“We have both come to the conclusion that it’s time to bring the U-Va. family back together,” Dragas told the Board of Visitors. It was a startling reversal for a board leader who had been steadfast in her insistence that Sullivan was moving too slowly to address fiscal and academic challenges.
The board, pilloried for the ouster Dragas engineered in a campaign of secrecy and exclusion, reversed course in a brisk half-hour session open to the public.
After the vote, Sullivan stepped outside to deafening applause. She told the crowd that everyone involved — including Dragas — had the best interests of the university in mind.
“This is not a sign of weakness on their part, but a sign of strength and deliberation and a good example to each of us,” Sullivan said.
But the episode may leave lasting collateral damage. Thomas Jefferson’s university has lost wealthy donors, one Board of Visitors member and at least one star professor, computer scientist William Wulf, during the leadership crisis.
The board’s unanimous vote hid lingering rifts on the 15-member panel. It seemed improbable that U-Va. leaders had resolved their differences in a single day. There may be battles ahead over strategic plans, online education, budget cuts and other matters. Also unclear is whether Dragas will stay on the board. Her term ends Sunday, but she is eligible for reappointment, a question that faces Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R).
The vote to undo the resignation Dragas extracted from Sullivan on June 10 completed a cycle of events that plunged the university into chaos, with 16 days of protests, no-confidence votes and talk of mass faculty defections. The conflict set much of the U-Va. community at odds with the governing board.
Dragas met with Sullivan before the vote and had what the rector called a “good conversation.” Dragas added: “We have always respected each other on a personal level and still do.”
When Dragas announced that she would support reinstatement, cheers erupted on the Lawn outside.
Sullivan was not scheduled to attend, and her chair had been removed from the board table. At the last minute, it was added back, and she walked into the room with Dragas.
It was a moment rich in symbolism for a conflict that had pitted the university’s first female rector, a 50-year-old Virginia Beach developer, against its first female president, a 62-year-old sociologist.
Dragas tried to put the best face on the controversy.
“I believe real progress is more possible than ever now,” she said. “It is unfortunate that we had to have a near-death experience to get here.”