University of Virginia President Teresa A. Sullivan abruptly canceled a luncheon with the news media planned for Monday in Washington, choosing to stay in Charlottesville to speak with students and others in the aftermath of a magazine report on an alleged gang rape at a school fraternity.
“We have a problem, and we are going to get after it,” Sullivan said in a speech Monday to a selected group of students at the university. “The story has raised a number of questions in my mind, and I will make it my highest priority in the coming months to learn the answers. My team will spare no effort between now and the opening of the spring semester to address these questions.
“And let me say emphatically that how we answer these questions is not about protecting the university’s reputation – it is about doing the right thing, and the reputation I care about the most is not being afraid to follow the truth wherever it may lead.”
In the speech, Sullivan said she was wearing a bracelet that was given to her last week by a rape survivor. A spokesman said Sullivan addressed students in Pavilion 7 on the university campus, known as the Grounds.
Sullivan had been scheduled to appear at the National Press Club at 12:30 p.m. in downtown Washington. But the club notified reporters Sunday night, less than 15 hours before the event, that she would not attend.
“Given recent events at the University of Virginia, combined with the fact that many of our students, faculty and staff have been away for Thanksgiving break, President Sullivan is canceling her scheduled appearance before the National Press Club,” Anthony P. de Bruyn, a university spokesman, said in a statement.
“During this extraordinary and difficult time for U-Va., President Sullivan’s energies are best focused on our grounds, where she can speak directly to and hear directly from our university community, participate in the healing process, and work to find answers to the many questions that deserve attention,” he said.
Rolling Stone published an article on Nov. 19 that details the account of a student identified as Jackie, who alleged she was raped by several men at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house in 2012 during her freshman year at the public flagship university.
In the days since the article appeared, Sullivan and other U-Va. leaders have faced numerous questions about whether the university responded adequately to the allegations. U-Va.’s governing Board of Visitors held an emergency meeting last week to discuss the issue. Sullivan also has suspended fraternity and sorority activities until Jan. 9.
But the school administration and governing board are contemplating further measures that could be discussed at another board meeting this month.
The board has released a statement on sexual assault, pledging to pursue “with all due urgency the complete truth” relating to allegations in the magazine article and other “possible violations of our most basic rights.” The statement also said the board would “honestly confront and work to change uncomfortable truths that threaten to erode an environment of safety and trust.”
The statement, dated Tuesday, Nov. 25, was published Wednesday, according to a U-Va. spokesman.
Sullivan, a former provost at the University of Michigan, has been in office since 2010. A faction of the U-Va. board attempted to oust her in 2012, sparking a leadership crisis. She continued in office after much of the university’s student, faculty and alumni community rose up in protest that year to defend her.