Esteemed UVA Professor Resigns in Protest

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Now former University of Virginia computer science professor Bill Wulf is making it crystal clear why he's abruptly retiring.

"It's the board of visitors that's hurting the university," Wulf said.  "They're what caused me to resign and probably are going to make other people resign too."

After a half century of teaching, including a laundry list of other accomplishments, Wulf submitted his resignation letter Tuesday.  In the letter, he urged other faculty to join him to send a message to the board of visitors.  UVA Faculty Senate Chair George Cohen worries other faculty will take Wulf's advice.

"Everyone is worried about people leaving, faculty leaving and people not being interested in coming here as a result of this scandal," Cohen said.  "And we want to be careful to both protect the interests of the university and make sure we can have a positive approach going forward."

"The only thing that will change my mind is if the whole board of visitors resigned," Wulf said.

NBC29 caught up with UVA Rector Helen Dragas following Monday night's marathon board of visitors meeting.  She declined to say whether she would consider resigning.

"In disasters, and this is absolutely a disaster, you have to learn from that," incoming Faculty Senate President Chris Holstege said.  "And one of the things I think should be learned from this is the lack of communication."

Wulf says that means, going forward, educators need a larger presence on the board.

"What's there now is all lawyers and corporate executives and they've got this mistaken impression that you govern a university the same way you govern a corporation, and you can't," he said.

Wulf is one of a handful of UVA faculty to hold the prestigious title of "university professor."  His resignation is effective immediately.

The NBC29 newsroom received the following letter of resignation from Bill A. Wulf University Professor, Dept. of Computer Science University of Virginia, and President Emeritus, National Academy of Engineering:

Dean and Interim President Zeithaml,

By this email I am submitting my resignation, effective immediately. I do not wish to be associated with an institution being as badly run as the current UVa. A BOV that so poorly understands UVa, and academic culture more generally, is going to make a lot more dumb decisions, so the University is headed for disaster, and I don't want to be any part of that. And, frankly, I think you should be ashamed to be party to this debacle!

Needless to say, I will not be teaching the course that I was scheduled to teach this Fall.

I urge my fellow faculty to join me. The BOV needs to understand that there are real and immediate consequences to their actions.

Since you probably don't know me from Adam, I've included below a very quick synopsis of my bio and that of my wife (included here since our experiences are shared ones).

  • My wife (Anita Jones) and I are in Computer Science and we both hold the title University Professor -- the highest rank at UVa. Of the 3300 faculty at UVa,  roughly 13 hold that title.
  • Between us we have had quite a varied career.
    • We were both academics at Carnegie Mellon and Uva.
    • We jointly founded and I was CEO of a high tech startup.
    • My wife was a Presidential Appointee as an Asst, Sec. of Defense in the 1st Clinton Admin. and oversaw science and technology in DoD.
    • I was an Asst. Director of NSF, and oversaw the transition of the Internet from a government-only network to today's public one.
    • I was President of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) for 11 years. The NAE is a private 501(c)(3), but was chartered by Congress to advise the government on issues of science and engineering. Being President was a full time job in DC and placed me at the nexus of science, engineering and public policy.
    • I am a member of the Academies of 8 foreign countries, and hold 5 honorary doctorates.
    • We both have extensive board experience in both the non-profit and for-profit worlds; three examples of the two dozen I could give: 
    • (1) my wife in currently on the Board of a $11+ billion dollar/yr enterprise, 
    • (2) I chair a non-profit Board focused on promoting international understanding , and 
    • (3) Anita served on MIT's Executive Committee (their version of the BOV).

In short we have extensive experience that spans academia, executive positions in the private sector, government, and board memberships. So we deeply understand the proper conduct of academic administration and the proper oversight of that administration by a board, In my opinion the BOV has perpetrated are the worst example of corporate governance I have ever seen.

To repeat - I resign. I want no part of this ongoing fiasco.

Bill Wulf

Wm. A. Wulf
University Professor, Dept. of Computer Science University of Virginia, and
President Emeritus, National Academy of Engineering