University President Teresa Sullivan sat down with The Cavalier Daily Tuesday afternoon in Madison Hall for a 30-minute interview to discuss the Deans Working Group’s proposed speech regulations, enhanced security measures with social media, the University’s responses to Aug. 11 and 12 six months out, Community Alerts and Sullivan’s transition out of office.
Sullivan created the Deans Working Group following the events of Aug. 11 and 12 to evaluate how the University’s response to the events could have been more effective. One proposed policy change the group recently made is to make it more difficult for individuals unaffiliated with the University to gather on Grounds.
Staff members from The Cavalier Daily who were present at the interview were Managing Editor Ben Tobin, Assistant Managing Editor Gracie Kreth and Senior Associate News Editor Geremia Di Maro.
University Spokesperson Anthony de Bruyn and Deputy Spokesperson Matt Charles were also present at the interview.
The following are excerpts from The Cavalier Daily’s interview with Sullivan and portions have been edited for clarity.
Ben Tobin: The Deans Working Group recently announced a series of post-policy changes that would limit the ability of individuals un-affiliated with the University to gather on Grounds. How do you think these new regulations will impact freedom of speech for students?
Teresa Sullivan: Oh, that’s a good question. So, I mean first of all, the proposed revisions don’t affect what students can do at all. Students can still invite speakers, students can speak themselves, and so it doesn’t impact them at all. The only people it would impact is people who not only don’t have a relationship to the University, they don’t have an invitation from the University, they’re just going to show up and talk. And this is essentially a way of knowing where they are — where and when they are. Which right now we don’t have any way to know. So it’s very hard for the police to provide protection for example if they don’t know where to provide that protection. So will it impact students free speech? Here’s how it would impact it potentially would be if there was some idea or controversy that you couldn’t learn about because nobody could speak about it. But this provision explicitly is content neutral, so it doesn’t matter what you want to talk about, we’re not ruling anything off the table, it’s just that this is a proposal we know when and where it’s happening. So it doesn’t stop the Evangelists who come to McIntire, they can still go there you know, well they can still go somewhere, they’re just going to have to say I want to spend two hours at such and such a place. They don’t even have to tell us what they’re going to talk about — just I’m going to be there. So I don’t think it will be much of an impact. We modeled this on the provisions used at the University of Maryland. And the [Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals] upheld their of provisions on time, place, manner. So I think that from a legal perspective, probably what’s been proposed is acceptable. From the position of University tradition, this is quite different. There have been more rules about using Emancipation Park downtown than there have been about using the University. Our basic rule was don’t use amplified sound outside of classroom, that was basically it. I would say that after August 11, the Deans Working Group decided that we need to look and see if maybe we didn’t need to have a little bit more in the way of provision than we had August 11. So they’re responding to that and you know I think there will be a healthy debate about it on the grounds, I think that’s a good thing. I think having that debate itself is a good exercise of free speech.
Gracie Kreth: How will this rule affect alumni?
Teresa Sullivan: Well alumni are considered to be non-participants too, but again they can be invited by students or others — they can be invited by people affiliated with the University to be here and speak. But the fact of being an alumni doesn’t give you a special pass.
Anthony de Bruyn: Under existing policy, they have always been considered unaffiliated.
Yeah that’s not a change from the current policy. These provisions, I should mention, are really amendments to the policies that exists right now. Because one of the things the deans working group did was to go look back at our existing policies and procedures in an effort to update them.
Ben Tobin: How do you think that these proposed changes might be amended going forward, if at all?
Tersa Sullivan: I don’t know. I think it remains to be foreseen. For one thing, the Board of Visitors hasn’t weighed in yet and I don’t know what their views on it are going to be.
Ben Tobin: It was recently reported that the University Police Department is using the social media monitoring program Social Sentinel in an effort to more effectively respond to threats made online. What do you see as the benefits to this program?
TS: Well, I think that you know if this had been in place August 10, we might have had a little more warning about the fact that a large group of people was planning to march in the dark of night. It also can potentially be early warning of an individual whose got evil intent about some individual at the University, which is helpful for the police to know. There are several such programs out there that scrape the internet for information — I’m not an expert in that so I can’t tell you if this is the best one. This is one that’s pretty widely used, it had pretty good reviews from people who were consulted. But I do think that the police do need to be cognisant of what’s being said, particularly if it’s of a threatening nature — about either U.Va. or people at U.Va.
Anthony de Bruyn : I mean it’s interesting because the software is commonly referred to as social media monitoring, but as the president mentioned it’s more scanning and scraping. It’s looking for keywords and other aspects that are picked up. It’s not so much that they’re looking at your twitter or your instagram, its outcasting a very wide net and getting metadata and producing a report. So I understand that there were some privacy concerns, but it’s more of a scanning procedure than it is actual, physical monitoring, if that makes sense.
Teresa Sullivan: So, for example, looking for the word ‘bomb’ and ‘UV.a.’ in the same sentence.
Anthony de Bruyn: From a public safety standpoint it’s been … that’s what it’s doing.
Ben Tobin: So with that being said, what do you think about the potential privacy implications for students regardless of this being a scanning software.
Teresa Sullivan: For students? Well, I hope it will improve both the perceived and that actual safety of students, and of faculty too. Because faculty also sometimes receive threatening messages or there are threats about them on the internet because of things they said or alleged to have said or what they taught or something like that. So I’m hoping that this is an improvement in safety but I think that remains to be seen.
Ben Tobin: And is there a plan to educate students or those who will be affected by Social Sentinel?
TS: I don’t know that many people are actually going to be affected by it. I think that, you know, certainly the police will be trained in its use. But you know I think the police are already have procedures when they perceive that there is a threat against an individual, in terms of letting the individual know about the threat and make a plan for safety. But I don’t see that there’s going to be other ways that students get directly affected by it. And I certainly hope that there aren’t going to be threats launched to particular students.
Geremia Di Maro: Talking about six months after the events of Aug. 11 and 12, over the past six months following these events, what do you think the biggest impacts have been on the University community?
Teresa Sullivan: Well, that’s interesting. I think there’s been a lot more healthy dialogue about subjects that we might not have discussed so readily before. And an example might be anti-Semitism. I don't think lots of people thought that there was any real threat from Nazis since 1945 on, and I think that perhaps this community got a different view of it after August 11 and 12. Certainly there’s been a lot of attention paid to our policies and procedures and also to evaluating our security systems to see if they’re really good enough. And there’s been a great deal of issue in the general issue of race relations in the local community but also nationally. I think U.Va. students have been very turned in to the national conversation. I think you know different people experienced it in different ways, so the effect varies a lot including people who had delayed effects to it. And it doesn’t surprise me if perhaps that’s going on as well. A lot of the free speech debate is stimulated by whether what had happened then was really just free speech or whether it was something else. That includes the Second Amendment debate about is it free speech if you bring weapons with you — that’s a healthy debate I think for us to have. It’s hard to say it’s free speech when I might shoot you if you don’t listen to me. That looks more like coercive speech than free speech. But anyways, there’s no question it was a watershed mark, not just for U.Va., but for a lot of universities in terms of ways of how we think about our relationship to the broader community and our responsibility of our students. One thing that is interesting is the number of bias reports in the fall semester, was down considerably from the number in the fall of 2016. And I don’t know what to attribute that to, it could just be the election was over with, but it could be that students just paid closer attention to how students treated each other and what they said to each other and so on. I’ve talked to some minority students who have said that they were quite touched by the extent which students reach out to them to make sure they were feeling okay, and that they felt comfortable. I think our students made a terrific effort to welcome newcomers to the community who were coming from the fall of ‘17 for the first time. That was really quite remarkable.
Ben Tobin: How specifically is the University sought to engage with the student body in its response?
Teresa Sullivan: Well certainly the Deans Working Group has had a number of town halls and outreach sessions. They have another group which is on historical naming, and that group is co-chaired by [Former University President] John Casteen [III] and [University Prof.] Claudrena Harold. They’ve had town halls and they’ve got several students who are members of that group. Something like the proposed revisions on time, place, manner, I think there was a meeting with student government last week and I know that [School of Law] Dean [Risa] Goluboff is planning to reach out to a number of other student groups, and so is Mimi Riley the faculty member of the Board. So a lot of student groups have the opportunity to become aware of this and have a chance to raise issues or concerns.
Ben Tobin: What is one area in which the University hasn’t done enough in your opinion?
Teresa Sullivan: I think we have a lot more basic thinking to do about the issue of the Second Amendment intersecting with the First Amendment. So, the University of Virginia, except for our facilities and free events, is an open carry area — that’s a matter of state law, that’s not something we can change. But it’s a very different kind of event if people bring their guns, whether concealed or openly carried to a protest or a march than if they don’t. I think that it’s an area that we’ve not thought through that well. We have made the law in a facility so at least the Lawn is not a place where you can carry a gun. But if you’re talking about Nameless Field, and you’re not affiliated with the University, you can carry a gun there. Now if you’re affiliated with the University, you can’t. So that’s another that that affiliates or non-affiliates are distinguished from one another. That’s because we can regulate the people who are affiliated with us. We can’t regulate the non-affiliates.
Gracie Kreth: With the number of school shootings and specifically the firearm incident at Boylan —
Teresa Sullivan: I’m sorry — the what?
Gracie Kreth: The firearm incident at Boylan recently. What is the University doing, if anything, to ensure student safety?
Teresa Sullivan: Well as you know we can’t do anything about Boylan. We don’t own it. We have ambassadors nearby who are able to call for help and we have police patrols there but we can’t control what happens on private property. You know what we have done is, we do have regulations against firearms on the Grounds by our own people, but you know that doesn’t extend to students who live in GrandMarc or other places that are off Grounds. You know they can have guns, if they are legally entitled to have guns, they can have one. I think that what we try to do is be aware of threatening people and threatening circumstances. We do have a threat assessment team that means on a very regular basis if there’s any reason to be concerned about somebody affiliated with the University. And some of those meeting have dealt with issues of firearms.
Ben Tobin: We know that the Clery Act restricts U.Va. to only sending out alerts for on grounds incidents, but how do you reconcile the students awareness with the limitations of this act?
Teresa Sullivan: Well actually the Clery geography is defined as more than just the Grounds, but it’s not all the places that students live. So we are legally required to send out notices when something happens that meets the clery requirements. And by the way, that’s not just “it was a crime”, because if it is, let us say, a domestic dispute between a husband and wife, we’re not required necessarily to report that if we don’t think there’s any danger to anybody else. So not all Clery crimes in our Clery geography get reported. And Clery crimes outside our geography are not reported by us, but they may be reported by the city or by the county. The issue comes up when something that is short of a crime but is something students might be concerned about comes up. So we have developed some additional mechanisms called Community Alerts, and the community alert is intended to be something that you just need to know about, it’s not necessarily a crime. It could be you know a powerline has fallen or it could be the fire department is reporting to a scene near the University. So the community alert idea is a way to let people know when there is something of concern that you probably should know about. And assumes always that the University knows about it. We don’t always know about everything.
Geremia Di Maro: You were talking about the University cooperating with the city and county, so how does the University work with the Charlottesville Police Department and Albemarle County Police Department to fill in the gaps where the U.Va. Alert System can’t get to?
Teresa Sullivan: Yes, well it’s an interesting issue because the city-county line runs through the Grounds. So right now you’re in the city, if you cross Rugby into Carr’s Hill you’re in the county. The Excel Inn, the hotel that burned, that’s in the city. But Lambeth Field is in the county, go figure. So we don’t ever want to be in a situation where we call a fire department and they say “we’re the wrong fire department you have to call somebody else.” So the University actually runs the 911 information center for all three jurisdictions so that there’s no question — there’s a fire truck that comes, there’s a police squad car that comes, and all three districts have mutual cooperation agreements with one another. So let’s take August 12 as an example, the University Police were covering all the regular calls for Charlottesville that day because the Charlottesville Police were busying handling the rally. So when that car hit the crowd, that originally got called in as an automobile accent and it was UPD who responded to it. And they, in fact, arrested the guy who drove the car. They had to chase him down to do it, but they did it. And then when the helicopter fell, again, that was called in as an accident and it was UPD who responded to it, not Albemarle. So that was the case where we were seeking to be helpful and to cooperate with the others. When we have our emergency operation center activated, as we did on August 12, we have representatives there from the local police, from the sheriff's department, from the state police, fire department, and they actually do coordinate together pretty well. But we were not coordinating what was happening with the rally. That was being done by a different operation center. But you know for things like the mass casualty incident at the hospital, we had everybody ready to handle that as soon as it happened. So I think in general, the cooperation is pretty good but I’ll tell you you know sometimes it slips. Here’s a way it slips: something happens that CPD responds to but it’s actually in our Clery geography and they forget to tell us about it. And so we don’t find out about it in time and so we can’t really get out a Timely Warning because we didn’t hear about it in time. There are things like that that happen, but we do our best to make sure there’s enough training so that we minimize those sorts of mistakes while still maintaining a good working relationship with one another.
Ben Tobin: Transitioning towards a little bit of a lighter topic, the last time we interviewed you was before the announcement of President-elect James Ryan of the University. How will you and University President-elect James Ryan work together to ensure a smooth transition in October?
Teresa Sullivan: So we talk to each other about one a week. We talked this morning on the phone. Last month I took him down to Richmond and we met the leadership of both the House and Senate, both Republicans and Democrats. We had a reception for him and the Governor came to the reception, so he’s getting to meet political leaders in Richmond, and in April, we’re going to go together to Washington to meet the Virginia congressional delegation. So that’s part of introducing him to some of what he needs to do. He’s planning to spend about two days a month here in Charlottesville where he’s got a schedule of meetings so he’ll visit every school and talk to their dean, visit with major units at the University and have an opportunity to have meals with people and get to know folks. He knows a lot of people already since he lived in Charlottesville until just four years ago, so he’s not meeting everybody for the first time.
Ben Tobin: What are your plans for when you officially step out of office?
Teresa Sullivan: My contract provides that I have a research leave, which I need because my undergraduate classes need to be revamped. As you can imagine, a few things have changed since I’ve been out of the classroom on a regular basis. My husband and I plan to do that in Austin, Texas. It’s customary for the former president to leave town so that the new president has a chance to get traction without them looking over their shoulder. So we’ll go to Austin, that’s where our two sons live. My husband will teach at the University of Texas law school. And then we plan to come back, the Board has given us a five year lease on a house on the edge of the Grounds. And I’ll be named University Professor so I’ll be teaching full time once I get back, but that’s the plan right now.