The University of Virginia (U.Va.) Board of Visitors (BOV) voted unanimously Tuesday afternoon to reinstate Teresa Sullivan as president, quelling an uproar that began when Sullivan resigned June 10 after BOV Rector Helen E. Dragas and Vice Rector Mark J. Kington told her they had the votes to fire her.
Dragas and other BOV members who wanted to oust Sullivan claimed she wasn’t doing enough to prepare U.Va. to cope with the onslaught of budgetary and technology changes facing public higher education institutions. But the U.Va. campus community—from faculty to fellow administrators to students—quickly rallied behind Sullivan, supporting the direction she was setting for the prestigious state university and decrying the board’s secrecy in ousting her.
ACE President Molly Corbett Broad talked to The New York Times earlier this week about the “low-grade panic now spreading through much of public higher education.”
“Each situation is a little different, but the trend is apparent,” Broad said. “The staggering reduction in financial support from the state puts a lot of pressure on campus. There’s increasing politicization of governance. And there are rising expectations that universities will transform themselves very quickly, if not overnight. Somehow, they’re supposed to achieve dramatic improvement in learning productivity and at the same time reduce costs by using educational technology.”
Noting that other public flagship universities in recent months have seen presidents depart, many not by choice, USA Today wrote that the phenomenon reveals “a sometimes fractious relationship between campus leaders and the governing boards they answer to.” As Broad told the paper, "This is a time of great strain on public institutions. On the one hand we're pushing (universities) to take more students in, to do a better job with them. At the very same time we are withdrawing resources . . . It's easy for the major constituencies on campus to get cranky."
Dragas and other board members pledged to work with Sullivan moving forward. Sullivan said the board members who ousted her believed they were acting in the best interests of the university and had demonstrated that good faith with their reinstatement decision.
“This is not a sign of weakness on their part, but a sign of strength and deliberation and a good example to each of us,” Sullivan said Tuesday afternoon after the board reinstatement vote.
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