UVA Board of Visitors, Sullivan Make Rounds Amid Controversy
Photo Courtesy of @mjoelvoss on Twitter
On Monday, members the University of Virginia Board of Visitors spent the day addressing the fallout from President Teresa Sullivan's forced resignation just 10 days ago. In addition, Sullivan appeared publicly and spoke out for the first time since a campus-wide email alerted the university community that she will be stepping down in August.
Around 3:00 Monday, Sullivan emerged from a sea of 2,000 people gathered in front of the rotunda. Cheers of "Wahoowa" erupted from the crowd as the president and her husband climbed the steps and walked through the glass doors to address the board that forced her resignation. The board of visitors had scheduled a closed meeting Monday afternoon to choose an interim president for the university.
In her remarks, Sullivan acknowledged the area of disagreement leading to her subsequent forced resignation, was over just how change should occur and at what pace. She also told the board over the last week, that she tried to stay out of the public eye as much as possible to keep negative attention away from the university. However she noted, "I did not cause this reaction in the last 10 days, but perhaps the reaction speaks to the depth of the connections I have made in the last 22 months. Through all of the last 10 days, my overriding concern has been the welfare of the University of Virginia."
Sullivan defended her record on faculty retention, dealing with the university's budget, grand strategy, and fundraising. She stated, "Corporate-style, top-down leadership does not work in a great university. Sustained change with buy-in does work. UVA is one of the world's greatest universities"
In response to the outcry from faculty members and high-level administrators over the last week, she was frank, "Already in the last 10 days we have lost faculty to other universities. Fortunately, we are well past the usual hiring season in most disciplines. But deans and provosts at every peer institution are setting aside funds now to raid the University of Virginia next year given the current turmoil on our campus."
She ended her statement to the board by addressing the notion of "trust," a significant subscript of the university's honor code. "Trust does not mean an absence of disagreement. But it requires that disagreements be frankly discussed," she said. "No matter how accomplished he or she may be, a president cannot read minds." She added directly, "When you choose a new president, tell him or her what you are thinking."
In her conclusion, she acknowledged the positive times she and her husband had at the university and said, "Whatever the problems this University may be facing, make no mistake: This is one of the world's great universities."
Following her statement, she exited the meeting and stopped on the steps of the rotunda, where she turned to the a crowd of supporters stating again, "At the end of the day, that's the most important thing, University of Virginia must remain a great university."
Inside the rotunda, the board's meeting continued, during which UVA Rector Helen Dragas said, "You - our UVA family - deserve better from this board and we have heard your concerns loud and clear."
A mix of students, faculty, and alumni made up the crowd that gathered at the rotunda to voice those concerns to the board.
"I want transparency, I want to know the facts, and as this sign says, no matter where the truth leads, we want to follow it," said Elizabeth Young, a UVA employee.
It is a sentiment echoed by former UVA President John Casteen, who was at the rotunda Monday asking the board of visitors to be more public about this issue. "The problem is that we don't know the plan and this is a public university which means it's an entity of the commonwealth of Virginia," said Casteen.
Nate Daugherty of Charlottesville showed up to express his dissatisfaction stating, "I believe the execution of this decision was so poor, it did a disservice to the university and it discredited us as a school and a community and I'm out here to show that's not what UVA is all about."
Some in the crowd want to see her reinstated, "This time around, our board of visitors made a mistake, and I would like to see them reverse their decision," said Patti Wattenmaker, an anthropology professor.
After a discussion that faculty leaders described as cordial, they asked that Sullivan be reinstated and that Dragas and Vice Rector Mark Kington resign. They also wanted the faculty to have a voting member on the board of visitors.
In the statement, faculty members said of Laycock, "He has been an exemplary colleague, a tremendous teacher, and a friend to many since joining the Law faculty. We hope he will remain our colleague for years to come."
As protests and meetings came to a close Monday, community members say they just want a change in course for a university community stunned by last Sunday's resignation.
UVA Board of Visitors, Sullivan Make Rounds Amid ControversyMore>>
Derick Waller joined the NBC 29 news team in August, 2010. Prior to this, Derick graduated with degrees in both broadcast journalism and political science from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. Email/Follow on Twitter/ Full Story