October 24, 2012

LITTLE WONDER THAT a regional accrediting commission still has questions for the University of Virginia about the tumult over leadership that roiled the school four months ago. Just as the efforts to oust President Teresa Sullivan were opaque, so too have been the subsequent explanations. University leaders need to cooperate with the commission’s demand for better information — not because of the remote possibility the school will lose accreditation but because there can be no real closure to the unsettling events of June until all the answers are known.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges has informed university officials that it is not satisfied with the explanation of the university’s governing board for how and why it asked Ms. Sullivan to resign, only to have to reinstate her in the face of unprecedented protests by students, faculty and alumni that attracted nationwide attention. “Questions remain,” the commission wrote to the university in a letter of Oct. 5 that expressed concern about the continuing possibility of “integrity issues with governing board authority.” The organization, The Post’s Jenna Johnson reported, will discuss the matter at its December meeting; if its dissatisfaction continues, there could be further investigation, with possible sanctions for U-Va. ranging from a warning to the unlikely loss of accreditation.

The board, in its response to the commission’s initial inquiry, echoed previous public statements that, while mistakes were made in its bid to unseat Ms. Sullivan, the group was acting in what it believed to be the university’s best interests and no rules or laws were violated. But Ms. Sullivan continues to insist she doesn’t know what precipitated the effort to force her out; faculty worry that the leadership rift has merely been papered over and wonder what that could portend for the future.

Hunter R. Rawlings, the president of the Association of American Universities, who had denounced Ms. Sullivan’s ouster, told Post editors and reporters this week that he continues to be worried by the situation at U-Va. because of the lack of clarity about what happened and the lack of confidence that it will not recur. Mr. Rawlings sees a troubling national pattern of instability in higher education as evidenced by the turnover in leadership at a number of universities over the last 18 months.

The commission is right to take a clear-eyed look at the upheaval at U-Va. and render independent judgment.