19th.
We have read the many statements issued by various individuals and interest groups in the media and collected and reported by the U. Va. Alumni Association. These include the statement made by President Sullivan to the Board, the dissent made by former Rector Heywood Fralin, and the statement of current Rector Helen Dragas on June 22nd.
Since Ms. Dragas' statement was made "on behalf of the Board of Visitors", we presume it was duly approved by the Board at their meeting on Monday, June 18th. The Board has now agreed to consider reinstatement of Ms. Sullivan at a new meeting to be held on Tuesday, June 26th.
Ms. Dragas addresses many points about the direction, progress and timeline for addressing these concerns about the future of the University. They are serious matters and deserve serious consideration, study and action where indicated. We do not have the facts at hand that the Board may have, nor do we claim the expertise to judge them. That is for the administration and the Board. But our experience in government, business and life in general tells us that these matters should first have been raised with the president, administration, faculty and deans as explicitly as they are now raised in defense of the Board's current action. President Sullivan should have been put on notice in writing that her tenure as president was in jeopardy and given a reasonable time to correct the alleged deficiencies. Two years as president is a very short time indeed in which to alter the course of an institution as large and complex as this University. From the facts publically reported, it appears that no such performance review was done or documented, and that President Sullivan was taken completely by surprise. As attorneys in our professional lives, this offends our sense of fairness and due process.
Ms. Dragas and other Board members have already admitted that the matter of President Sullivan's forced resignation was handled poorly and caused pain, anger and confusion which has swept the Grounds over the last 10 days and that the U. Va. family deserved better from the Board. We agree and will go further. As 50+ year members each of the University family, we cannot remember another instance where the Rector and Board caused so much damage to the University's morale, sense of cohesiveness, and reputation.
We call upon the Board of Visitors to reinstate Ms. Sullivan as President to complete her current term of office without prejudice. We call upon Rector Helen Dragas to resign as Rector and Board member. In the event she does not resign, we will ask Governor Robert McDonnell not to reappoint her when her current term expires June 30, 2012. Finally, we support the faculty's request for one voting member on the Board to give the Board the opportunity to have faculty input and participation in its future deliberations and votes.
James G. Cosby, Roanoke \nPresident, Thomas Jefferson Society
Dewey B. Morris, Richmond\nImmediate Past President, Thomas Jefferson Society