U. Va was nearly a week into the crisis. It was escalating.
Enlisting students, donors
Dragas did not idle between consultants. She asked the student member of her board about approaching classmates willing to blog favorably, guided by an outside adviser.
She instructed the school’s top two administrators to issue a statement describing the board’s action as “authoritative and resolute.”
She talked with billionaire donor Paul Tudor Jones, who wrote a prominent op-ed piece that backed the board. His commentary, in the Daily Progress of Charlottesville, fueled the theory that donors had a hand in the ousting.
It was published as the U-Va. Faculty Senate delivered a no-confidence vote on the board.
It also came as Dragas latched on to a third crisis management firm, Hill+Knowlton Strategies, a Manhattan-based communications giant — on the eve of a tense, high-profile board meeting to select an interim president.
The man running the Hill+Knowlton operation was John Ullyot, a senior vice president and former Marine intelligence officer who testified before Congress in 2008 about crisis communications after nuclear attacks by terrorists.
Ullyot helped Dragas with the prepared remarks she delivered, which included an expression of “sincere regret for the pain, anger and confusion” caused by Sullivan’s resignation — but no deeper explanation.
The pivotal meeting lasted more than 12 hours, with Zeithaml named interim president. But the turmoil did not abate. Within hours, Kington resigned — and Dragas lost her closest ally.
In a critical moment for Dragas, Ullyot sent her two possible statements.
One option expressed regret that Kington “felt the need to resign over an action that was taken with general Board consensus, and one that I am confident will clearly improve the strategic direction of the University.”
The other option:
“Today I have asked the Governor not to reappoint me to a second term as Rector.”
Dragas did not offer to step aside.
Instead, on June 21 she issued a three-page statement intended to lay out the problems underlying the president’s ouster. It cited concerns about declining state funds, online learning and faculty pay but made no mention of Sullivan.
“I agree with critics who say that we should have handled the situation better,” Dragas wrote. “In my view, we did the right thing, the wrong way.”
The fury did not die down.
The next day, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) told U-Va. board members to resolve the crisis quickly, or he would fire them.
Dragas issued another statement — this one to thank the governor for affirming the board’s authority and agree “on the importance of providing clear explanations of our actions, as I aimed to do in my statement yesterday.”
Dragas asked that her statement be mass e-mailed.