Tuesday, June 26, 2012

UVA Gets Its President Back

This afternoon, the University of Virginia Board of Visitors "unanimously" voted to reinstate embattled President Teresa Sullivan, days after "unanimously" voting to remove her from the Presidency.  UVA's reputation is besmirched, the Board of Visitors is reduced, and a regrettable and avoidable chapter in the University's history is behind it.  Or is it?

I have maintained from the beginning that my beef here was not the removal of Teresa Sullivan, but the ham-handed, palace coup way the Board of Visitors went about it.  Their conduct was beneath that expected of a Board executing the public trust, and I have come to conclude that they should all be removed, and a fresh start made with a new Board.

But what if they were right? What if Teresa Sullivan WASN'T up to the job of leading a major public university into a time of explosive change in higher education?  What if the Board's ridiculous, behind the scenes putsch had instead, been a light of day process in which their dissatisfaction with the President was fully vetted and debated?    Walter Russell Mead has a great piece up on his page that looks at this question from a perspective we haven't heard much from in the debate--that of the requirement for public universities to quickly evolve or slowly die.

I have seen myriad friends post messages of glee at President Sullivan's reinstatement, and University professor and UVA booster extraordinaire Larry Sabato is positively over the top about it.  Yet I submit that none of these people has a shred of experience in determining what level of performance should be expected from the UVA President.  I certainly don't know.  Presumably, the BOV has SOME insight into the matter, and the fact that 12 of 15 Visitors could EASILY conclude that she had to go, leaving only the last three to pitch in with the crowd, leaves me to believe there might be SOME truth to the view that Sullivan was out of her league.  Because of the Board's malpractice, we will never know; worse, UVA may be saddled for years with a President unsuited to the task--now bulletproof after having survived this modern Witch Trial.

I ardently hope for the best. 


Mark Gorenflo said...

Your analysis is largely correct. But not entirely. From public reporting the BOV NEVER unanimously approved of the removal of the UVA President. The Rector maintained to the President that the Rector had the votes to remove her and asked for her resignation, which she got. There was never a vote of any kind on the matter. The 12 - 1 vote was to approve an interim President, arrived at after hours of late night debate indicative of a highly split BOV. Given that the President had resigned and the Board did not have the votes to recall her at that time, approval of an interim President was a counsel of necessity until the BOV could arrive at final resolution - which was precipitated by GOV McDonnell's sagacious intervention to the Board to arrive at some conclusive decision or face summary removal. And so they voted to hang together in favor of a President who, for whatever reason, had overwhelming support among all UVA constituencies. McDonnell should still replace some or all of the BOV, since they have proven themselves wholly inept at their task. And President Sullivan lives to fight another battle, though the challenges she faces have now been publicly stated with the likelihood that her performance in surmounting them - or not - will be equally publicly evaluated. Which is as it should be.

The Conservative Wahoo said...

I believe that I have seen other reporting indicating that Dragas had "pocket" votes (obviously, not cast officially as we have both discussed quite a bit) of 12, and then approached the final three who jumped onboard. Perhaps I am wrong--but this is my memory of at least one report.

The Conservative Wahoo said...


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