William Wulf, a prominent computer science professor, announces his resignation. He blames the board for “dumb decisions.”
At 3 p.m., student journalist Krista Pedersen walks over to the Rotunda to collect a stack of documents the university released under public records law. The Cavalier Daily was the first publication to request the documents. Pedersen’s reward: a stack of e-mails written by Dragas and Kington.
The newspaper staff decides to release tidbits on Twitter. The e-mails show Dragas and Kington trading articles and opinion pieces as they mull over Sullivan’s removal.
On May 31, Dragas shared a Wall Street Journal editorial about an “online revolution” in higher education. She made a notation: “why we can’t afford to wait.”
In a June 11 e-mail, Kington pondered whether the university should answer a reporter’s questions, writing, “maybe a modicum of candor is called for.”
The e-mails trigger a torrent of criticism.
By Wednesday morning, June 20, Dragas’s hometown newspaper, the Virginian-Pilot, demands her resignation.
In a news conference that afternoon, Zeithaml, the incoming interim president, acknowledges “that some of you don’t trust me.” He claims “absolutely no intention” of seeking the permanent job. He says he does not support Sullivan’s ouster, and he compliments her “tremendous work.”
He predicts that the interim job will be his for a year.
In Richmond, a frustrated McDonnell has just returned from a nine-day trade mission to Europe. The first order of business: U-Va. He gathers aides for a 7 p.m. meeting. He is ready to jump into the fray. But how? He has insisted repeatedly that he can’t meddle in a university decision.
On Thursday morning, the governor arrives at his office with a plan. He will order the board to resolve the crisis. A subsequent event will help him set a deadline for board action: Just before 5 p.m., the board calls a special session for the following Tuesday to discuss “possible changes” in Sullivan’s contract.
At this point, the vote count is fluid. Six board members have publicly or privately endorsed reinstating Sullivan. Five others are thought to oppose her return, including Dragas. Four votes may be up for grabs.
To shore up her support, Dragas makes a final public appeal: a 10-point outline of challenges facing the university under Sullivan. The rector contends that the school lacks a coherent plan for everything from fundraising to class sizes to faculty pay.
Without one, she writes, the university “will continue to drift in yesterday.”
Her statement fails to quiet critics. Support for Sullivan is snowballing. Ten of the university’s 11 academic deans issue a joint statement Thursday calling for Sullivan’s return. The 11th, Zeithaml, had not been asked to sign because of his awkward situation. He telephones Dragas that evening to tell her that he is suspending his interim presidency until Sullivan’s future is resolved.
“I need to get out of the way here,” he tells her.
On Friday afternoon, McDonnell issues an ultimatum to board members: take charge, or he will fire them all. Period.
On Sunday, June 24, more than 1,500 people gather on the well-trod Lawn to “Rally for Honor.”
Speakers include Kenneth G. Elzinga, an economics professor who joined the faculty in 1967.
“The truth of the matter is all of us regret the forced resignation of Terry Sullivan,’’ he says. “All of us respectfully ask the board to atone for its actions. And all of us, I trust, are prepared to respond with gratitude, forgiveness and renewed enthusiasm.’’
Elzinga’s remarks touch someone who is not in the audience but who would read them later, someone who was once his student: Helen Dragas.
The idea of reinstating Sullivan already has entered the rector’s mind, partly because of the letter from the 10 deans, which convinces her that hey understand her concerns.
To Dragas, it appears that alumni, students and faculty are beginning to understand her drive for urgent changes to ensure that the historic university remains an academic power in the 21st century.
By the end of Sunday, Dragas begins to wonder: Should Terry stay?
Sullivan and her supporters approach the Tuesday meeting with rising confidence. The vote may be lopsided — this time in her favor.
But under what conditions would Sullivan return? Several days earlier, she had stipulated that she would come back if two people resigned: Dragas and Strine. The rector had met repeatedly with the chief operating officer and discussed the president’s performance in the weeks before the crisis hit. Strine said those meetings were part of his job and told his staff he was not involved in the ouster.
By Tuesday, Sullivan has dropped those demands. She has heard that it is likely that McDonnell will reappoint Dragas to the board at the end of the month.
At 1 p.m., Dragas phones Sullivan and offers to walk her from the presidential home to the Rotunda for the climactic board meeting two hours later. They talk for 10 minutes in Sullivan’s home.
They cross University Avenue together, their husbands walking behind them.
Dragas and Sullivan take their seats at opposite sides of the board table.
Fralin, the Sullivan ally, asks for a roll call to rescind the amendment to Sullivan’s contract that spelled out the terms of her resignation. As he speaks, Dragas fidgets with her glasses. Sullivan stares straight ahead, expressionless, hands folded in her lap.
Dragas asks to speak. The moment she begins, Sullivan’s fate is clear.
“It’s time to bring the U-Va. family back together,” she says. “I believe real progress is more possible than ever now. It is unfortunate that we had to have a near-death experience to get here.”
When the ballot comes to Dragas, she votes “an unequivocal yes.” The final tally is unanimous. Cheers erupt on the Lawn.
As the meeting adjourns, Fralin tells his colleagues that Sullivan is heading outside to speak to the crowd. He wants the board to stand behind her.
Sullivan steps up to a lectern, dressed in a bright blue suit with an orange blouse beneath, the school colors. She beseeches the campus community to unite.
As the crowd roars its approval, Sullivan and her supporters celebrate. Dragas stands a few feet behind the president, her lips frozen in a tight smile. After a few moments, the rector turns and vanishes back into the Rotunda.