The Removal and Reinstatement of UVA’s President

By B. Robert Kreiser

The AAUP has published the report of its investigation into the University of Virginia governing board’s attempt last June to remove Teresa Sullivan from the university presidency. The report documents a major breakdown in governance at UVA, focusing on the role of the board of visitors and its rector, Helen Dragas, who initiated the effort to force the president’s resignation. It finds that the events at the university resulted from “a failure by those charged with institutional oversight to understand the institution over which they presided and to engage with the administration and the faculty in an effort to be well informed.” 

The resignation and subsequent reinstatement of President Sullivan received extensive coverage in local and national media last summer. The board’s action to remove the president, taken without explanation of the specific reasons for its displeasure with her performance, incurred prompt objections from the UVA academic community and the AAUP. With the board holding fast despite growing public opposition, the AAUP authorized a formal investigation of governance issues raised by the action. After the board withdrew its demand in the face of continuing protests and President Sullivan agreed to stay on, the AAUP announced that it would proceed with its previously announced investigation but would focus on the vital issues aired by the crisis at UVA that confront all our major universities.

The investigating committee’s report provides new details on last June’s events. The committee found that “the rector and the board made no effort to engage with the president or the faculty on the underlying issues the rector claimed to be at stake.” Had the board consulted the faculty, the committee writes, “It is at least arguable that it would not have acted as it did.” The report concludes that “the decision to remove President Sullivan was, taking the reasons given by Rector Dragas at face value, procedurally and substantively arbitrary.” 

Events that have occurred since the AAUP report was published suggest that major issues addressed in the report still await resolution. The committee intends to provide an update later this spring to the AAUP’s Committee on College and University Governance for its report to the Association’s 2013 annual meeting in June.

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