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Community seeks closure

Summer events loom large in collective consciousness; president notes prevailing faculty skepticism

The storm may have dissipated, but a few clouds still linger from University President Teresa Sullivan’s botched ouster as the Board of Visitors convenes on Grounds Thursday for the first time since June.

A disconnect remains between the University’s attempts to move forward from the events of the summer and its desire to learn from them. Even as the community tries to transform the ouster into a learning experience, there remains a pervasive sense of uncertainty about how to best accomplish that goal.

The past several days on Grounds have been filled with reflective events, including several panels of University leaders evaluating the institution’s core values. Many, including Faculty Senate Chair George Cohen, English Prof. Michael Levenson, the head of the Institute of the Humanities and Global Cultures, and Sullivan herself have pitched ideas about how the University can put a productive spin on things now that the executive office has stabilized.

These conversations have mostly ended with appeals for continued dialogue, rather than a sense of resolution.

In an interview Wednesday, Sullivan seemed calm and assured, but admitted there were many still openly critiquing the summer’s events.

“Most faculty members are professionally skeptical,” she said. “It’s not surprising that a university in thinking about itself would employ this sort of skepticism.”

Since her reinstatement, Sullivan has been working around the clock to build personal relationships with Board members and to reassure alumni that the University’s reputation has not been tarnished.

“After they were named by the governor,” Sullivan said of the new Board appointees, “I traveled to visit with them in their hometowns and spent time talking with them about the University and some of the issues I see.”

She has also instigated efforts to strengthen her administrative team, saying the search team for a new chief operating officer is expected to make a recommendation to her soon.

In the meantime, new details about the summer’s events continue to emerge, but nothing that has substantially altered the narrative.

More than 2,500 pages of emails from University Rector Helen Dragas were released earlier this week and give insight into her working mindset during the months of May and June, including her response to the public relations nightmare surrounding her decision to force Sullivan’s hand. They were released in accordance with a public records request from The Washington Post.

The messages show Dragas working furiously to shore up support for her actions, requesting timely editorials from prominent alumni and faculty members. She received few positive responses to her requests.

On June 12, Dragas emailed Hillary Hurd, the student representative to the Board, with a request: “Do you know of students on grounds who might be willing to assist with a communications effort by engaging constructively in the blogs as guided by a communications consultant?”

Hurd became one of the few to publicly offer her support, sending emails to student leaders in an attempt to stabilize emotions on Grounds and offering a supportive perspective in an interview with The Cavalier Daily.

“I felt the obligation to students to explain the decision with the information that I had at the time,” Hurd said in an interview Wednesday.