Norm Shafer/For The Washington Post - University of Virginia Rector Helen Dragas and Teresa Sullivan walk together from the president's residence to the Board of Visitors meeting where Sullivan was reinstated, June 26, 2012. University of Virginia Rector Helen Dragas, left, and President Teresa Sullivan last June. (By Norm Shafer/ For The Washington Post)

It’s hard to look at this any other way: University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan is being set up by the governing board to fail.

First, a little history. Last June, Helen Dragas, rector of the Board of Visitors, told Sullivan that she had to quit after less than two years on the job because the board wanted her gone. Nobody had told Sullivan about any big problems before then, and, as it turned, out, Sullivan had the support of the school community, which rose up and forced the board to reinstate her 18 days after telling her to leave.

Why did Dragas instigate this? After all this time, it’s still not exactly clear. Dragas indicated Sullivan was not the bold leader the university needed, but many people on campus don’t accept that as the real reason. What we do know is that Dragas managed to be reappointed to her position as head of the governing board, forcing Sullivan to work with a woman whom she has no reason to trust. The university’s accrediting body was so unhappy about how the leadership crisis played out that late last year it placed the school on “warning.”

Now it is March and my colleague Jenna Johnson has reported in this story that tensions between the women are again at a boiling point. Johnson wrote the following in her story:

In November, Sullivan created a list of goals for herself for this academic year and sent it to the three board members on the evaluation committee, which includes Dragas. More than two months later, Dragas sent Sullivan a revision that expanded the goals to 65.


The Post was unable to obtain a copy of that document, which is about six pages long, according to two people who have seen it and were willing to discuss it only anonymously because it is a sensitive personnel issue. They said that most of Dragas’s additions to Sullivan’s proposed goals were focused on the medical center and the university’s finances.


Sullivan wrote in her e-mail to the full board that Dragas gave her less than a week to respond before the goals would become permanent. Sullivan wrote that of the 65 goals, 22 had not previously been mentioned, four required actions by a meeting at the end of the month and one unspecified goal “requires me to do something that the General Counsel tells me I am not legally authorized to do.” Missing from the list, Sullivan wrote, was her own “most urgent goal” to raise employee compensation.


“I want to emphasize that I do not object to having goals nor to being evaluated,” Sullivan wrote in the e-mail. “Board oversight is ideally at a strategic or policy level. By contrast, most of these goals are operational, some narrowly so, and some reaching three or four levels into the organization.”


Giving Sullivan tasks she can’t possibly do? Really now, what else is this other than a set-up?