The University of Virginia Board of Visitors meets Tuesday, 6/26/12 at 3:00 p.m. in what could be the last chapter in a tumultuous tale. Faculty and students have demanded the reinstatement of President Teresa Sullivan, and many expect that to happen, but Sullivan could refuse to return, creating a new crisis on campus.
Since the board of visitors asked for Teresa Sullivan’s resignation, students, professors and many alumni have been fighting to have her reinstated. George Cohen heads the faculty senate. He was relieved to hear the board might reconsider its decision. “We were grateful that the board did call for this meeting, but this is a crisis in which many unexpected things, so we will just have to wait and see what happens,” said Cohen.
Cohen said he was optimistic, but there are signs that Sullivan fans could be disappointed. The man chosen to replace Sullivan, on an interim basis, has kind words for Rector Helen Dragas, who worked behind the scenes to push Sullivan out.
“The Rector has been villifed, has been the subject of a lot of abuse, and Helen Dragas is not an evil person. She has given so many years of service to this university, and I honestly believe that she thinks the decision they made to ask President Sullivan to resign was the right thing.” Carl Zeithaml, Dean of UVA’s undergraduate school of business, criticized the way Dragas handled this matter but agreed with her assessment of university problems and would not say whether he supports Sullivan.
“I want the board to engage in a thorough and appropriate process and make the best decision for the university.”
And then there’s billionaire alumnus Paul Tudor Jones – a major donor to the university — who has publicly expressed support for replacing Sullivan.
For her part, Sullivan says she will not remain in the presidency if Dragas is on the board. Students and faculty rallied over the weekend – showing support for the president and urging the Rector to resign. “Please, Helen,” said one sign. “Don’t Dragas Down.” But late last week, Dragas issued a lengthy defense of her actions – written with the help of a high priced public relations agency. Her term expires at the end of this month, but she could be reappointed by the governor who has praised her as an “incredibly good leader and strong participant on the board.”
So what will Bob McDonnell do? State Senator Dick Saslaw, a Democrat from Northern Virginia, says it’s a no-brainer. “The governor would have to be out of his mind to reappoint her as a result of all of this chaos.”
Even if Sullivan remains, Saslaw says UVA can expect hard times ahead, because all public schools in the Commonwealth have one big problem. Teresa Sullivan saw that when she took the job, nearly two years ago, and went straight to Richmond.
“We’ll get about $8,400 per student from the state. At Michigan where I was last, we got $17,600.” Yes – Michigan, in the midst of a depression, was giving more than double the per student aid to its public universities. Maryland provides $17,620 and North Carolina sends its premiere state school – UNC-Chapel Hill – more than $26,000 per student.
“The reason is that they have higher taxes in that state. Their roads are far superior to ours. They’re able to do a lot of things we can’t do, because there’s a flat refusal to make anybody pay for anything in this state,” said Saslaw.
Students and faculty at UVA have remarked about the surprising degree of agreement in the battle to reinstate Sullivan – the ability to bring more than 2,000 people out for a rally. Organizers hope that energy can be harnessed to demands for voting faculty and staff representation on the board of visitors and for more state money to fund UVA and other public universities in Virginia.
– Sandy Hausman