For the past few months, University of Virginia officials have swapped correspondence with the region’s accrediting agency regarding concerns raised by the unexpected ouster and eventual reinstatement of U-Va. President Teresa Sullivan in June. On Tuesday, the commission is expected to announce its latest verdict.
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (better known as SACSCOC or SACS) Board of Trustees is expected to discuss the U-Va. case during an annual meeting in Dallas this week. The board could take one of four possible actions: stop probing, continue investigating, issue a warning or impose a sanction, such as placing the school on probation. The commission president, Belle S. Wheelan, is expected to announce the board’s decision Tuesday morning, according to her staff.
To refresh your memory, here’s a timeline of what has happened so far:
June 10: The U-Va. Board of Visitors announced that Sullivan would soon step down as president after just two years on the job. The announcement cited a philosophical difference of opinion between Sullivan and the board. The board never met to discuss the ouster, but board leader Helen Dragas has said that she received authorization from more than two-thirds of board members to ask for Sullivan’s resignation.
June 25: The accreditation commission’s vice president sent a letter to Sullivan that raised questions about the governing board’s actions and “UVA’s ongoing compliance with The Principles of Accreditation,” especially those regarding integrity, governing board control and the faculty role in governance. The commission set a deadline of July 31, which was later extended.
June 26: The U-Va. board voted unanimously to reinstate Sullivan as president. Soon after, Sullivan traveled to Georgia to meet with the accrediting staff.
Sept. 20: The U-Va. board composed a response to the commission’s questions. They maintained that while mistakes were made, they had “true and honest reasons” for being disappointed with Sullivan’s performance in her first two years as president. The board stated that at all times it was in full compliance with the commission’s expectations, Virginia law and university policies. The response was submitted by the U-Va. provost and an associate vice provost, as Sullivan excused herself from the inquiry.
Oct. 5: U-Va. received another letter from the commission, stating that “questions remain” about the school’s integrity and its governing board. The matter was referred to the commission’s board of trustees for further review at a December meeting. Soon after, Wheelan told reporters that it would be “very unusual” for U-Va. to lose its accreditation but that all other options are “possible.”
Nov. 10: The board sent the commission another letter to explain some of the changes it has made since this summer. The board’s manual now requires that “[a]ppointment, removal, requested resignation, or amendment of the contract or terms of employment of the President may be accomplished only by vote of a majority (or, by statute, two-thirds in the case of removal) of the whole number of Visitors at a regular meeting, or special meeting called for this purpose.” The board also plans to institute quarterly evaluations of the president and better involve faculty members.
Dec. 8-11: The commission is set to hold its annual meeting in Dallas. The theme is “Higher Education in 2020: Pedagogy, Technology, and Student Learning.” Wheelan is expected to make an announcement about U-Va. during a morning session.