The two University of Virginia leaders stood in the Rotunda and spoke quietly last week. The conversation between Rector Helen Dragas, leader of the Board of Visitors, and President Teresa Sullivan drew attention. Onlookers wondered: Was it a friendly chat? Or was it as tense as the events of that month?
At any university, the working relationship between the president and the governing board leader is critical. And the relationship between Sullivan and Dragas was battered during the U-Va. leadership crisis in June.
And now many wonder: Is it possible for Sullivan to work with, and trust, the person who a month ago asked her to resign for the good of the university? Can Dragas retain her authority having been vilified for leading the failed ouster?
That remains to be seen, but they have made several public displays of reconciliation, including a hug that was captured by a student journalist:
The image was captured at about 3:45 p.m. on June 26 by Veronica Manuel, a multimedia coordinator for the Cavalier Daily student newspaper.
Less than an hour earlier, Dragas and Sullivan had walked into the board room together. And during a 30-minute meeting, the board voted unanimously to reinstate Sullivan. It also gave a vote of confidence to Dragas. Toward the end of the meeting, Dragas said: “We look forward to working with President Sullivan.”
Then the group moved to the steps of the Rotunda, where Sullivan addressed the crowd with board members standing behind her. She said the board showed strength in reversing course and told those gathered that Dragas cares deeply for U-Va.
Back inside the Rotunda, as Dragas and Sullivan spoke in hushed tones, Dragas reached over and hugged Sullivan. Manuel snapped a photo and posted it on Twitter:
“I thought to myself, ‘That’s odd,’” said Manuel, 20, a rising third-year student from Arlington. The embrace was long and didn’t seem awkward, Manuel said, but when the women saw that reporters and others were watching, they retreated to a private room to, presumably, continue talking.
That Tuesday, the two leaders symbolically walked together, stood together on the steps of the Rotunda and embraced. They praised one another and renewed their vow to work together.
Those are the symbolic actions. The true working relationship between the two will be revealed in the coming weeks, months and years as they are pushed to take stances and make decisions.
The board’s next scheduled event is a retreat on July 13 and 14. The next board meeting is scheduled for Sept. 13 and 14 — after the start of the next school year.
Updated: An earlier version of this post had the wrong title for Veronica Manuel of the Cavalier Daily. Manuel is the multimedia editor, not the social media editor.