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Answer Sheet
Posted at 06:32 PM ET, 07/16/2012

The Dragas-Sullivan statement: Who’s kidding whom at U-Va.?

Today we were treated to a joint statement (see below) by University President Teresa Sullivan and Helen Dragas, rector of the school’s governing board, which talks about their renewed commitment to work together as if the recent drama in which Dragas fired Sullivan never happened. Well, actually, there was this reference: “Recent events have caused the respect that U.Va. generates to acquire a new level of energy, focusing widespread attention on our future.”

This statement was released shortly after The Washington Post published an edited version of a piece I posted here yesterday calling for
Helen Dragas, left, and Teresa Sullivan. (Norm Shafer for The Washington Post)
the resignation of Dragas and all of the other members of the Board of Visitors for dragging the elite public university into an unnecessary crisis and then never bothering to explain to the school community why they really fired Sullivan. We know why they reinstated her: There was a revolt on campus.

But should Sullivan now be expected to get along with people who tried to fire her and lied to her, directly or by omission? She shouldn’t, but at the moment she is in a trap. She has to sign silly joint working-together statements with Helen Dragas because Dragas is still her boss.

The Dragas/Sullivan statement, which has a “we doth protest too much” quality to it, elicited immediate reaction from some people on the campus still angry about the leadership crisis. One of them, Raúl A. Baragiola, Alice and Guy Wilson professor at the school’s Laboratory for Atomic and Surface Physics, wrote the following (see his full statement below):

It is not possible to maintain the integrity of the university with Ms. Dragas continuing as Rector. It is also a delusion to repeat over and over again that there is a new energy that arose from the events, one that will propel the university to new heights. The energy displayed was against the perception of injustice, and of irresponsible and dishonorable behavior. That energy cannot be focused into non existent initiatives and is diminished every time we are sent new platitudes, without proposals for concrete actions. To assume that the faculty and staff will be induced by communiques into accepting requests to just go along with whatever is decided at the top is a delusion or an insult to our collective intelligence.

Here’s the joint statement from Dragas and Sullivan, complete with headline:

JOINT STATEMENT FROM THE RECTOR AND PRESIDENT OF THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA
This is an important moment in the history of our great University. Recent events have caused the respect that U.Va. generates to acquire a new level of energy, focusing widespread attention on our future. We are unequivocally united in the belief that the institution’s future is brighter than ever. Together, we commit to harness this renewed energy to advance the University’s leadership role in higher education.
Our University faces the same challenges — many of them resource issues, both financial and human — as our peer institutions. We are prepared to address them in ways that are consistent with the vision of our founder, the integrity of our Honor Code, and the aspirations of our community.
As first steps, we will work to strengthen the networks of communication and collaboration between each other, as well as among all of our stakeholder groups: students, faculty, and staff; members of the Board of Visitors; alumni, donors, and parents; and key external constituencies in the Commonwealth and beyond. We also commit to engaging the community in the creation of a plan of action that will sustain excellence for future generations.
As leaders of U.Va., sharing a common love for the institution and its mission in the world, we pledge to work together to ensure that our University remains a beacon for superb higher education, outstanding health care, and important research. We also call on those who share our love to join us in fulfilling Jefferson’s vision for the University to become the “bulwark of the human mind.”
We look forward to working with you on the critical and exciting endeavors that lie ahead.
Helen E. Dragas, Rector
Teresa A. Sullivan, President
July 16, 2012

And here’s Baragiola’s full response. He is undoubtedly not the only person in the U-Va. campus who is reacting to this statement in this way:

From Raúl A. Baragiola:
I have just read the joint statement copied below, astonished at the examples of magical thinking.
When the Rector removed the President, my first reaction was to assume that grave reasons were behind this abrupt action. I waited for clarifications and urged the Faculty Senate not to escalate by asking for the resignation of the Rector until we had all the facts. Now we have the facts. According to public reports, the Rector lied in saying that requesting Dr. Sullivan’s resignation had the agreement of the majority of the BoV. This was not a simple, white lie, this was a calculated deceit by the top university officer.
At the time Senators responded to me that the escalation (as opposed to moderation) was necessary because principles were in play. There was no compromise possible. That does not appear honorable now that we heard that top officers of the Senate say that they can work with the Rector since the President says she can. Clearly, the principles have been subordinated to politics.
It is not possible to maintain the integrity of the university with Ms. Dragas continuing as Rector. It is also a delusion to repeat over and over again that there is a new energy that arose from the events, one that will propel the university to new heights. The energy displayed was against the perception of injustice, and of irresponsible and dishonorable behavior. That energy cannot be focused into non existent initiatives and is diminished every time we are sent new platitudes, without proposals for concrete actions. To assume that the faculty and staff will be induced by communiques into accepting requests to just go along with whatever is decided at the top is a delusion or an insult to our collective intelligence.
I hope for a resignation of the Rector and the birth of transparent dialogues, devoid of futile rhetoric.
Raúl A. Baragiola
Alice and Guy Wilson Professor
University of Virginia, Laboratory for Atomic and Surface Physics

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