“Nevertheless, the Board can assure you that there was ongoing dialogue with the President over an extended period of time,” she wrote, about “ensuring the long-term health and well-being of the University through the development of a credible statement of strategic direction and a long-term resource plan.”
But colleagues insist that Sullivan was utterly surprised by her ouster and say that she had shared with the board a frank, 12-page Academic Strategy memo in May that expressed both her strategic concerns about the university’s academic performance and her vision for how best to respond.
Read U-Va. President Sullivan’s academic strategy memo
The Board of Visitors accepted Sullivan’s resignation Sunday after telling her that they had the votes to force her out, according to multiple sources inside and outside the state’s flagship university. The move has triggered an unusual and growing chorus of dissent, including a protest Wednesday by 33 academic leaders and a handful of state lawmakers who have asked the board’s leader to more fully explain the ouster.
“This is the most egregious case I have ever seen of mismanagement by a governing board,” said Hunter R. Rawlings III, president of the prestigious Association of American Universities and former president of Cornell. “It’s secretive, it’s misguided and based on the public statements, there’s no clear rationale.”
The Board of Visitors has called a special meeting for Monday to discuss interim candidates to replace Sullivan. Sullivan, a sociologist and former University of Michigan provost, will have the briefest term of any U-Va. president.
Sullivan’s Academic Strategy memo, obtained by The Washington Post, was written in comparatively candid terms and identified five areas of broad concern.
First, a siloed budgeting model that frustrates innovation and collaboration. Second, a projection that fully half of the U-Va. faculty will depart by 2020, mainly because of retirement. Third, a “reputation gap”: In many academic areas, Sullivan suggests, the university is “reputed to be better than we actually are.” Fourth, the “fragile” Top 10 stature of many university departments and professional schools, driven by a precariously small number of actual academic stars.
Lastly, Sullivan suggested overhauling the curriculum to lavish far more attention on upper-level classes and to convert many lower-level courses to a “hybrid” model, partly delivered online. Her reasoning: Many U-Va. students arrive already having taken many introductory courses as Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate-level classes in high school.