Here is the full text of the open letter that 33 department chairs and program directors at the University of Virginia signed and released to protest the forced resignation of the popular President Teresa Sullivan.
The news broke a few days ago that the university’s Board of Visitors was forcing Sullivan out after only two years, a move that was a surprise to her and the school community.
The board has refused to tell the public exactly why it wanted to replace Sullivan, and its refusal to do so is causing unnecessary and damaging turmoil at the highly regarded university.
The full text of the letter:
12 June 2012
Dear Rector Dragas and members of the Board of Visitors:
The undersigned Department Chairs and Program Directors of the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences write in support of the letter submitted by the Faculty Senate to protest the resignation of President Teresa Sullivan and to join in the university-wide request for clarification. We understand the Board’s fiduciary responsibilities and believe they can be performed most effectively for the mission of the University in conversation with the faculty—the stewards of that mission of higher education. As leaders of the University’s core academic unit, we think it crucial to understand better the rationale for this decision.
Our surprise and concern arise directly from the fact that we have been very pleased with the direction in which President Sullivan and her administrative team have been leading UVA and with her accomplishments thus far. She is an extraordinary academic leader, with superb administrative abilities, the heart of a faculty member, and evident strength of character. Her superlative judgment—the hallmark of any great leader—was seen most conspicuously in her filling the top two administrative vacancies with what everyone agrees are excellent choices in John Simon and Michael Strine. We were optimistic about her plans to retain as well as attract excellent faculty. We in Arts and Sciences are direct beneficiaries of important initiatives that she personally spearheaded, such as the new financial model, which promised to increase the transparency and effectiveness of resource allocation; the sizable grant recently won from the Mellon Foundation to hire new faculty; a sensible plan for accommodating increased enrollment; and cutting-edge innovations in science and technology. We moreover admired her efforts to build community, to bring together the various, sometimes competing, segments of the university. One hears from colleagues elsewhere that Terry Sullivan was widely recognized as a rising star among university presidents. We expect that her positive impact on the University of Virginia will be felt—and will be appreciated by all of us—for years to come.
The University of Virginia is first and foremost an institution devoted to the principles of open debate, discussion and deliberation. The central purpose of the University as articulated in the University’s Faculty Handbook is the transmission of knowledge and skills, a fostering of “the habits of mind and character required to develop a generous receptivity to new ideas among our students” and a “desire to engage in a lifetime of learning.” We stress the central role of faculty governance in matters of academic programming and curriculum. Faculty are the leaders of the University’s intellectual and pedagogical life. We would welcome any discussion regarding our teaching mission, the defining quality of the UVA experience, including issues of distance and digital learning.
The entire university community would benefit from a full airing of the specific “philosophical differences” mentioned by you and President Sullivan in order to form a clear vision for the months and years ahead. We believe that this abrupt and, from our point of view, opaque decision will deeply threaten the way UVA is perceived by prospective as well as current faculty, students, and donors. We strongly urge the Board of Visitors to reopen discussion with President Sullivan and the faculty.
We share with you the urgent concern to ensure that this most distinctive of American universities can maintain the sources of excellence that have characterized it now for nearly two centuries.
Cynthia Wall, English
David Leblang, Politics
Brian Owensby, History
Paul Halliday, History (incoming)
Charles Holt, Economics
Douglas Taylor, Biology
Siva Vaidhyanathan, Media Studies
Krishan Kumar, Sociology
John Miller, Classics
Fred Damon, Anthropology
Susan McKinnon, Anthropology (incoming)
Tom Bloom, Drama
Edmund Brodie, Mountain Lake Biological Station
Richard Will, Music
Farzaneh Milani, Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages & Cultures
Deborah Parker, Italian, Spanish & Portuguese
John Arras, Biomedical Ethics
Ellen Contini-Morava, Linguistics
Charlotte Patterson, Studies in Women & Gender
Deborah McDowell, Carter G. Woodson Institute
Gabriel Finder, Jewish Studies Program
Talbot Brewer, Philosophy
Anne Behnke Kinney, East Asian Languages, Literatures, and Cultures
David Herman, Slavic
Michael Suarez, Rare Book School
Patricia Wiberg, Environmental Sciences
Christopher Krentz, American Sign Language
Christopher Tilghman, Creative Writing
Deborah McGrady, French
Sandhya Shukla, American Studies
Kevin Hart, Religious Studies
Edward G. Lengel, Papers of George Washington
Colin Bird, Politics, Philosophy, & Law