- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 24, 2012

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — About 1,500 students, alumni and faculty gathered outside the University of Virginia’s historic Rotunda Sunday afternoon to support reinstating ousted President Teresa A. Sullivan.

A series of speakers at the so-called Rally for Honor ranged from long-serving faculty to students, but all preached the same message: Ms. Sullivan, who resigned under pressure from the school’s governing board on June 10, should be reinstated immediately.

Assistant Professor Peter Norton, who heads the Policy Committee for the Faculty Senate, said Rector Helen E. Dragas’ contention that the Board of Visitors “did the right thing, the wrong way” doesn’t pass muster in an institution devoted to study and research.

“Our research would suggest that process and result cannot be dissociated,” he said. “A bad process can yield an unreliable result.”

Ms. Dragas last week released a lengthy statement elaborating on why Ms. Sullivan, the university’s first female president, was asked to resign, citing fundraising and financial issues, shifts in online learning, and other strategic matters.

The demeanor of the crowd, befitting an event at Thomas Jefferson’s university, was markedly civil. One woman held a sign that read, “Nevermore,” a reference to the poem “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe, who briefly studied at the university. Organizers handed out small signs held up by many members of the crowd quoting Jefferson: “It is more honorable to repair a wrong than to persist in it.”

In contrast, there has been vandalism of the iconic Rotunda and abusive language directed toward interim president Carl P. Zeithaml. Those acts prompted Ms. Sullivan, who has largely remained silent since June 10, to urge the community to remain amicable.

“Let me say in particular that Carl Zeithaml has been an exemplary member of the university community, and he and his family in no way deserve abusive language,” she said. “The Board of Visitors is made up of dedicated volunteers, and abusive language toward them or anyone else is destructive of our community’s values.”

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell alluded to the backlash in a statement issued Friday, saying that if the Board of Visitors did not come to a conclusion Tuesday on whether to reinstate Ms. Sullivan, he would ask for all of the members’ resignations on Wednesday.

“I have learned of the defacement of property on grounds, threats by some faculty or staff to not acknowledge the legitimacy of an interim president elected by a 12-1 vote of the board, and a few faculty and staff urging others to quit,” he said. “While emotions are expectedly high in such matters, these actions reflect poorly on the university and must end immediately.”

The crowd Sunday heeded his words.

Suzie McCarthy, a doctoral student, organized the Sunday rally. The Facebook group she created on June 13, “Students, Family and Friends United for the Reinstatement of President Sullivan,” now has more than 15,750 members.

“As I have watched this online community grow, the thing that has most impressed me has been the spirit of civility,” she said.

Ms. McCarthy, 27, said the board vote held in the wee hours of June 19 to appoint interim president Carl P. Zeithaml “was just like a knife to the heart,” but she was “cautiously optimistic” about its scheduled vote to reconsider the decision on Tuesday.

As an example of how quickly members of the Cavalier community mobilized, Ms. McCarthy said she posted on the Facebook page Sunday morning that organizers were $400 short for the event that day.

She got the money within five minutes.

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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