The nation’s leading association of university professors released a scathing report on Thursday that criticized the University of Virginia Board of Visitors, especially its leader, for ousting U-Va. President Teresa Sullivan last summer for reasons that were “procedurally and substantively arbitrary.”
Given the national attention generated by the ouster and later reinstatement of Sullivan, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) authorized a formal investigation that would examine U-Va. governance and “vital issues aired by the crisis at UVA that confront all our major universities.”
The investigative committee, composed of professors from other universities, concluded that the board failed to engage with Sullivan regarding their concerns about the university and should have consulted faculty members before taking action. The report frequently singles out U-Va. Rector Helen Dragas, who has been credited with leading the ouster and accused of not fully involving all board members in her decisions. One passage of the report reads:
“If we take the statements issued on behalf of the board at face value, as we must, the events of last June might be reasonably explained in this way: A headstrong rector, imbued with a belief in ‘engaged trusteeship,’ strove to remove a president who failed to conform to her image of bold academic captaincy. She did so with single-minded zeal: without informing herself of the essentials in the underlying matters she claimed to give rise to that drive, even without perceiving the relevance of the evaluation process the board had adopted a mere seven months before. In this, she was abetted, first, by the absence of an experienced intermediary to give her and the board sober counsel and, second, by her board’s total neglect of its collective responsibility. If this explanation is correct, what happened is, if no less appalling, at least more understandable.”
The U-Va. Board of Visitors had a chance to respond in February to a draft of the report. In a letter to the AAUP, included in the report, Dragas wrote that the board plans to address some of the concerns raised in the report in the coming months.
The board issued a statement at about 4 a.m. Thursday that states, in part: “the University is a stronger, more accountable institution because the Board and President have worked together to openly make decisions and actively engage faculty, staff and students. Our focus remains on improving academic quality and its delivery to students, assuring access and affordability and achieving sustainable funding. The critical role our faculty plays in contributing to success in each of these areas cannot be overstated.”
The AAUP wrote in a statement that the U-Va. Faculty Senate was right to have not lifted its vote of no confidence in the board, issued last June, because problems persist. U-Va. faculty recently started an AAUP chapter.
Here’s a copy of the AAUP report, which is also available on its website: