The University of Virginia Faculty Senate has formally demanded that the school’s governing board reinstate President Teresa Sullivan. A number of other faculty groups, including deans of nearly every school, have echoed that demand in passionate letters and speeches on the steps of the iconic Rotunda.
Hundreds of students have joined in, and the Cavalier Daily student newspaper published an editorial last week stating that the community is certainly behind Sullivan being reinstated, “and if the pieces come in place, so are we.”
But the university’s top student leaders have not taken a stance.
In statements, speeches and interviews, these student politicians have formally asked the board for an explanation of the ouster of Sullivan, who has been in the job for less than two years, but they have stopped short of joining the faculty in calling for Sullivan’s reinstatement.
During a rally Sunday afternoon that attract more than 1,000 people, a long series of faculty members passionately spoke about why Sullivan should be reinstated, saying things like: “President Sullivan is the president of the University of Virginia!” “Reinstate President Sullivan!” “We want President Sullivan!”
Then three student leaders took the podium and that sentiment disappeared. The student body president spoke of values, civility, honor, pushing for what’s right and his optimism for the future of the university.
“We are so much bigger than one action, one person or one board,” said Johnny Vroom, who wore a striped tie in U-Va.’s colors of blue and orange.
A representative of the Arts and Sciences Graduate Student Council, who was wearing a seersucker suit, bowtie and straw hat, thanked Sullivan for dedicating more support and resources to grad students and mentioned that “many graduate students have called for the reinstatement,” although not the council.
The chair of the Honor Committee, which upholds the student vow not to lie, cheat or steal, spoke of honor, integrity, a community of trust and allowing history to render a final decision on what had happened.
In interviews last week, the two undergraduate leaders said that it is difficult to gauge student opinion during the summer break and that it might not be their place to take a stance on Sullivan’s employment status. They said they admired Sullivan and she was well-liked by students, especially for being easily accessible and instituting a culture of transparency. But they wouldn’t say if she should continue on in her job.
“It has been difficult for the student council to decide where we stand,” Vroom said. The council released two statements in the past two weeks, one thanking Sullivan for her service to U-Va. and another requesting a “full explanation of the events and circumstances surrounding the departure of President Teresa Sullivan.” The latter statement included a line saying, “The University of Virginia Student Council is not taking sides or placing blame.”
The members of the Honor Board did not feel it was appropriate for them to question the governing board’s authority to make the decision or the merits of that decision, said board Chairman Stephen Nash. The board decided to release a statement that would “say something truly meaningful and sincere” about how the lack of clarity and transparency in the decision to remove Sullivan was not consistent with the values of the university.
Vroom, Nash and two other student leaders attended a meeting with governing board leader Helen Dragas on June 16, but they were cautious to share what was said in that private conversation.
The governing board has a nonvoting student member, Hillary Hurd, who formally took the position just a few weeks before Sullivan stepped down. At a board meeting June 18, Hurd told the board: “Today, students are sitting outside our meeting because they care. Students are creating Facebook pages because they care. Students are writing letters to the Board of Visitors because they care. ... Not everyone agrees on what course the Board should take. But the most common element of their concern is simply a desire for a better explanation.”
Hurd has not publicly said what course she thinks the board should take at a meeting scheduled for Tuesday to reevaluate the decision to find a new president.