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UVa. board votes to reinstate Sullivan

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University of Virginia president Teresa Sullivan, center, at podium, addresses a crowd of supporters outside the university Rotunda after she was reinstated by the Board of Visitors during a meeting at the school Tuesday, June 26, 2012 in Charlottesville, Va. The 15-member Board of Visitors voted unanimously to reinstate Sullivan less than three weeks after ousting her in a secretive move that infuriated students and faculty, had the governor threatening to fire the entire governing board and sparked a debate about the most effective way to operate public universities in an era of tight finances. Shortly after the vote, Sullivan thanked the board members for their renewed confidence in her. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

CHARLOTTESVILLE — In an abrupt about-face, the University of Virginia’s governing body voted unanimously on Tuesday to reinstate ousted President Teresa Sullivan.

Ms. Sullivan, flanked by members of the board on the steps of the university’s historic Rotunda, told a feverish crowd afterward that it was time to move forward after the unpleasantness of the last two weeks.

“Everyone has been motivated by the goal of what is best for the University of Virginia,” she said. “We can go forward as a university easily if we go forward together.”

Ms. Sullivan took time out to address seemingly every faction of the university community - students, alumni, faculty and even other universities looking to poach disaffected professors from UVa.

“A word of warning to institutions planning to raid our faculty next year - you have to come through [Provost] John Simon and me to do it,” she said to wild applause.

Rector Helen E. Dragas, who helped orchestrate Ms. Sullivan’s forced ouster, delivered contrite, measured remarks to the board during the roughly half-hour meeting. She said she had spoken with Ms. Sullivan, and they both came to the conclusion it was time to bring the university community back together. Ms. Dragas added that the two have always respected one another on a personal level.

Ms. Dragas also offered an apology to the university community for not being more transparent in the process.

Citing the university’s unwillingness or inability to quickly respond to a growing number of challenges, she outlined on Thursday as reason for the ouster a list of challenges facing UVa. — dwindling federal and state financial support, weak fundraising, and the role of online education in the university’s future, for example. But Ms. Dragas admitted Tuesday that the announcement came too late.

“I sincerely apologize for the way this was presented, and you deserve better,” Ms. Dragas told the board.

“Now the work ahead will surely be charged with renewed passion and energy,” she continued. “It is unfortunate that we had to have a near-death experience to get here.”

Senior board member Heywood Fralin said all members of the panel made mistakes during the process and he apologized for not conferring soon enough with other members to see if enough of them would be willing to hold a special meeting to discuss Ms. Sullivan’s resignation.

He added, however, that the issues raised in Ms. Dragas’ letter are legitimate ones that will have to be addressed by the president, the board, the faculty and staff.

Gov. Bob McDonnell, who threatened to fire the entire board if its members did not reach a resolution Tuesday, praised the body’s “conclusive action,” while calling the recent criticism of board members, specifically Ms. Dragas, “unfortunate and counterproductive.”

The leadership crisis began after Ms. Sullivan announced her resignation June 10, sparking outrage and protests from faculty, staff, students and alumni at the university founded by Thomas Jefferson.

Lisa Laurie, one member of the throng gathered on the university Lawn after the meeting, said she was nevertheless surprised that the vote on Ms. Sullivan - the university’s eighth president and its first female leader - was unanimous.

“I don’t think anybody expected her vote to go that way,” said Ms. Laurie, a nurse practitioner at the University Hospital who lives in Charlottesville.

“Personally, I think in order to restore the faith and the honor for the University of Virginia, the only thing they could do was to reinstate her. To not do that would be a catastrophe.”

About the Author

David Sherfinski

David Sherfinski covers politics for The Washington Times. He can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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