Student Board of Visitors representative supports Sullivan's resignation
Hurd says decision to seek new president
Fourth-year College Student Hillary Hurd, the student representative to the Board of Visitors, is one of the first with internal knowledge about the “mutual agreement” leading to University President Teresa A. Sullivan’s resignation to comment on the matter. She told The Cavalier Daily yesterday she had full confidence in the Board’s decision. Her interview with The Cavalier Daily took place following a two-hour conversation she had with University Rector Helen Dragas.
“This is a decision which I think will prove in time to have been a wise one, and that it’s hard now, on the Monday after the decision was officially released, to fully appreciate kind of what the Board was considering,” Hurd said. “Students would be best to remember that these Board members are people who know and love U.Va.”
As the student member of the Board, Hurd did not have a vote in the Board’s decisions about Sullivan’s contract. She declined to say when the Board began to consider seeking new leadership but said she did have advance knowledge of Sullivan’s resignation.
The news of Sullivan’s ousting took many in the University community by surprise when it was announced Sunday morning, and it has generated vast speculation on the reasons for the decision. Dragas has declined to comment further on the matter since Sunday, when she alluded to differences of opinion between the Board’s visions of the future of the University and Sullivan’s.
Hurd said the much-speculated upon “philosophical difference” between the Board and the president about their visions of the future of the University would become more clear in the coming weeks if the next president follows the vision the Board has in mind.
That vision is “not some abstract concept that [the Board] developed in a dark closet that they’re not ever going to disclose to the University,” Hurd said. “What they mean is a vision that’s in line and takes into account changes that are taking place in higher education across the country. It’s a vision of keeping pace; it’s a vision of maintaining U.Va.‘s excellence.”
One possible point of contention mentioned in Dragas’ Sunday address to the University’s vice presidents and deans was the University’s integration of online education. Hotly debated in higher education circles, online education has “been legitimized by some of the elite institutions,” Dragas noted in her remarks.
Those institutions include the likes of Harvard, Stanford, M. I. T. and Princeton, all of which recently began offering free open online courses.
The University has faced strain during the last few years as it seeks to increase student enrollment despite cuts in state support. Meanwhile, the school must compete with top-tier schools that have “adopted strategies that are highly innovative and are really revolutionizing the way that students learn,” Hurd said.
Hurd said internal pressures, combined with the need to remain competitive with other schools, acted as the “catalyst” for a change in leadership. She declined to comment on specific reasons why the Board thought the University needed a new executive, but said multiple factors had “come together to put more pressure on U.Va. than is generally applied.”
“That has made this decision all the more necessary with regards and respect to the president,” Hurd said. “It’s not so much the Board having this covert plan that they developed in the dark, it’s just them saying, we see a lack of a strategy. We see a lack of a plan from our president about how we’re going to keep pace with other higher-education schools.”
Hurd declined to comment on whether the differences of opinion between Sullivan and the Board should have been exposed in the vetting process two years ago, when the Board unanimously selected her as President John T. Casteen III’s successor. “A lot of the subjects that the Board has to take into account now are much more important than they were two years ago,” Hurd said.
Sullivan had just completed the second year of a five-year contract which paid her $680,000 annually.
The Faculty Senate released a statement yesterday calling for increased transparency from the Board about the “sudden and drastic change in University leadership,” saying they were “blindsided” by the Board’s decision.
“We are shocked and dismayed by this news,” the statement said. “We understand that the University, like most of its peer institutions, faces tremendous challenges. We believe President Sullivan made meaningful progress toward meeting these challenges, and put in place strategies and personnel to move the University forward.”
Law Prof. George Cohen, the chair of the Faculty Senate, said Dragas and Vice Rector Mark Kington had spoken at the most recent Board meeting about the financial difficulties the University was facing but they had not conveyed any sort of “imminent threat” to Sullivan’s employment. That meeting lasted from May 21 to May 22.
“I did not get any sense at the Board of Visitors meeting that the president’s job was in danger,” Cohen said.
Update: Hillary Hurd, the student representative to the Board of Visitors, released a further statement calling for “more openness and communication” from the Board, and presented this statement in an email and also to the Board in its open session on Monday.