The board has called a special meeting
Tuesday to discuss whether to reinstate Sullivan. But McDonnell said if the 15 voting board members cannot make a decision at that meeting, he will ask all of them to resign. If they refuse, he will remove them for cause, a power granted to him by state law but rarely used.
“Let me be absolutely clear: I want final action by the board on Tuesday,’’ he wrote. “If you fail to do so, I will ask for the resignation of the entire board on Wednesday. Regardless of your decision, I expect you to make a clear, detailed and unified statement on the future leadership of the university.”
Rector Helen E. Dragas, head of the board and advocate of replacing Sullivan, said in a statement that she agreed that a final resolution is needed so the “U-Va. family” can move on.
“I appreciate the governor’s leadership in affirming the importance of board governance, and that we alone are appointed to make these decisions on behalf of the university, free of influence from outside political, personal or media pressure,’’ Dragas said. “I look forward to a respectful and dignified meeting on Tuesday, and to an important discussion of the implications of any decision we make on the ability of future boards to lead the university.”
Earlier Friday, Carl P. Zeithaml, the dean tapped to become interim president, said he would suspend discussions about taking the helm until Sullivan’s situation is resolved. His action reflected the deepening uncertainty over the school’s leadership.
The university founded by Thomas Jefferson has been in an uproar for nearly two weeks. The dispute has come to be seen as a battle over the future of the university, with Dragas seeking faster change in response to financial pressures and Sullivan advocating an incremental approach within academic traditions.
In a lengthy statement, McDonnell faulted the school’s board for “procedural mistakes,” including a lack of transparency and failing to communicate the reasons for their decision to remove Sullivan. He derided “vitriolic comments” directed at Dragas, as well as vandalism on the campus and threats to refuse to acknowledge the legitimacy of the interim president.
“This should be viewed as a disagreement within the family, not a war,’’ he said. “Mr. Jefferson would have expected a higher level of discourse where people forcefully and civilly express their concerns.”
McDonnell has shown a willingness to remake other boards when he does not like the direction they are taking. He replaced 10 of 11 members of the Virginia Port Authority last year. Last week he removed a member of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority board for cause.