Both Kiernan and Jones, who are friends, live in Greenwich.
“We were distressed because it looked like somebody who wasn’t on the board was calling the shots,” politics professor David Leblang recalled.
Beth Meyer, an associate professor of architecture, said the confluence of the e-mail and the op-ed piece “made a lot of people think their suspicions about the process were credible.”
But Robert D. Sweeney, U-Va.’s senior vice president for development and public affairs, said he is convinced that Jones had no role in the ouster. Sweeney has known Jones for more than 20 years.
The op-ed, he said, was written when Jones believed that a decision had been made and that he could rally the troops to see it as an opportunity. “It was kind of a rallying call for, ‘Let’s be the best we can be,’ ” Sweeney said.
“I truly believe that Paul Jones had no involvement in the forced resignation of the president,” he said.
Reached by phone, Kiernan said he had “absolutely no role” in the decision to dismiss Sullivan. Kiernan resigned from the Darden School board.
New details from Jones associates and others suggest a complex sequence. Jones offered Kiernan’s name to Dragas as a candidate for a Board of Visitors position when Jones opted out.Then, Dragas called Kiernan to discuss a potential board appointment or role in strategic planning, according to people familiar with the conversation.
In a statement July 16, Dragas wrote: “Mr. Jones did not influence board decisions regarding President Sullivan. He has been a generous and steadfast friend to U-Va., and I hope he chooses to support President Sullivan’s initiatives in advancing the University as we move forward together.”
She has also said that Kiernan had no role in the move to oust Sullivan.
Interested in the board’s structure, Jones called Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) to suggest that he enlarge the Board of Visitors to deepen its higher education expertise. Jones’s idea: Add four members with such backgrounds, chosen by the existing board.
McDonnell declined to comment on his relationship with Jones or the conversation, said the governor’s spokesman, Tucker Martin. Jones gave $100,000 to McDonnell’s 2009 campaign.
Many people have called on the governor to make changes in the board’s governance structure. His office is reviewing the matter. In recent university board appointments statewide, McDonnell has boosted the number of educators.
In the aftermath, Jones phoned Sullivan to talk about what happened. He told her that he regretted the op-ed piece and that he supports her, associates said. He also has expressed support for Dragas.
Sullivan, for her part, has emphasized reconciliation. She has called many donors, assuring them that the university would tackle its challenges: financial stability, online learning, faculty compensation.
“There’s no question in my mind,” Sweeney said, “that he supports her presidency and has trust in her leadership to make the kind of bold change that is needed to transform the University of Virginia.”
Daniel de Vise, Jenna Johnson and Anita Kumar contributed to this report.