“It hurts me because I had two or three things I wanted to get done,” Hunter Smith of Charlottesville said Sunday in an interview. “I won’t condone what happened. It’s disgraceful.”
Smith and her late husband, Carl W. Smith, contributed more than $60 million to the Charlottesville school founded by Thomas Jefferson and U-Va.’s College at Wise in southwest Virginia. Now she says she will not donate until changes to the governing board are made.
Sullivan’s brief tenure in effect ended
a week ago after the leader of U-Va.’s Board of Visitors, Helen E. Dragas, told the enormously popular president that she had enough votes to remove her. The Board of Visitors never met or took a vote on Sullivan’s ouster. Instead, Dragas spoke to board members individually over a series of months.
Experts said that does not violate state law. But Rick Legon, president of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, said it is highly unusual for a school to make a decision to remove its president behind closed doors and without a formal meeting.
At a boisterous meeting Sunday, the university’s chief academic officer, Provost John Simon, uttered his first critical remarks, telling 800 faculty members and others that the board’s future actions will determine whether he wants to stay and help lead the university. His words met with thunderous applause, hinting at a potential faculty exodus ahead.
“I now find myself at a defining moment, confronting and questioning whether honor, integrity and trust are truly the foundational pillars of life at the University of Virginia,” he said, remarks that struck to the heart of the university’s fabled honor code.
His remarks echo a stinging statement Sunday by the school’s Honor Committee, which called the board’s failure to explain its actions “inconsistent with the value of trust that runs through the very fabric of our university.”
In the past week, current and former administrators, faculty and students have rallied behind Sullivan in meetings, through resolutions and on the Internet. The vast majority want her reinstated.
“There may be good reason to replace President Sullivan — I don’t know — but it was handled in the worst possible way that has caused damage to the university,” said Jane Batten of Virginia Beach. It is her family that has given U-Va. $170 million, making it arguably the largest donor in the school’s history. The Battens gave the university $100 million in 2007.
Hunter Smith and former president John Casteen, who spent two decades as U-Va.’s leader, were expected to contact Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) to urge him to get involved, several university officials said. But McDonnell has resisted, saying he had no intention of “meddling” in the board’s business, even at one of the nation’s most prestigious public universities.