CHARLOTTESVILLE — The University of Virginia’s governing body is scheduled to convene Tuesday to decide whether to reinstate ousted President Teresa Sullivan, potentially ending a chaotic two weeks that has torn the fabric of the historic university’s community asunder.
The Board of Visitors announced the meeting Thursday, after Ms. Sullivan was forced to resign June 10 without a formal vote, and after the members appointed interim president Carl Zeithaml in the wee hours of June 19 by a 12-1 vote.
Since then, the university and the community have lashed out against both the ouster itself and the mysterious nature of the proceedings, which Sullivan advocates say run counter to the values of Thomas Jefferson, who founded the state’s flagship university in 1819.
“We believe in things like democracy and representative government, like the right of the people to freely assemble and to seek redress, like the need for the government to be accountable to the consent of the governed,” Charlottesville Vice Mayor Kristen Szakos said. “What the Board of Visitors did while visiting our community two weeks ago flies in the face of all that and violates the democratic principles we hold so dear.”
Undergraduate student Stephen Nash predicted that there would not be any lasting damage done to the university by the events of the past two weeks.
“Some have characterized these 14 days as harmful to our university’s reputation and stature,” said Mr. Nash, head of the university’s Honor Committee, which oversees investigations and disseminates information about the school’s honor system. “Others question how UVa. can fully recover from such a controversy. For me, what is transpiring here in Charlottesville is not causing lasting damage to this institution. In a difficult situation, we are not abandoning our principles but instead holding them up as the measure of what is right.”
George Cohen, chairman of the UVa. Faculty Senate, urged his colleaguesto gather on the Lawn outside the historic rotunda at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, half an hour before the board is scheduled to meet, and stay there until the meeting is over.
“While the outcome of [Tuesday’s] board meeting is by no means certain, we want to allow members of the board the ability to make a thoughtful and well-reasoned decision,” he wrote. “It will be the most important vote they will cast during their service to our great university.”
The Faculty Senate has approved a resolution that calls for Ms. Sullivan to be formally reinstated, for faculty to be represented on the board, and for Rector Helen E. Dragas, who helped orchestrate the ouster, to resign.
Governors make appointments to the 16-member board, which currently comprises doctors, lawyers, and businessmen and women. Ms. Dragas herself is the president and CEO of a Virginia Beach-based real estate company. The board also has two nonvoting members: a student appointed by the Board of Visitors and an ex-officio member appointed by the governor. Vice Rector Mark Kington resigned June 19, saying he hoped the move would start a healing process for the university but leaving the board with one fewer voting member.
Ms. Dragas, though, has shown no outward indication that she plans to do the same.
“I look forward to a respectful and dignified meeting on Tuesday, and to an important discussion of the implications of any decision we make on the ability of future boards to lead the university,” she said.
Ms. Dragas, along with several other board members, is up for re-appointment July 1. If she does not resign, Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, will have the opportunity to appoint someone else in her place. Asked recently if he would reappoint her, the governor said only that he will announce his appointments before July 1.