Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misspelled former U-Va. president Robert O’Neil’s last name. This post has been corrected.
Thirty-three department chairs and program directors at the University of Virginia signed a letter, released Wednesday, that protests the Board of Visitors’ decision to remove President Teresa Sullivan and urges the panel to “reopen discussion” with the ousted leader.
The Board of Visitors has called a special meeting for Monday to discuss interim candidates, state and university officials said. The meeting will be held in closed session.
The faculty missive adds to an unusual and apparently growing backlash against the move, executed by board leaders Friday and reported to the university community Sunday. Rector Helen Dragas asked Sullivan for her resignation Friday afternoon, telling her that a majority of the board favored her departure, according to several sources. Her last day will be Aug. 15.
On Monday, the 16-member Executive Council of the university’s Faculty Senate released a statement opposing Sullivan’s removal. Others, including former U-Va. President Robert O’Neil, former Chief Operating Officer Leonard Sandridge, and current Provost John Simon, have spoken in strenuous defense of her abilities.
The new letter, dated June 12 and addressed to the board, comes from faculty leaders representing the university’s academic core unit.
“We believe that this abrupt and, from our point of view, opaque decision will deeply threaten the way UVA is perceived by prospective as well as current faculty, students, and donors,” they write. “We strongly urge the Board of Visitors to reopen discussion with President Sullivan and the faculty.”
In remarks to deans and vice presidents Sunday, Dragas said the board felt “strongly and overwhelmingly” that it needed a kind of “bold and proactive leadership” that it found lacking in Sullivan. “We have calls internally for resolution of tough financial issues that require hard decisions on resource allocation,” she said. She alluded to stagnant faculty pay and looming retirements and portrayed them as “truly an existential threat to the greatness of UVA.”
Late Wednesday, Dragas released a lengthy statement that read in part:
“Consistent with sound employment practices, it is the policy of the Board to keep confidential matters of disagreement and those relating to evaluation of progress against mutually agreed upon goals.
“Nevertheless, the Board can assure you that there was ongoing dialogue with the President over an extended period of time, regarding matters for which we are responsible,’’ she wrote. “These include ensuring the long-term health and well-being of the University through development of a credible statement of strategic direction and a long-term resource plan.”
Many educators at U-Va. contend there were no signs of organizational weakness at the university or of shortcomings in Sullivan’s leadership.
“Our surprise and concern arise directly from the fact that we have been very pleased with the direction in which President Sullivan and her administrative team have been leading UVA and with her accomplishments thus far,” the faculty leaders write. “She is an extraordinary academic leader, with superb administrative abilities, the heart of a faculty member, and evident strength of character.”
They add, “One hears from colleagues elsewhere that Terry Sullivan was widely recognized as a rising star among university presidents. We expect that her positive impact on the University of Virginia will be felt—and will be appreciated by all of us—for years to come.”
This story has been updated.