CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — University of Virginia faculty leaders on Monday demanded the reinstatement of the school’s president and the resignation of two board members involved in her ouster. Officials gave no sign of complying, but acknowledged they could have handled Teresa Sullivan’s abrupt departure better.
“We recognize that, while genuinely well-intended to protect the dignity of all parties, our actions too readily lent themselves to perceptions of being opaque and not in keeping with the honored traditions of this university,” Rector Helan Dragas said in a statement issued by the university.
“For that reason, let me state clearly and unequivocally: You, our U.Va. family, deserved better from this board, and we have heard your concerns loud and clear.”
That wasn’t good enough for members of the Faculty Senate, who earlier met privately with board members to demand the removal of both Dragas and Vice Rector Mark J. Kington. The Senate’s executive committee also requested that faculty be given a voting position on the board, known as the Board of Visitors.
The encounter came shortly before the board was to discuss and possibly vote on an interim successor to Sullivan.
Outside the Rotunda, the university’s signature building where the meeting took place, about 2,000 people gathered to show their support for the ousted president.
A little girl wearing a U.Va. cap held a sign that read, “We don’t treat people this way.” Several people carried signs bearing the likeness of university founder Thomas Jefferson and quoting his 1820 pledge that the school would “follow truth wherever it may lead.”
Sullivan stepped out to greet the crowd after addressing the board, and was met with thunderous cheers and chants of “U-V-A! U-V-A!” before returning inside.
She emerged again later and thanked the crowd for “making this a great university” but said she would not comment further. As she walked away through the parted crowd, people serenaded her with the school song, “The Good Ole Song.”
Sullivan had said earlier that her departure was due to “philosophical differences” with the board. The panel never formally voted on Sullivan’s departure or fully explained it, touching off a furor among faculty, administrators, students, donors and alumni. Dragas announced the resignation on June 10.
Across the street, along a stretch of bustling shops and restaurants, a group of mathematics graduate students attending summer school said that they were concerned the Board of Visitors might be trying to run the university like a corporation. Dragas is a Virginia Beach developer, and Kington is president of a northern Virginia management company.
David Lipman, a second-year doctoral student, said that emails students received from the Board of Visitors about Sullivan’s resignation contained “total corporate-speak,” including references to cost-cutting and strategic plans.
“If I were a professor or administrator I wouldn’t want to come to U.Va.,” said Peter Bonventre, also a second-year PhD student.
The furor over Sullivan’s ouster could hit the university in the pocketbook. Several donors are withdrawing their pledges over the issue, including longtime benefactor Hunter Smith, who along with her late husband, Carl W. Smith, has given millions to the school. Smith said she will withhold further support until Dragas, Kington and other board members are removed.
“I love this school and they deserve better than what’s been done,” Smith said Monday in a telephone interview. “I’m not going to condone what’s been done.”
Another prominent U.Va. benefactor took the opposite stance, however. In an op-ed article Sunday in the local newspaper, The Daily Progress, Paul Tudor Jones II said Sullivan’s departure is “a clarion call from the Board of Visitors that business as usual is not acceptable anymore.”
“Why be good when there is outstanding to be had?” Jones wrote.
AP writer Larry O’Dell in Richmond, Va., contributed to this report.
Zinie Chen Sampson can be reached on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/zinie
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