Days later, Sullivan embarked on her first overseas trip for the university. She returned to welcome alumni to campus for a busy reunions weekend.
On June 8, Dragas and Kington walked into Sullivan’s office at Madison Hall. Sullivan had just returned from a day-long retreat with her senior staff. She was surprised the two were on campus but welcomed them in for a chat.
The conversation was brief: They told Sullivan they had 15 votes, more than enough to remove her. They told her they weren’t satisfied with her vision, and that she was moving too slowly. Sullivan was “a good president,” they said, “but not a great president.’’ Sullivan was speechless.
In publicly announcing Sullivan’s resignation June 10, Dragas voiced deep respect for the president. Privately, she told Sullivan and husband Douglas Laycock, a tenured law professor, to leave the presidential home at the end of July, two weeks before her official Aug. 15 departure.
Sullivan has hired Raymond Cotton, a prominent higher-education attorney. Cotton declined to comment for this story.
Sullivan’s ouster has fueled fears of an exodus. David Leblang, chairman of the U-Va. politics department, said Saturday that he has heard from multiple department heads that they are losing faculty. There are concerns, too, about a backlash among donors.
Many have urged Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) to step in. But McDonnell, on a trade mission in Europe, has resisted, saying he doesn’t want to “meddle.’’ Meanwhile, Dragas has spent the week calling public relations specialists seeking advice about how to handle growing concern across the state and country.
The action against Sullivan is unusual in that it unfolded without a vote of the full board, without participation of several campus constituencies and without public evidence of blatant wrongdoing.
But governing boards are authorized to remove university presidents on their own authority. Anne Neal, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, traced the Charlottesville protests to “an academic culture that isn’t accustomed to seeing boards doing anything other than rubber-stamp.”
The board has called a special meeting Monday to name an interim president, weeks ahead of the original schedule, in a bid to calm the campus. Dragas had lined up a candidate, Edward Miller, an ex-officio board member and former chief executive of Johns Hopkins Medicine, before Sullivan’s departure was announced. But now the board is reconsidering that choice.
Sullivan, who has made no public comment since her ouster, has asked to address the board. The board has agreed to hear her comments, provided the meeting happens behind closed doors.