All of them stayed. But when the honeymoon was over, Sullivan’s job was on the line.
Sullivan arrived at Virginia’s insular state flagship two years ago as the ultimate outsider. And she worked her way in, building a support network and winning allies across the length and width of the Grounds — from stodgy, old-guard alumni to the freshly minted students on the Lawn, from suits at the business school to costume designers in the drama department.
“You can move fast, or you can move incrementally. But it doesn’t matter unless people follow you,” said David Leblang, the politics department chairman. “People follow her.”
But out of the sight of faculty and students, dissent was deepening. Sullivan, it turned out, had a major blind spot: She apparently failed to detect an erosion in support from her governing board. Leaders of the Board of Visitors began working in secret last fall to build a case against her. Rector Helen E. Dragas, claiming the backing of other members, forced Sullivan’s resignation on June 10.
To Sullivan’s critics on the board, her patient, deliberate approach was a liability. They wanted her to enact change, not pave the way for it — to stop running for president and be the president.
“Simply put, we want the university to be a leader in fulfilling its mission, not a follower,” Dragas told the board last week.
Dragas may have underestimated the breadth of Sullivan’s support. Virtually every conceivable campus constituency has mobilized in her defense, including students, academic deans and rank-and-file faculty members. Tuesday, the board that voted for an interim successor to Sullivan will gather here to consider giving her the job back.
The groundswell for Sullivan was fueled by outrage over the board’s secrecy and debate over the mission of major public universities. But it is also a reflection of the support she has gathered on campus.
“This woman has been president less than 24 months,” said Robert Kemp, a business professor. “And to see this outcry — I’ve never seen anything like it.”
The image of Sullivan gliding past 2,000 screaming supporters and through the doors of the Rotunda on June 18 for a seemingly final encounter with the board illustrated how lopsided the battle for U-Va. really was.
Yes, Dragas had allies on the board. But Sullivan had the people.
‘Provost on the prowl’
Teresa Ann Sullivan, 62, came to Charlottesville from the University of Michigan, where she held the No. 2 job. She was known as the “provost on the prowl” for her habit of visiting the university’s many schools and colleges.
“We viewed her as a change agent,” said Andrea Newman, a member of Michigan's board of regents, who credited Sullivan with innovating despite budget constraints.