Saturday, June 16, 2012

UVA Crisis Morphs Into a Political Issue

It's a great irony that two Democrats have created a growing problem for a Republican Governor.  Both the Rector and Vice Rector (translate to Chairman and Vice Chairman) of the University of Virginia Board of Visitors (i.e. Directors) were first placed on the Board by Democratic governors.  But Governor McDonnell has embraced both, reappointing one and quietly giving assurances of reappointing the other.  So McDonnell will now be widely seen as responsible for their actions, even as he makes every effort to distance himself.

The problem is that the Rector and the Vice Rector have led the charge to remove one of the most popular university presidents in the country -- Terry Sullivan, until last week, President of the University of Virginia.  Apparently, there is no constituency, outside of the Board of Visitors itself, that seems happy with Sullivan's dismissal.  And, the Armada is assembling.

Strongly worded petitions are garnering signatures expressing a "lack of confidence" in the University's board from faculty, students, alumni groups, and the broader University of Virginia community.

The problem for the Board is a relatively simple one.  No one outside the Board (and perhaps a wealthy citizen or two in Greenwich, Connecticut) seems to have any idea why the Rector and Vice Rector have taken the steps to remove President Sullivan -- and the Rector and Vice Rector aren't talking -- citing "confidentiality" issues that surround personnel decisions.

This bizarre situation permits discontented observers to dream up their own devil theory as to what happened, aided and abetted by strange emails from prominent donors claiming to be the devil themselves.  So, how does it end?  Well, it doesn't end.

Faculty and student groups live for opportunities like this and are licking their chops to begin the demonstrations, petitions, and calumny that will soon dominate the news output in Virginia.  Why study and do research, when you can carry a sign?

My sense is that the Board is underestimating the degree of disruption that their enemies are capable of.  I don't doubt the good intentions of both sides, but within a few days that won't matter anymore.  For McDonnell, his legacy will be that he will remembered forever as the Governor who orchestrated the removal of the first woman President in University of Virginia history.  Whatever McDonnell's true role may or may not have been in this drama, he will gradually be given the baton by those who write the history of this episode.



Ed - There are no "enemies" here. That language is inflammatory and does not promote the communication and healing environment that is needed right now. The BOV demonstrated extremely poor judgment and execution of their legacy governing PRIVELEDGE over UVA. For the BOV members that claim they had no knowledge we can only hope that they are so angry that they permanently fix the internal process that allowed this to happened. For those that agreed, shame on you for not questioning the process of dismissal and not having the insight needed to govern UVA. The BOV bears the sole responsibility of this media frenzy and fall out to date. In contrast to now, in 2010 the BOV and the Faculty Senate worked closely together to select the new President. Fortunately we had the HONOR of having Theresa Sullivan accept the position. She engendered respect and trust in the UVA community at large due to her style of being inclusive, transparent, and an excellent communicator. She was genuine and compassionate dealing with horrendous issues [Love], while also being assertive and resolve with the legal issues of Cucchinalli. So let’s understand that there was precedence for a good mutual working relationship. In contrast her abrupt dismissal was done rapidly, with ill-conceived transition plans and with no external input except for some key individuals outside of the BOV (Keirnan and 2 mystery "alumni"). Apparently they were not under the same rubris of "confidentiality of employment" that the rest of the UVA Senior Administrators, and the Faculty Executive Council were under [see Dragas statement on why no else was informed]. If Theresa Sullivan herself was not told of their serious discontent until the day of firing, how could any type of constructive thoughtful transition happen. She herself would have wanted it this way.

Yes there is justified anger, but no pitchforks, the "enemy" are not individual people - we all care deeply about UVA - but the process. Since this debacle, the Faculty Senate repeated asked for a face to face meeting since June 10 - this should have happened immediately to prevent further discontent. So the "protest" is a statement of intolerance of the manner in which this was handled. Sadly if this is the dramatic "bold" way to make the elephant dance, and a far better approach to running a complex state run institution, we are all worried about next steps. You should be thanking your fellow faculty for taking time out to do this on your behalf. We have plenty of other responsibilities, like teaching, taking care of patients and our families. Hope to see you too “waving a sign” on Monday.


that's "PRIVILEGE" and "Cuccinelli" ... my apologies