Reinstated: My Faith in the People

In Politics on June 26, 2012 at 5:53 pm


Wow. A few minutes ago, after another week of soap-opera-worthy twists and anonymous leaks, President Teresa Sullivan was reinstated by a unanimous vote of the University of Virginia Board of Visitors.

It’s been quite a couple of weeks. Since I last posted, support for Sullivan continued to swell both on and off campus (or “Grounds,” as UVa insists on calling it.) The interim president, who is the dean of the undergraduate business school and the man with the least enviable job in the state of Virginia, Carl Zeithaml, was voted in by the Board and then stepped down three days later, saying he would no longer engage in planning for the presidency until Sullivan’s position was decided once and for all. (Part of his secret plan all along to cripple the Board and prevent it from moving forward? If so: genius.) Three members of the Board, at least one of whom had not been informed of the plot to remove Sullivan, called for another Board meeting on June 26 to consider reinstating her. Board Rector Helen Dragas (the orchestrator of the coup) released a lengthy statement on June 21 (11 full days after announcing Sullivan’s exit) outlining all the problems facing the university. However, she didn’t indicate what Sullivan had done wrong in dealing with them, or why we should believe anything Dragas says when she’s handled this so poorly. She also refused to back down, uttering the famous “We did the right thing, the wrong way.” Actually, she didn’t even write it at all, since astute readers noted that if you right-click on the PDF file, the author’s name is revealed to be John Ullyot, a senior vice-president at that pricey PR firm Dragas hired. I’m sorry, at $50,000-$100,000 a pop, you can’t get handlers who know how to fix rookie “Intro to Computing” mistakes like this?

The same day, the governor of Virginia released a stern statement and a separate letter to the Board saying that if the Board did not make a final decision on Tuesday the 26th, he would ask every one of them to resign on Wednesday. That move was meant to paint him as a strong, no-nonsense leader, but since I am now suspecting he was involved in this to begin with, I’m not so sure. After all, Peter Kiernan’s original leaked e-mail that started it all specifically said that nothing of this kind can be done without the knowledge and assent of the governor. And word had also been leaked that the Board had secretly sent a contingent to Sullivan the week of June 18 to ask if she would consider returning, and she said she would on the condition that Dragas resigned. Dragas has so far, amazingly, continued to refuse to do so, and the governor has refused to force her (and his office is leaking that he actually plans to reappoint her when her term is up on July 1, which will be truly unbelievable if accurate.) So the governor’s statement, though superficially firm and neutral, actually made it seem impossible for Sullivan to return. Additionally, I found it suspicious that he criticized faculty, alumni and students for protesting but gave the Board just a verbal slap on the wrist. Oh, so it’s the little people’s fault for not blindly following?

Meanwhile, Dragas’ sister wrote an op-ed basically saying “Don’t hate on my sister, she’s nice and Sullivan sucks,” a blogger presented the Declaration of Independence as written by the UVa Board of Visitors (if you click on no other link in this post, you must click on this one, it’s hilarious) and the Huffington Post published a very interesting piece about the fundamental misunderstanding of basic business principles displayed by a Board populated with supposedly prestigious MBAs. Oh, and people kept vigil-ing and making impassioned speeches from the steps of Thomas Jefferson’s Rotunda at the school, for whatever that’s worth.

And then today, amidst rumours that Sullivan had taken back her condition that Dragas must resign, Dragas asked Sullivan if she could walk her over to this afternoon’s historic Board meeting. The lone Board member who voted no to the interim president, Heywood Fralin, moved to rescind the forced resignation. And Helen Dragas made a speech about healing the University… at the end of which she voted in favour of reinstating President Sullivan.

These people know how to create drama, we have to give them that. The crowds of people gathered outside began screaming and cheering, and after the meeting Sullivan was mobbed like a rock star, according to the Washington Post. After she made a few remarks, the entire crowd put their arms around each other and sang the school song. You can’t make this stuff up!

I’m very pleased that this wrong was righted, at least partially, and that President Sullivan was reinstated after an improper and unethical removal process. But true justice would have been served by Dragas’ resignation. Her continued refusal to do this makes me wonder if she knows she has job security through some backroom deal. The actual reasons for this entire disaster have still never been made public, and I suspect it involves financial benefits for people in high places — including the governor’s office. Additionally, Dragas had hinted all along that the Health System and hospital were somehow entwined in their reasons for wanting Sullivan out, and the explanation for how the medical branch was involved is very relevant to me personally.

I’m now reading headlines around the Web, and they all refer to the reinstatement of UVa’s “popular” president. To me, the fact that she is popular is totally irrelevant. I don’t have any feelings about her one way or the other personally, and I’m still against what happened to her. The outrage has nothing to do with how wonderful she is or whether she was doing a good job, it’s that the Board of Visitors’ actions were totally egregious. As far as I’m concerned, if she really was an inadequate president, I have no problem if the BOV wants to build a case against her now, openly and honestly. If what they said to begin with was true, the evidence should speak for itself.

But really, the Board of Visitors has no authority now. As an entity, it’s kind of laughable. Two weeks after a supposed unanimous vote to remove the president, they give a unanimous vote to reinstate her? Plus, minutes after that, they gave a unanimous vote of confidence in Helen Dragas. Please. Just because she stopped being a tool for two measly minutes? And now one of the most vocal opponents of the Board, Faculty Senate Chairman George Cohen, is backing off too and saying he thinks the faculty can continue to work with Dragas after all — even though they’ve been calling for her resignation for over a week. Is everything really going to be forgiven so Dragas can continue to sit on her throne?

We’ll have to wait and see, I guess, but at least the community can start repairing now. This unprecedented removal and reinstatement of a university president has secured a place in the history books of higher education. An unfortunate event … and as long as Dragas retains her position I can’t say true justice was served … and it’s disturbing that we the people still don’t know the real impetus behind this … and I urge the press not to let this go, but to keep digging …

… but in the end, I am very happy for UVa today.

By the way, have you ever wondered who would play whom in UVA: The Movie? Then click here (Bob Saget as Mark Kington is my favourite).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: