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U.Va. board reinstates ousted president after outcry
ZINIE CHEN SAMPSON
CHARLOTTESVILLE — The University of Virginia’s governing board on Tuesday reinstated President Teresa Sullivan, moving to quell the campus uproar after the popular leader was ousted without a vote earlier this month.
The 15-member Board of Visitors voted unanimously to reinstate Sullivan at the university’s historic Rotunda. Shortly after the vote, which capped a brief meeting, Sullivan thanked the board for their confidence in her.
“I want to partner with you in bringing about what’s best for the university,” Sullivan said even as cheers erupted outside the Rotunda where her supporters had gathered.
Faculty, students and others had organized a demonstration outside the meeting to show support for the popular Sullivan, who became U.Va.’s eighth president and its first female leader in August 2010.
A majority of the 15-member board was needed to approve the reinstatement for Sullivan to remain in office. Rector Helen Dragas, who was central to the initial move to oust the president, opened the meeting with comments seeking to reunite the university community. She said she was convinced the university would emerge stronger after the controversy and reiterated an apology for the way the matter was handled initially.
“The situation became enormously dramatized and emotionally charged,” she said Tuesday. “I sincerely apologize for the way this was presented and you deserve better.
But she said she looked forward to moving on in the best interests of the university community.
“I believe real progress is more possible than ever now,” Dragas told the group before the vote was taken. “It is unfortunate that we had to have a near death experience to get here.”
U.Va. officials announced June 10 that Sullivan would step down Aug. 15, surprising the university community and triggering an outcry over the lack of explanation about her forced resignation. Dragas since has said the university wasn’t acting quickly enough to address state and federal funding reductions, online education delivery and other challenges, but didn’t offer specific examples.
Sullivan had defended her performance at a board meeting June 18, outlining some of her initiatives since taking office, including hiring a new provost and chief operating officer and adopting a new budgeting model that decentralizes financial planning. She criticized the board’s “corporate, top-down leadership” as not being in the university’s best interests.
Critics compared how the board’s executive committee handled Sullivan’s abrupt firing to a coup d’etat, and said it violated U.Va. founder Thomas Jefferson’s stated principles of honesty, respect and honor. The move triggered online protests, gatherings that packed the historic grounds’ Lawn, and calls by deans, faculty, students and alumni for the board to return her to office.
At last week’s marathon session, the board named U.Va. undergraduate business school Dean Carl P. Zeithaml to become interim president after Sullivan’s departure. But Zeithaml decided Friday to step aside until the resolution of Sullivan’s employment status.
Gov. Bob McDonnell, who appointed half of the board members, had said recently that he would seek the resignations of all the members if the group failed to resolve the controversy Tuesday.
Sullivan, 62, is an eminent scholar of labor-force demography. Before coming to Charlottesville, she served as provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at the University of Michigan, another top public university.