I have spent significant time over the last week attempting to discover as many facts as I can involving the forced resignation of President Teresa Sullivan from the University of Virginia. My discussions have been with faculty members; members of the University community, including former administrators and Visitors; alumni; donors; students; members of the General Assembly; and current members of the Board of Visitors, including Rector Helen E. Dragas, who graciously agreed to meet with me and Senator Creigh Deeds, in my office last week. I have not spoken with Teresa Sullivan.
The more information I have gathered, the more troubling the action has become. Among my concerns are:
- The forced resignation seems to have been engineered by a small number of people who arguably love the University, but who so misunderstand how change occurs within large complex institutions of higher education that their leadership is now questionable.
- The so-called “urgency” and “existential threats” to the University that have served as justification by Rector Dragas and Vice Rector Mark J. Kington for their action is simply not borne out by the facts. Admittedly, the University has challenges, and they have clearly been identified by President Sullivan in her May 3, 2012 memo to the Rector and Vice Rector (a memo that was not shared with all Board members). But these challenges were known at the time of her appointment, and President Sullivan had been implementing changes to address them.
- The expression of “no confidence” in the Board of Visitors passed by the Faculty Senate and statements expressing concern issued by numerous schools within the University.
My conclusion is simple and straight-forward — the process by which President Sullivan was forced to resign was fundamentally flawed, dramatically at odds with our history as the flagship University in the Commonwealth, and inconsistent with a transparent decision-making process required of a public University.
The action places the University at substantial peril, in the short and long term. It should be reversed; I call on the Board of Visitors to do so. If they will not, I encourage Governor McDonnell to do all in his power to assist the process.
If the decision is not reversed, the Governor should act appropriately to encourage the rejection of the forced resignation, and send a clear message of his displeasure by stating that he does not intend on reappointing Ms. Dragas and by calling on the Rector and Vice Rector to resign.
Jefferson once said that we should follow truth wherever it may lead and should not “tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.” The facts show that the forced resignation of President Sullivan is an error; it should be reversed.