The crisis at U-Va. started after the forced resignation of Teresa Sullivan, the university’s first female president, was announced June 10. As it became clear that Dragas had led an effort to oust Sullivan, outrage grew among students, faculty and alumni. The board of visitors met June 26 and reinstated Sullivan.
Dragas has given few recent public interviews, but her e-mails in May and June reveal some of her thoughts and actions. Although often circumspect, the new e-mails show Dragas did not give up easily, believed she could turn what she described in a June 17 e-mail as a “tsunami of criticism” around and thought she was still on track to “recruit the most competent leader for the University in the coming year.”
In a response to questions after the e-mails were released Wednesday, Dragas said she doubted “anyone could have predicted exactly how events would unfold.” She said the board “sought to balance transparency and accountability with fairness [and] legal restrictions on what could be said and respect for those involved.”
The crisis grew so intense that Dragas and another board member spent a total of more than $250,000 for public relations efforts and reached out across campus looking for support. She e-mailed the board’s lone student member June 12, looking for help: “Do you know of students on grounds who might be willing to assist with a communications effort by engaging constructively in the blogs as guided by a communications consultant?”
On June 14, Dragas tried to recruit a nationally known U-Va. politics professor, Larry J. Sabato, to write an opinion piece supporting her effort. In an e-mail with the subject line “your assistance is critical,” Dragas asked Sabato to write an op-ed for The Post or the New York Times — and she used bold letters to write the word “quickly.” The piece should explain why the board “felt that urgent action was necessary to reverse a lack of action and vision at UVA,” she wrote.
In another e-mail after Sullivan’s ouster, Dragas asked for working space on campus for herself and other board members.
“I’m expecting John Nau, [then-vice rector] Mark Kington, and perhaps others to be in and out between now and Monday,” Dragas e-mailed the board’s secretary. “A conference room in Madison Hall would be perfect.”
Sullivan’s office is on the first floor of Madison Hall. The board secretary instead arranged for space in a pavilion on the university’s iconic Lawn and reminded Dragas of the state’s open meetings law: “As you know, more than two members conducting University business is a Board meeting, whether it is a formal meeting or an informal assemblage.”