During the 70-minute interview, Sullivan talked about how she has changed as a leader by reciting a quote from Shakespeare: Sweet are the uses of adversity, which like the toad, ugly and venomous, wears yet a precious jewel.
“I think we do learn things about ourselves and about our institution — not things you necessarily had planned to learn or wanted to learn, because none of us wants to head into a difficult time,” she said.
She said she has learned “so much about this university community I would not have learned any other way” and described herself as “astonished” by the outpouring of support from faculty, staff, alumni and students.
“It is certainly a sobering experience to go through something like this,” she said. “And, you know, I just hope that I learned the right lessons.”
Asked about calls for the resignation of Dragas, which were numerous in the heat of the crisis, Sullivan said Monday that she did not seek any such action, in spite of news reports that said she would return as president only if the rector were removed.
“The board makes the decision about who its leader is, and that is right and proper. I don’t get to pick my boss,” she said.
When asked if she, personally, had feelings on the issue, Sullivan replied: “Not that I want to share with you.”
In a statement Tuesday, Dragas noted that she voted with the board to reinstate Sullivan. “I have extended my sincere apologies,” she said. “It’s time to move forward and, as demonstrated by this retreat and our agenda, we are doing so guided by a spirit of constructive leadership, committed to full collaboration with President Sullivan and keenly focused on the future of U.Va.”
Many on campus have called for a thorough investigation of what caused the June crisis.
Last week, 14 prominent alumni wrote an open letter insisting that “a painstakingly fair and civil” review be done, suggesting that the crisis would not end until “board members finally explain candidly, to satisfy common sense, what really motivated them to act so precipitously.”
Asked about the letter, Sullivan spoke about the board’s interest in governance issues, which will be addressed at the retreat. She stopped short of embracing a thorough analysis of what went wrong.
“I’m not sure I’m the right person to make the judgment about that,” she said.
She paused at the question of whether she personally needed to know.
“Not really,” she said. “. . . I think it would be very easy to get psychologically stuck on an episode like that, and I don’t think that would be healthy — not healthy for individuals and probably not healthy for the institution. I think moving forward right now is probably the best thing we can do in terms of the institution. . . . I don’t think reengaging past events right now is going to take us where we need to go.”
At the same time, Sullivan said she encounters alumni who ask her for explanations she can’t fully provide. “They’re wondering, ‘What’s happened at the university? What just went on?’ ” she said.
Still, she maintained, “I think they would much rather see us have a plan for where we’re going and not just kind of dwell on what happened, and I think I can give them that.”
The way Sullivan describes it, the original wording in the June 10 announcement of her departure remains the best summation of her understanding of the conflict. “We formulated it as a ‘philosophical difference of opinion,’ ”she said. “I’m not sure I can improve on that.”
Exactly who was involved in the effort to remove her from office, she doesn’t know, she said.
“I really don’t think I can answer that,” she said. “What I have to go on as evidence is not much, and I can’t point to anything that suggests there were other forces. . . . Maybe there were. There was certainly lots of speculation. . . . On the other hand, academics are very good at theories, so there were a lot of theories that went around.”
Asked whether she trusts Dragas, Sullivan replied: “I think we are both committed to making it work. . . . I completely believe that she cares about the future of the University of Virginia. And so do I.”