CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- The University of Virginia Board of Visitors voted unanimously Tuesday to reinstate President Teresa Sullivan, capping off a tumultuous two weeks for the university.
The vote is an about-face for a board that, on June 10, announced that Sullivan was resigning, seemingly without dissent from board members.
Helen E. Dragas, the board's rector, or chair, identified by many as the instigator of Sullivan's resignation, said she had met with Sullivan prior to the meeting to resolve their differences. "It's time to bring the University family back together." She spoke after W. Heywood Fralin, who had been the lone board member to vote against the nomination of an interim replacement for Sullivan last week, offered a resolution that the board restore Sullivan to the presidency.
Sullivan spoke to the board following the vote. "I need to have your support," she said. "I need you to reach out to your networks around the commonwealth and the world to help us move forward."
As the board met, a crowd of an estimated 1,500 faculty, students, and others gathered outside the university's Rotunda to await the decision. Many carried signs in support of Sullivan. When the board announced its vote, the crowd erupted in cheers and applause.
Fralin and Sullivan, along with the rest of the board and the university's top administrators, then appeared on the steps to address the crowd. Fralin, in introducing Sullivan, stressed that the past two weeks had brought the university together, rather than driving it apart. "The university is more united than ever before in my memory," he said. While the campus seemed divided at times during the past weeks, the crowd cheered at mentions of the board, Dragas, and others who had been vilified by some members of the community.
In her speech, Sullivan called for unity from the university community, singling out faculty, students, alumni, the board, and others, telling them why each was a valued member of the community over the past two weeks and why each would be valuable going forward. She addressed incoming students who might be questioning their decision to enroll and faculty members with offers from other universities to reconsider. "We can go forward with what is best for the university only if we go forward together," she said. She said the university was entering a "special moment" in which it would make itself better, addressing the challenges that have been noted over the past few weeks.
She called for better communication between her and the board going forward.
Following her remarks, the crowd, Sullivan, the board, and others sang the "Good Old Song," the university's de facto alma mater.
George Cohen, chair of the Faculty Senate, said after Sullivan concluded her remarks that there will be significant conversations over the next few weeks about the direction of the university, the make-up of its governing board, and shared governance at the institution. In regards to the faculty's call for Dragas's ouster, Cohen said the faculty would take its cues from Sullivan, who appeared eager to repair the relationship between herself and the rector.
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- Susan Resneck Pierce on how not to fire a president.
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- Kieran Healy imagines what the U.Va. board was thinking.
The vote came days after a special meeting was called and the state's governor urged the board to either reach a unanimous decision on Sullivan's future or resign. Faculty leaders, who led much of the opposition to Sullivan's ouster, waited outside as the board met in what ended up being a very quick meeting.
George Cohen, chair of the Faculty Senate, gave these reasons, prior to the board vote, for reinstating Sullivan: "We believe President Sullivan has been an effective president. Why do so many people in the university community believe that? Because President Sullivan embodies a set of principles and acts on those principles. That is what makes an effective leader. What are those principles? Honesty, candor, openness, transparency, inclusion, consultation, communication, fairness, dignity, and trust. These are time-honored principles, and they work. What observers of our community are witnessing is our commitment to these principles. We stand here for these principles and we will continue to stand to ensure they are upheld."
Cohen added, "We believe that the forced resignation of President Sullivan was an error in judgment by the board. We believe that the process leading up to and resulting in the forced resignation was flawed and, most important, inconsistent with the principles for which President Sullivan -- and the university -- stand. It was done in secret. It was done without full and open discussion within the board. It was done without consulting constituents inside and outside the university."
Inside Higher Ed will have a full article on these developments tomorrow morning.
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