U-Va. seeks normalcy after Sullivan reinstatement, but questions linger

June 27, 2012

Donors made pledges to the university. Its president met with her staff and higher-education leaders in Richmond. The governor pondered appointments to the school’s governing board.

On Wednesday, the University of Virginia sought to resume its summer routine a day after the reinstatement of President Teresa Sullivan ended a prolonged leadership crisis. But questions lingered about the school’s future.

In the morning, Sullivan reported to work at Madison Hall, met with staff, called a few major donors, got in touch with several presidents at other universities.

In the afternoon, she was spotted in the hallway of the state Capitol in Richmond, en route to a gubernatorial advisory committee meeting. She entered with John O. “Dubby” Wynne of Virginia Beach, a former U-Va. rector who was on the board that hired Sullivan in 2010.

Sullivan’s “putting her head down and getting back to work,” U-Va. spokeswoman Carol Wood said.

The university has been seeking to reassure donors who were upset by the tumult that ensued when the popular Sullivan was ousted on June 10, less than two years into her term. The governing Board of Visitors unanimously voted to reinstate her Tuesday.

After the vote, Wood said, two anonymous donors made pledges of $1 million apiece, in explicit support of Sullivan, and 657 gifts were made online. The online donations, ranging from $5 to $10,000, totaled more than $218,000.

Tom Faulders, president of the U-Va. alumni association, said 6,000 alums had weighed in over an 11-day period by commenting through the association’s Web site. About 10 percent of them vowed to withhold donations until the president was reinstated, the rector resigned or the entire board was removed — or some combination of such changes. Six or 7 percent expressed faith in the board. A majority complained about the process that led to Sullivan’s ouster.

Faulders said a few donations came in Wednesday from alums proud of the resolution.

Rector Helen E. Dragas, the head of the board, made no further public statements after apologizing Tuesday for her actions in Sullivan’s ouster.

Dragas and other board members, as well as the entire university community, awaited decisions from Richmond on the future of a board that until this month was largely unknown.

Dragas’s term and the terms of three other members expire Sunday. Dragas is eligible for reappointment to another four-year term. In addition, there is a vacancy created by the resignation of Vice Rector Mark Kington and a new seat created by the legislature. That means that in coming days, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) will be able to make six appointments to what will be a board with 17 voting members. An announcement from the governor could come as early as Friday.

In Richmond, McDonnell declined to comment on his thinking about the appointments. But he told reporters that he believed that it “can be a real important moment where administrators and faculty can work together with boards and alumni to forge a clear, bright, productive and entrepreneurial path ahead for education.”

McDonnell applauded the cooperative posture Dragas and Sullivan had taken. “Both of them made good statements and set the tone for working together in the future,” he said.

Still, observers pointed to unresolved questions: How would major donors and alumni react to the crisis and its resolution? When would U-Va. grapple with strategic plans, budget cuts and other issues raised in the debate over Sullivan’s presidency? What would the governing board and the president do to heal rifts?

Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath) said the reinstatement of Sullivan ended the immediate challenge but longer-term issues remain. “You’ve got to be concerned about the future,” Deeds said. “What kind of hard feelings are there? I don’t know what the future holds.”

Here on the campus, there was an urge for reconciliation. Law professor George Cohen, chairman of the Faculty Senate, noted that the president herself had pledged to turn the page.

“She said she can work with the rector,” Cohen said. “And I think we can work with the rector as well.”

Student body president Johnny Vroom said he hoped the controversy would fade.

“I’m just really happy we can put a lot of this behind us,” Vroom said. “It’s important to move forward. . . . There’s no point in focusing on what had happened.”

Laura Vozzella, Donna St. George and Daniel de Vise contributed to this report. Kumar reported from Richmond.

Jenna Johnson writes about Maryland politics, including the General Assembly, the administration of Gov. Martin O'Malley and the 2014 election.
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