E-mails show U-Va. board pondering attempt to oust President Sullivan

July 31, 2012

Newly released e-mails show that the leader of the University of Virginia governing board, Helen E. Dragas, was bracing for difficulties in early June when she prepared to ask President Teresa Sullivan to resign.

“I expect to be bullet-ridden by Sunday,” Dragas wrote in a June 5 exchange with a fellow board member. The Sunday in question, June 10, was the date Sullivan’s departure would be announced to the university community.

The note suggests that Dragas had an inkling of the tumult that would erupt at the public flagship school upon the forced resignation of Sullivan, a popular president who had served less than two years at U-Va. After more than two weeks of protest, Sullivan was reinstated and calm was restored to the Charlottesville campus.

The e-mails, released Tuesday through a public records request from the Charlottesville Daily Progress newspaper, show several members of the U-Va. board of visitors discussing the move against Sullivan and the rationale behind it in the week before her resignation.

In one note, board member Randal Kirk — a U-Va. alumnus and self-made billionaire — reflected on the board’s role and critiqued the Sullivan administration.

“[E]ven though we are perhaps not blessed with the best people we possibly could have on the board, I am fairly certain that most of them know that the time in which we could be deferential toward an administration that is mostly bent on the preservation of the status quo is at an end,” Kirk wrote.

Another exchange began with Dragas forwarding a New Yorker article about failure as a gateway to success to a group of fellow board members.

She sent it June 5, three days before the meeting in which Dragas asked for Sullivan’s resignation.

Board member Hunter Craig replied: “Thank you for your leadership: stopping, pivoting, and coming up with a rescue plan. Job well done.”

Board member A. MacDonald Caputo replied: “Terrific article. How appropriate. Love the line ‘only failure is the failure to risk something.’ ”

Dragas declined to comment, and Caputo, Kirk and Craig could not be reached for comment.

Donna St. George writes about education, with an emphasis on Montgomery County schools.
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