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Excerpts from The Cavalier Daily’s interview with U.Va. President Teresa Sullivan on BOV meeting, BSA demands and DACA

“...I can say the battle lines will be drawn at public universities like us,” Sullivan said. “And in many ways, the First Amendment, certainly the religious liberty part of the First Amendment, was born here.”

University President Teresa Sullivan sat down with The Cavalier Daily Tuesday morning in Madison Hall for a 45-minute interview to discuss the agenda for the upcoming Board of Visitors meeting and the University’s response to President Donald Trump’s repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. 

Additionally, Sullivan responded on the record to two questions from The Cavalier Daily’s recent poll of the student body — whether the University should declare the Lawn a facility and if the University should meet the Black Student Alliance’s demand to require education “on white supremacy, colonization and slavery, as they directly relate to Thomas Jefferson, the University and the City of Charlottesville.”

University Spokesperson Anthony de Bruyn and Deputy Spokesperson Matt Charles were also present at the interview.

Staff members from The Cavalier Daily who were present at the interview were Editor-in-Chief Mike Reingold, Assistant Managing Editor Ben Tobin and Senior Associate News Editor Kate Bellows.

The following are excerpts from The Cavalier Daily’s interview with Sullivan. Several off-the-record comments are omitted. 


Mike Reingold: We can just start with some Board of Visitors questions. So for the renaming of Lewis House as Yen House, when was it decided to undertake this renaming, and is it because Lewis, who was a previous dean, taught eugenics? Is that a reason for it? 

Teresa Sullivan: Well, Lewis House was basically reconstructed over the summer, so we were treating it something like a new naming opportunity. And, as I said, at IRC, there has been nothing named for an international graduate. And W. W. Yen is a really spectacular international graduate. I think that was a more compelling part of the case. 

Mike Reingold: Do you anticipate more renamings in the future? 

Teresa Sullivan: So, the Pinn Hall renaming is obviously there. You know, it’s hard for me to say this for sure. We certainly hope that as part of the capital campaign, there will be some philanthropic namings. I do have a committee on namings that has been set up, and it is principally to talk about principles for philanthropic namings. Because right now, we have very loose guidelines. And before the capital campaign starts, we would like to have a better grip on what it is we’re doing when we name something. Also what kinds of things can be named. If you visit some college campuses today, like every square in the sidewalk has somebody’s name on it. If you go to LSU, you can endow trees at LSU. So there are actually plaques on trees that say, ‘this tree was endowed by so-and-so.’ Well, I don’t know that that’s what we want to do, but I think it’s a discussion we probably should have.

Mike Reingold: You mentioned that the Provost will be talking about efforts to recruit minority students and faculty. Do you think after the recent events in Charlottesville, minority student enrollment will decrease? Do you think you’ll see that decrease that was similar to after Rolling Stone with female students?

Teresa Sullivan: You know, it’s very hard to predict. We’ve had almost no melt in terms of people leaving. I think the reality here is not what got depicted on TV screens downtown. That was, you know, as aberrant as I can imagine … I don’t think it’s the reality of what happens here at the University on an everyday basis. We’re certainly going to be alert to this going forward. I will say that during opening weekend, a number of our African-American alumni, on their own initiative, came here to welcome African-American students and to say, ‘We had a great experience here, and we think you will, too.’ And I think that was reassuring to both the parents and the students. And I know that our African-American alumni are quite willing to help. We still have a welcoming weekend for African-American students who have been admitted to the University, and our students and alumni are really an important part of what makes that effective, because it’s a way of saying, ‘You’re going to find a welcoming community.’ And I think really more efforts along those lines are what we will need to pay attention to going forward.

Mike Reingold: One of the things within the BOV meeting will be amending the powers of the Student Board of Visitor position, so for Bryanna Miller. And the quote is: ‘Unless the Board has deemed it appropriate to exclude the student member from discussions of faculty grievances, faculty, or student or staff disciplinary matters or salaries or any other matter,’ so basically excluding from meetings dealing with faculty grievances, salaries — is that something that was already an existing practice, or is that new? 

Teresa Sullivan: I think it’s codifying something that the Board believed was already true. And it’s principally in case there is a conflict-of-interest issue. And as I say, I think the Board uses these for more technical adjustments. In the time that I’ve been here at the University, I can’t remember a faculty grievance, for example, coming to the Board. I might misremember, but it’s just not something that happens routinely. So I think this is really just looking at all kinds of possibilities that might exist.

Mike Reingold: You mentioned that there may be the resolution to make the Academical Village a facility. So the Cavalier Daily just conducted a poll of students, and we’ll be releasing that data soon, and about 75 percent of students from our poll agreed that the Lawn should be declared a facility residential space, so are you in the same agreement with students? 

Teresa Sullivan: So the Lawn has been a place where students gather to rally. I think you want to be careful not to take that away. And the residential space does that. Because right now, there are, you know, time, place, manner restrictions on amplified sound and so on. I think you’ve got to be careful not to take anything away that students currently do and want to do. So, for example, you wouldn’t want Lighting of the Lawn to not take place on the Lawn, right? So that’s why we have to craft this carefully, so that you don’t have any unforeseen consequences. I do think the facility designation is helpful, but I want to emphasize it wouldn’t be just the Lawn. It would be the Academical Village, which is the buildings that enclose the Lawn. And the architect tells me that’s important, and I can’t explain why. You’ll have to talk to the architect about why that’s important but basically, the idea is that the Lawn is a completely enclosed space with limited egress and ingress. And for that reason, it makes it possible to consider it, along with the buildings around it, to be a facility. Does that make sense? So I think that’s the idea.

Mike Reingold: So in terms of the working group, were you surprised by any of the findings of the report that was just released? 

Teresa Sullivan: No, I had met with the working group myself several times.

Mike Reingold: So the UPD timeline shows that senior University officials became aware of potential for a march that Friday night. Did any of those senior officials attempt to contact you or make you aware of the situation prior to when you found out that evening?

Teresa Sullivan: No, but that wouldn’t necessarily be surprising. Calling a president is not the first thing they think to do over at UPD. I found out from Malcolm Stewart when I was wandering the Lawn, just welcoming new Lawnies to their rooms. 

Kate Bellows: In the Observations and Improvements document, there’s a couple lines that say, I’ll just read it, ‘While the events of Aug. 11 underscore the necessity and urgency of safeguarding the University community, the University remains committed to the values of open dialogue and to the protections of the First Amendment. In light of the August 12 events, the University is considering whether it should adopt constitutionally permissible time, place and manner regulations and related approval processes, that would simultaneously facilitate free speech and protect the University community from harm.’ What could these time, place and manner regulations look like? How do you drawn the line between open dialogue and safeguarding the community? 

Teresa Sullivan: Well, isn’t that a great question. You know, I do hope that we will have a robust discussion, including faculty members, on what time, place and manner restrictions would be deemed acceptable. So right now we have a few. The most important is about amplified sound when it’s close to a classroom. Because you don’t want to disrupt a classroom. But we actually don’t have a lot. So you don’t need a permit to march at the University. We have about thirty marches a year. There have been two since Aug. 11 that I know about. Nobody required a permit for it. Figuring out, well, you know, is that the way we should go, or should we do something different? I actually think that’s worthy of a wider discussion than just having me weigh in on what I think about it. I don’t like to take away freedoms that students currently have, and many of the things that have been suggested, the first impact will be felt by students. That’s why it makes it hard to draw these lines. And a lot of people figured that out. You know, when I was in Congress on Friday, what I said was that it wasn’t an accident that universities were the locus of these challenges that pitted the First Amendment against our values of inclusion. That’s not an accident. Universities have been perhaps the institutions in the United States most committed to issues of diversity and inclusion. And so people who don’t share those values use the First Amendment as a way to make deliberately provocative statements. What happened here was that actually passed over into the level of intimidation and violence. I think everybody agrees intimidation and violence are not acceptable, so let’s set violence aside — nobody thinks that’s acceptable. Where free speech turns into intimidation, that’s more of a judgment issue. Ultimately, I think those judgments will be made by courts. But right now we’re trying to make them on the fly. And I think that’s why we need to have some thorough-going discussion about what’s appropriate and what’s not. And I’d love to tell you that there’s an answer to this and that we just didn’t know it. I don’t think that’s right. I think we are really [on] the cutting edge, and I think for the next 10 years, it will be a significant issue in the United States, and I think all public universities will be dealing with it. Now, private universities are a different situation. Private universities don’t have to abide by the First Amendment, let alone the 13th, 14th and 15th. We’re not in that situation as a public institution, we have greater responsibility on us. And that’s why I can say the battle lines will be drawn at public universities like us. And in many ways, the First Amendment, certainly the religious liberty part of the First Amendment, was born here. And that's why I think that we will be a place of particular interest. But I think that we’ve also got lots of faculty — in law, in history, in politics, in Batten and lots of other places, the Miller Center — who are deeply interested in these issues. And so this is the place to let the debate begin, or continue, I should say. 


Mike Reingold: One of the [Black Student Alliance] … demands was, “All students, regardless of an area of study, should have required education, either inside or outside the classroom, on white supremacy, colonization and slavery, as they directly relate to Thomas Jefferson, the University and the City of Charlottesville. The current curriculum changes only affect the College of Arts and Sciences, and allow students to focus on all aspects of difference of their choice.: So our poll found a split of students — about 40 percent agree, 41 percent disagree, and the remainder is unsure or no opinion. So what is your opinion on this? 

Teresa Sullivan: Well, curricula is fundamentally an issue for the faculty. I do believe the deans will be having discussions with the faculty around this demand. But I can imagine that that class might look really different, say, in Architecture, or in Nursing, than it would in the College. So I would guess that the faculty will probably not go for a one-size-fits-all kind of approach to this. I would also note that we are beta-testing a module on implicit bias with I think 500 first-year students. I might be wrong about the number. Basically, to let them take this module, debrief it with them, find out what their reaction is to having taken it and so on. What I’ve heard so far from the students who’ve done it is that they think it’s very good. They think it’s the best of the modules they’ve taken so far. So I think another approach that we are considering is whether something like that module becomes a routine part of the preparation for first-year students and transfer students … That’s not quite the same thing. But it is a deliberate bias-reduction approach. And, you know, some studies have shown that the effect of this is that, you know, just to make people more open-minded. It’s not to condemn you for what you do or don’t believe, but just to have you aware that you might carry into a situation a bias that you don’t necessarily recognize. So it is more oriented to the present day than to the past. But it’s another avenue we’re looking at. 

Ben Tobin: Would this implicit bias test specifically be directed at incoming students, or would there be the possibility for all students to take it at the university? 

Teresa Sullivan: Well, I think there would be the possibility for everybody, but it’s the incoming students, it’s the new people to the community who we’re most concerned about having had access to it. 

Mike Reingold: Switching a little bit to DACA. So in an email to students on September 5 regarding the ending of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, you noted that you had written a letter to President Trump urging him to keep the program. What specifically did that letter say, and have you received a response from the White House? 

Teresa Sullivan: I haven’t received a response, and would give you a copy of the letter.

Kate Bellows: You said in your email that the University has been in contact with DACA students offering assistance and support. What does this assistance and support look like? 

Teresa Sullivan: So there have been two meetings so far. And I should say that nobody is required to come to this, so it’s not anything mandatory. The DACA students are in a variety of different positions, depending upon the date when their current registration ends. Right? So there are deadlines they need to be aware of. And what we’re trying to do is, on an individualized basis, make them aware of what their current situation is. So some DACA students must apply by October 5 for an extension. So we’re trying to help students understand legally what that situation looks like, and also to provide them with opportunity to explore whether they may have legal options for staying in the country, something other than DACA. And then finally to look at their academic situation. Some of them are very close to graduation. Some of them are further away. If they’re further away, we’re looking at the opportunities that they could work with their faculty to get that degree finished before they have to leave. Obviously, we hope there will be a congressional solution before that happens. But what we really don’t want to have happen is to have you be here at U.Va. and leave without having a chance to earn your degree. So I would say it’s academic support and other advice. And then also, there is a specific person in CAPS who is charged with working with DACA students who just want to process how they feel about this and what they’re worried about and so on. So it’s counseling, it’s academic, and then it’s legal. The Attorney General has engaged immigration counsel for all the universities. That’s pretty generic advice. So we have been reaching out to other sources for people who on a pro bono basis would be willing to provide individual legal advice to our DACA students. Because as I say, they’re in all sorts of situations. Some of them are graduate students, some are undergraduates. Obviously it makes a difference if you’re in a more technical field or a less technical field, so no two of them are in the same situation. So that’s why we’re trying to follow a personalized approach with them.” 

Mike Reingold: In terms of the recent remarks Betsy DeVos made with regards to Title IX, do you have any thoughts about her remarks? 

Teresa Sullivan: I really don’t quite understand where we are. You know, I would say that we had a resolution agreement with the Office of Civil Rights. We have to follow that resolution agreement until we are told otherwise. We don’t really have any choice in the matter. As to what is going to happen with the ‘Dear Colleague’ letters, it wasn’t clear to me exactly what the posture is. It appears that it will go to rulemaking. But that doesn’t affect our situation right now, because we are still in this monitoring posture with them. And that’s as much as I really got from that.