Backlash builds over ousted UVa president

After a tumultuous year, Dr. Teresa A. Sullivan, the University of Virginia's first female president, is in the midst of contract negotiations. (Photo: Miller Center, University of Virginia)

Nathan Hager,

WASHINGTON – The backlash is building over the University of Virginia’s sudden ouster of its president, Teresa Sullivan.

Thirty-three faculty heads from the university’s college of arts and sciences have signed an open letter to UVA’s Board of Visitors and Rector Helen Dragas to protest Sullivan’s resignation and to demand a fuller explanation.

The departure of Sullivan, UVA’s first female president and its eighth overall, comes just two years into her five-year term. Her resignation is effective August 15th.

Dragas has said the Board and Sullivan had “philosophical differences” over their vision for the future of the university.

The faculty letter addresses Dragas and reads, “The entire university community would benefit from a full airing of the specific ‘philosophical differences’ mentioned by you and President Sullivan in order to form a clear vision for the months and years ahead.

“We believe that this abrupt and, from our point of view, opaque decision will deeply threaten the way UVA is perceived by prospective as well as current faculty, students, and donors,” the letter states.

Robert O’Neil, who served as UVA’s president from 1985 to 1990, says the faculty’s position on Sullivan’s departure matches his own.

“She came to the university with the highest credentials and highest expectations. And in fact, from all that I have observed in these two years, a regrettably brief time since she assumed office, she has more than fulfilled the expectations that we would have had at that time,” O’Neil says.

“Unless we are given much fuller and clearer explanations than we have received thus far, I would say this seems to be a miscarriage of justice,” O’Neil says.

Sources close to the Board of Visitors’ thinking tell WTOP that Sullivan was seen as too hands-off when it came to fundraising, and that she lacked a bold vision at a time when the university is expanding undergraduate enrollment and seeking to expand its brand beyond the grounds in Charlottesville.

O’Neil suggests it would have been difficult for Sullivan to exhibit that kind of vision in the short time she’s had in office so far.

“All indications I’ve heard and seen are that she started off, and in fact reached out in some new ways, both in the immediate community and the much larger community of alumni and others,” O’Neil says.

“We would not have expected that, as a relative newcomer, she would have done any more than she has done in that respect.”

Sullivan’s resignation was announced Friday. It’s effective August 15th.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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