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Is the University of Virginia Really Out of the Woods? New Developments

In a piece posted three days ago I treated a flare-up in the tension between the University of Virginia’s Governing Board and its President, Teresa Sullivan, that had supposedly been resolved with the reversal at the end of last summer of Sullivan’s forced resignation. According to Jenna Johnson’s March 2 Washington Post article the board’s rector, Helen Dragas lost no time after her own reappointment this January in demanding that Sullivan accomplish 65 “goals” by the end of the academic year, seven months from the date of the email in question, to which Sullivan took offense. The Johnson article triggered an immediate response, in particular revitalizing the campus group that had coordinated the protests last summer that led to Sullivan’s reinstatement, UVA United For Honor.

It now seems that President Sullivan herself is somewhat taken aback by the new public attention, according to yesterday’s Chronicle of Higher Education, at least in the public face she shows. Its reporter caught up with her on Sunday in Washington, DC, where she was attending the annual meeting of the American Council on Education, and elicited her comment that “overly much is being made” of her relationship with Dragas in the wake of the leaked email she sent to the latter, to trigger the WaPo story, particularly in the context that this national conference was taking place.

On the other hand, what else can one expect her to say about the flap in public? She does have to deal with the Board of Visitors. Meanwhile, the Chronicle’s reporter buttonholed some other university presidents and education leaders after a closed session at the ACE meeting, entitled “Moving Forward: Rebuilding Structures, Trust, and Reputation After a Campus Crisis.” One would have liked to have been a fly on the wall at that one, judging from the comments he was able to obtain or not.

For example, one president is quoted as saying, “if you have 65 priorities, you don’t have any priorities.” Another would only speak briefly in generalities, before he “ducked into an elevator.”

Moreover, the University’s Faculty Senate has now spoken. According to Johnson’s update on the situation, although its statement yesterday hedges a bit with boilerplate to the effect that her Saturday article might not give the full context, it says

Rector Dragas’s reported conduct does not embody the spirit of reconciliation and cooperation that we expected to follow the reinstatement of President Sullivan. Unfortunately, it raises the very concerns about minority control that led UVA’s accrediting agency to put us on warning last fall, and suggests that Rector Dragas has not yet learned the governance lessons from last summer’s crisis. This kind of behavior must end.

For its part, UVA United For Honor does not seem to be letting up, judging from today’s version of its Facebook page (cf. its action page). And it now tallies 68 supporting emails sent to Sullivan’s Chief of Staff, out of a goal of 250.

I can only say again, stay tuned.

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E. F. Beall

E. F. Beall