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Zeithaml, McDonnell look to Board to resolve instability

Commerce Dean Zeithaml suspends interim nomination; Gov. McDonnell issues statement to public and Board

McIntire School of Commerce Dean Carl Zeithaml stepped away from his role as University interim president designate Friday, saying he was “walking a tightrope” until the Board of Visitors convenes Tuesday to possibly make a final decision on the employment of President Teresa A. Sullivan.

“I understand right now that everybody is trying to do the right thing,” Zeithaml said, speaking to reporters at a last-minute press conference before he left for Europe. “I think that the challenge here is to balance the competing views of well-intentioned people.”

Zeithaml’s announcement came just 16 hours after the Board announced Thursday afternoon it will meet Tuesday to “discuss possible changes in the terms of employment of the President,” according to a University media alert. Board members Tim Robertson, MacDonald Caputo and Hunter Craig were the ones to call the meeting.

Law Prof. George Cohen, the chair of the Faculty Senate, said although the group agreed with Zeithaml on “almost all issues” it was still seeking Sullivan’s reinstatement. He said he was optimistic that Tuesday’s Board meeting would end with that result, and that he imagined “the Board would be very reluctant to have this meeting called” if it was not strongly considering reinstating Sullivan.

The Board would need at least eight votes from its 15 voting members to reinstate Sullivan.

Gov. Bob McDonnell, who long avoided taking a stance on the tumult surrounding the University, released a statement Friday that asserted the legitimacy of the Board’s decisions while also asking those who “foment division” within the University community to “please stop.” He also called the vast amount of media coverage following Sullivan’s ouster “predictable” given the lack of information released by the Board.

When the Board appointed Zeithaml the interim president on June 19, it did so with a vote of 12-1. Heywood Fralin was the sole dissenting vote, Caputo and Robert Hardie abstained from casting votes and Glynn Key left prior to casting a ballot. McDonnell chastised this lack of public unity in a separate letter addressed directly to Board members and called for a final decision at the end of Tuesday’s meeting. If that does not occur, McDonnell said, he would ask for the entire Board’s resignation Wednesday.

“Regardless of your decision, I expect you to make a clear detailed and unified statement on the future leadership of the University,” McDonnell said.

He did not ask for the resignation of Rector Helen Dragas, as many in the University community have appealed to him to do.

Dragas responded to McDonnell’s letter with a statement agreeing the Tuesday meeting must permanently resolve the matter. She also expressed her appreciation for “the Governor’s leadership in affirming the importance of Board governance.”

“[We] alone are appointed to make these decisions on behalf of the University, free of influence from outside political, personal or media pressure,” Dragas said. “I look forward to a respectful and dignified meeting on Tuesday, and to an important discussion of the implications of any decision we make on the ability of future Boards to lead the University.”

Dragas had previously defended her actions Thursday via a mass email to the University community containing a list of 10 areas of concern which she said “demanded a deliberate and strategic approach, not an incremental one.”

“[Without] micromanaging details the Board did insist, and still insists, that the University leadership move in a timely, thoughtful and organized fashion to address these and similar issues,” Dragas said. “Failing this, the University of Virginia will continue to drift in yesterday.”

Zeithaml indicated he would not assume any executive duties until Sullivan’s future has been made certain. If Sullivan is not reinstated, he said, he has been trying to communicate openly and often with the entire University community to smooth the transition when he does assume the role of interim president August 16.

“I don’t want this job unless I’m bringing my colleagues across the University with me, or they’re bringing me along with them,” Zeithaml said. “If I’m going to do this job then I’ve got to have legitimacy from all the different groups.”

Zeithaml has received some messages which “crossed the line between civil discourse [including] frankly abusive language and attacks on my character and my honor and integrity,” he said. He called Dragas “well-intentioned” and said she had been vilified over the past 12 days.

Sullivan issued a statement Thursday calling such incidents “destructive of our community’s values.”

Sullivan supporters have organized a “Rally for Honor” Sunday afternoon on the Lawn as a “reminder to the community and to the rest of the country of the values on which the University of Virginia was founded,” Graduate Arts & Sciences student Suzie McCarthy said. She said the rally would support efforts to reinstate Sullivan, and maintain the pressure on McDonnell not to reappoint Dragas, who is eligible for an additional four-year term as a regular member to the Board.

Student Council President Johnny Vroom, a fourth-year College student, said he would attend the rally but that Council had not yet issued an opinion on the matter. He believes, however, the Board should take students’ opinions into consideration when it makes its decision.

“U.Va. has a tradition of keeping students in the loop and a tradition of honor and respect and we’ve come to expect the respect of the administration and the people who govern U.Va.,” Vroom said. “We’re stakeholders as well; we may be the most important stakeholders”


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