Sullivan's reinstatement brings unity, questions
Sullivan, Dragas receive unanimous approval from Board as community hopes to move forward
President Teresa A. Sullivan and Rector Helen Dragas entered the Rotunda Board Room together, tellingly, 10 minutes after others in the room had all taken their seats. Their shared entrance set the conciliatory tone of today’s meeting, during which the Board of Visitors unanimously reinstated Sullivan as the University’s president.
When the Board’s vote was announced outside, the gathered crowd of several thousand on the Lawn erupted into cheers audible from the Board Room. The meeting, conducted in open session, was streamed live to more than 10,000 viewers.
Heywood Fralin, the lone dissenter at last week’s Board meeting which saw the appointment of an interim president designate, introduced the resolution which restored Sullivan to the position. He expressed regret at how the past 16 days had played out and said he wished he had called a Board meeting prior to asking for Sullivan’s resignation.
“It is clear that every member knew that the Rector and the Vice Rector intended to meet with President Sullivan to ask for her resignation,” Fralin said to the Board. He told them he wished he had been “clever enough” to call for a meeting prior to that event.
Dragas also addressed the Board at length, apologizing for the process which left the University in turmoil for more than two weeks, as well as articulating further the need for future collaboration between the Board and administration. She said she and Sullivan had “both come to the conclusion that it’s time to bring the U.Va. family back together.”
The Board passed a unanimous vote of confidence in the Rector following the vote to reinstate Sullivan.
Sullivan addressed the waiting crowd on the Lawn – the fourth time such a crowd had gathered in the past eight days – and called for the reunification of the community of trust after many had expressed disillusionment and disappointment with the University’s governing board. “The greatest strength we have uncovered is how deep our commitment to this university runs,” Sullivan told the crowd.
Sullivan defended the University as an institution of high integrity following a period which saw much criticism – both internal and external – directed at it. Sullivan herself, who cautioned the Board just eight days ago that the campus turmoil would enable other universities to “raid” the University’s faculty, said the events of the past two weeks should reinforce students’ decisions to attend the University.
Honor Committee Chair Stephen Nash said he thought the Board had acted with “tremendous integrity” in rescinding its earlier decision.
“I don’t think this caused us lasting damage at all,” Nash said. “To onlookers it might be messy but to me it shows exactly what makes this university great.”
Sullivan’s remarks contained appeals for reconciliation and support for a wide variety of those who hold relationships with the University, including faculty, students, alumni, donors, the Board itself and the crowd gathered to listen to her speak.
“You have shown without a shadow of a doubt that I am not alone” in working to address challenges facing the University, Sullivan told them. “You have an opportunity now to join with us in a moment of great unity and shared purpose in our intellectual community, and to be part of something that is truly distinctive in higher education.”
Gov. Bob McDonnell, who last week threatened to unseat the entire Board if they did not resolve the matter today, released a statement congratulating Sullivan on her reappointment but cautioning that the challenges facing the University identified by the Board remain. He said both Sullivan and the Board must work “closely together to address those issues and set in motion the strategy and tactics to tackle these challenges.” He did not mention whether or not he plans to reappoint Dragas to the Board when her term expires July 1.
Law Prof. George Cohen, the chair of the Faculty Senate and the most vocal critic of the Board’s action, said following the announcement of Sullivan’s reinstatement that he was ready to move forward from the incident. He said he would no longer call for the Rector’s resignation if Sullivan did not. “She said that she can work with the Rector and we can work with the Rector as well,” he said.
The process that led to Sullivan’s reinstatement, however, was just as shrouded in secrecy as the process that led to her resignation. The Board voted 12-1 to appoint an interim president on June 19, and all 12 of those members supported Sullivan today. Apart from the resignation of Vice Rector Mark Kington and the publication of emails between Dragas and Kington discussing changes in the field of higher education, the public has little insight into what forced the Board to rescind its earlier decision.
This was not an issue, however, for the crowd standing out on the Lawn singing the “Good Ole Song.” Denson Staples, a 2012 graduate of the College and a former Lawn resident, said he thought the celebrations today should focus on the University’s mission, not just this particular incident. “I hope that this gets reoriented and becomes about the values that everyone’s rallying behind and not about the BOV-Sullivan [events],” he said.