UVa Board Reverses Itself, Reinstates President

The governing board at the University of Virginia voted unanimously to reinstate President Teresa Sullivan on Tuesday. Virginia's governor ordered the board to make a final decision on whether to keep Sullivan following more than two weeks of turmoil after several board members worked behind the scenes to oust the popular chief executive. Students and faculty called Sullivan's dismissal a coup and said the board was pushing too fast to make major changes at the university.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne. The University of Virginia, a storied institution founded by Thomas Jefferson, has ended weeks of turmoil sparked by a dispute that reflects the issues many colleges face across the country. After firing the university's president, U.Va.'s board voted unanimously to reinstate her. . [POST-BROADCAST CLARIFICATION: The Board of Visitors did not vote on whether to fire Sullivan. Sullivan resigned after meeting with the rector and vice rector, who told her they had the votes needed to remove her.]

And after yesterday's stunning reversal, board members apologized for failing to make their case for new leadership, and for throwing the campus community into an uproar. NPR's Claudio Sanchez was there.

CLAUDIO SANCHEZ, BYLINE: A small crowd of supporters - faculty and students - convened early, and anxiously waited for the news outside the Rotunda, where the school's governing board was meeting to decide President Teresa Sullivan's fate. Sullivan herself came out - and announced she had gotten her job back.

TERESA SULLIVAN: We can go forward with what is best for the university only if we go forward together.

(CHEERS, APPLAUSE)

SANCHEZ: Less clear is the future of the woman who orchestrated Sullivan's ouster - Helen Dragas. Her term as university rector ends on July 1st. She's unlikely to be re-appointed by Governor Robert McDonnell. Dragas declined to speak to reporters but during the board meeting, she sounded contrite about the manner in which she, and a handful of board members, had tried - and failed - to remove Sullivan.

HELEN DRAGAS: I'd like to reiterate an apology to the U.Va. community. Again, let me state that we never wished, nor intended, to ignite such a reaction from the community of trust and honor, that we love so dearly.

SANCHEZ: Dragas, a successful and influential business woman, however, insisted that board members had raised legitimate concerns about the university's future. Dragas, in particular, had grown impatient with Sullivan's leadership, and what Dragas called her incremental approach to the urgent problems the university faces; namely, the need to make up for the deep cuts in state funding, the future of the school's medical center, and the desire of board members to expand online courses as a more cost-effective means to deliver instruction.

It was Sullivan's reluctance to move quickly, though, that endeared her to most faculty and students, who welcomed her more deliberate management style and inclusiveness. Dragas clearly underestimated the support Sullivan had built in less than two years as president. Dragas and the board she's led had no choice but to rescind Sullivan's dismissal. Reverend Deborah Lewis, a United Methodist minister on campus, was relieved.

THE REV. DEBORAH LEWIS: We've been out here on the lawn several times in the last couple weeks, and it's a really emotional, amazing day. The right thing happened. It was great to be here for today.

SANCHEZ: For students like John Kubinski, entering his fourth year at the university, a unanimous vote to keep Sullivan as president sends an important message.

JOHN KUBINSKI: I think all of us - the faculty, the students - we made it really clear that they have to consult us about what we care about. And it's just incredible that we've been vindicated in this catharsis right now.

SANCHEZ: Sullivan had these parting words for reporters.

SULLIVAN: Virginia is strong and united, and we're in problem-solving mode at Virginia.

SANCHEZ: As the crowd subsided and Sullivan retreated from the media spotlight, those in attendance began to sing "The Good Old Song," the university's alma mater.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) Let's all join hands and give a yell for dear old U.Va..

(CHEERS, APPLAUSE)

SANCHEZ: Claudio Sanchez, NPR News, Charlottesville, Virginia.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: