The University of Virginia’s governing board extended President Teresa A. Sullivan’s contract by one year on Friday, an action described as a gesture of unity after she was ousted in June and later reinstated after an uproar at the historic Charlottesville school.
The Board of Visitors, led by Rector Helen E. Dragas, voted unanimously to add a year to Sullivan’s five-year contract that had been scheduled to expire July 31, 2015. Now, she will serve as president of Virginia’s flagship public university through July 2016.
Sullivan and Dragas, smiling and chatting, sat together at a table and signed the contract amendment a few minutes after the vote Friday afternoon. Dragas, who has issued sparing public comment on the summer’s upheaval, spoke of a future with Sullivan at the university’s helm.
“We wholeheartedly look forward to working with you in the years to come,” Dragas said.
Said board member John L. Nau III: “This is now a much stronger team. It’s no longer a team of rivals. I would call it a team of equals — with one goal, and that’s a better university.”
Just five months ago, Dragas and another board leader quietly rounded up enough backing on the board to force Sullivan’s resignation. The rector questioned whether the president was taking adequate steps to keep the university among the nation’s elite in coming decades. Dragas said at the time that she was particularly concerned about the university’s response to financial challenges and technology-driven upheaval in higher education.
Randal J. Kirk, who recently stepped down from the board, told The Washington Post in October that the board viewed Sullivan as an “interim” president and thus never fully engaged her. Although few have spoken publicly about the leadership crisis, seven former and current board members said Kirk’s account was wrong.
Austin Ligon, another former board member and a member of the search committee that recommended Sullivan for the job, said in October: “Terry was our first choice because she was the most qualified candidate.”
The ouster of the popular president, announced June 10, led to an outcry among faculty and students that included protests on campus and vocal support for Sullivan. The board voted to reinstate Sullivan on June 26.
University officials have said the summer “was very difficult” and “took a toll on the university community” but that campus leadership was working hard to restore trust and to “embrace partnership.”
Dragas and Sullivan have sought to put the crisis behind them. Board members said Friday, during a meeting in Charlottesville that was shown on a live Web stream, that a contract extension was proof of a united front.
“We are fully engaged in a true partnership — and I stress true partnership — with President Sullivan and her outstanding team,” Vice Rector George Keith Martin said.
After the board voted, members stood and applauded Sullivan, who thanked them.
“This contract extension will let us take a longer view as we work together on some pretty big problems,” Sullivan said.
Under the contract, Sullivan began her tenure as president in August 2010 with an annual base salary of $485,000. There was no indication Friday of a raise.
Whether the extension will assuage critics of Dragas is unclear. This week, students in a group called “Hoos University” organized a campus protest to demand that Dragas step down as rector. At one meeting, two protesters sat behind Dragas holding signs that proclaimed “The Crisis is Not Over” and “End the Silence!”