CHARLOTTESVILLE — The University of Virginia Board of Visitors has been steadfast in its commitment to not rehash the events of the summer, when their top leaders tried in June to oust the school president for yet-to-be fully explained reasons. But that silence is causing the crisis to continue, a faculty leader proclaimed in a strongly worded speech during a Thursday afternoon board meeting.
U-Va. Faculty Senate Chairman George Cohen told the board that faculty members are grateful that President Teresa Sullivan was reinstated June 26, and they, too, are committed to leaving behind the drama of the summer. But they cannot do so until they fully understand what happened, Cohen said. The faculty wants to know what philosophical differences Sullivan had with the board, and why some board members were disappointed by Sullivan’s plans for the future — and if those issues have been resolved.
“We have just pressed the reset button,” said Cohen, a law school professor. He later added: “To date, the board has not provided a clear and satisfactory explanation to the university community of why it asked President Sullivan to resign.”
Cohen told the board that if the faculty senate took a vote on its confidence in the governing board, “it would not pass.” His message to the board was blunt: “The simple fact is that this crisis has not gone away.”
After Cohen finished speaking, the room was quiet. The first to say something was William H. Goodwin Jr. of Richmond, who was recently appointed by the governor as a senior adviser to the board.
“We need to leave the past alone,” he said. “You’re trying to dig up things.”
Goodwin compared the crisis to his 46-year marriage, during which he and his wife have not always fully aired every conflict they have faced.
“It’s time to move on,” he said.
One of the board’s newest voting members, Bobbie G. Kilberg of Herndon, then spoke up: “I do not know what happened, and I just want to move ahead.”
Kilberg reminded the board that they had agreed during an August retreat to not talk with reporters. Rehashing the past will not benefit anyone, she said.
“It is time to stop,” she said. “I think that it’s incumbent on every one of us to let this go.”
Another board member, Timothy B. Robertson, jumped in to tell Cohen that the faculty will be satisfied to hear about the work of a new committee focused on governance.
Then the president joined the tense conversation. Sullivan told the board that she is indeed on a “speaking tour,” giving speeches to alumni and others about issues facing the school, such as faculty pay. These events have been broadcast and archived online. Sullivan noted that these events often include question and answer sessions.
“I can’t control what people ask me about,” Sullivan said.
Kilberg said: “Well, Terry, we could say we’re not entertaining those questions. We want to talk about the future.”
Sullivan picked up her glass of water and took a sip. The room was again quiet. Soon, a presentation about measuring student learning began.
(Donna is reporting from the meeting in Charlottesville today, while I am in Washington watching online.)