The University of Virginia’s board will meet next week to discuss the “terms of employment” for Teresa Sullivan, the president they ousted earlier this month, fueling speculation they may reinstate her.
The controversy over Sullivan’s unexpected departure after less than two years in her position has led to an uproar at the college founded in 1819 by Thomas Jefferson. Sullivan is scheduled to leave her post on Aug. 15, and the board will meet to discuss “possible changes” in her status on June 26, according to a statement by the university.
Unseating Sullivan has led to a nationally visible backlash on the school’s campus in Charlottesville, Virginia, referred to locally as “Grounds.” The board will probably address the ouster, since it wouldn’t embarrass itself by meeting without taking action, said John O’Brien, an associate professor of English who wants Sullivan restored.
“We are not counting our chickens yet, but it looks like the board is meeting to reinstate Sullivan,” O’Brien said.
Sullivan called today for civility in the debate over her dismissal.
“Emotions are running high on Grounds, but there is no excuse for abusing anyone with whom you disagree,” she said in a statement.
She asked in particular that Carl Zeithaml, named by the board as her interim replacement, and his family be spared from “abusive behavior,” according to a statement. Deans at 10 of the university’s 11 schools, along with the university librarian and dean of admissions, sent a letter to the board today asking for Sullivan’s reinstatement.
“We recommend strongly that discussions begin immediately to reset the relationship with President Sullivan, reconstitute the team she had put together over that past year, and accelerate the important decisions to be made,” the deans said in the letter.
Zeithaml, who will remain dean of the McIntire School of Commerce until he becomes interim president on Aug. 16, wasn’t asked to sign the letter because of the “difficult position” it would put him in. Zeithaml has already said he opposes Sullivan’s removal.
The board is out of touch with the goals and culture of the university’s faculty and operations, said William Wulf, who was one of 13 university professors on the faculty until he resigned June 19 in protest of Sullivan’s dismissal.
“Just discussing reinstatement is not a victory,” he said in a telephone interview. “If I were Terry, I’d demand the resignations of the majority of the board.”
Governor Bob McDonnell is under pressure to jettison the rector, or head, of the university’s board of visitors, Helen Dragas. Her term expires July 1 and can be renewed by McDonnell. If the governor doesn’t reappoint her, Sullivan, who was forced to resign on June 10, may have enough support on the board to be reinstated, said David Leblang, chairman of the department of politics.
McDonnell, a Republican, hasn’t disclosed his plans for Dragas’s future. Dragas, who has donated to both Republicans and Democrats, was first appointed to the board by Governor Tim Kaine, a Democrat, in 2008. All board members are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state general assembly.
“One way or another, the governor owns this mess,” Leblang said. “We are lobbying our constituents, we are lobbying our alums.”
Sullivan was forced out by Dragas and the board, who said they were frustrated by what they said was Sullivan’s slow approach to change. E-mails from Dragas revealed that she was concerned the school was falling behind Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in offering online education.
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