The Board of Visitors unanimously approved the new terms for Sullivan’s contract, with member Helen E. Dragas abstaining. In 2012, Dragas led an abortive effort to remove Sullivan from office, and in the years since, Dragas has frequently raised skepticism of the university’s direction under Sullivan.
Explaining her abstention, Dragas said Tuesday her concerns are not personal. Recent tuition increases, she said, left her “hard-pressed to support higher administrative spending.”
Tuesday’s action made clear that the board is striking a balance: It supports Sullivan’s continued leadership after an extraordinarily difficulty year, but it is also preparing for the possibility of a presidential search at some point in the near future.
Sullivan, 65, a sociologist, is U-Va.’s eighth president and the first woman to hold the office. In brief remarks, she thanked the board and credited her leadership team, faculty and students at one of the nation’s most prestigious public universities.
After the meeting, Sullivan said she believes the board should move forward in coming years to find a candidate to replace her. “It’s prudent for the university that a transition will take place,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan said that her goal is to solidify the university’s financial standing as it nears the bicentennial of its founding in 1819. She said the upcoming celebration will allow Thomas Jefferson’s school to consider the next 100 years and “where want to be as an institution moving forward.”
Board members lavished praise on Sullivan: “People nationally, they respect what you’ve done,” L.D. Britt said.
U-Va. Rector George Keith Martin, leader of the board, lauded Sullivan’s stamina. “You truly have shown grace and courage,” he said.
Sullivan’s contract had been scheduled to expire after July 2016. The two-year extension also gives the board the option to retain Sullivan through May 2019. The board also voted to increase Sullivan’s compensation $15,000 in the current fiscal year and $25,000 in the next one. Her base salary is $494,000, a spokesman said, plus $180,000 in deferred compensation.
The action on Sullivan’s contract came at the conclusion of a year at U-Va. unlike any other.
The school year began with the disappearance of a sophomore, Hannah Graham, and a long search that led to the discovery of her remains on an abandoned property and the arrest of a man now charged with capital murder.
Then came the publication in Rolling Stone magazine of a blockbuster story on an alleged gang rape at a fraternity, followed by the unraveling of the rape account and retraction of the story. Then the violent arrest of a junior, Martese Johnson, by state Alcoholic Beverage Control officers, drew the university into the national dialogue about law enforcement and race relations. The student, whose face was bloodied, is African American. The officers involved were white.
All of that would be upheaval enough for any president. But Sullivan has been at the eye of other tempests since she took office in August 2010. She arrived a few months after student George Huguely V was arrested in the slaying of student Yeardley Love, his ex-girlfriend. Huguely’s subsequent trial and murder conviction drew international attention.
In June 2012, board leaders dissatisfied with Sullivan’s performance engineered her ouster. But that prompted a massive uprising of students, faculty and alumni in her support. The board ultimately voted to reinstate her after a dramatic 18-day showdown.
“Terry Sullivan has performed remarkably well in a difficult climate,” said Larry J. Sabato, a U-Va. politics professor. “Has any college president in America had to handle as many crises not of her or his own making over the past five years?” He credited Sullivan for taking steps to maintain a strong faculty, renovate Jefferson’s Rotunda and raise money for the school’s endowment.
“It takes steely determination to keep focused on your goals when many people are hurling brickbats at you, but Terry’s done it,” Sabato said.
U-Va. also has been a focus of controversy over financial aid and tuition. There has been intense debate about how much the school should emulate the operations of elite private universities. The board voted in March for an 11 percent increase in tuition and fees for incoming Virginia students to help bolster aid for in-state students in financial need.
Anderson reported from Washington.